I will make you an admission, O Book of My Confessions—I am deeply amused by hysterical flame-wars fought in the comments on decorating sites.

When I am feeling the need for house porn, I wander over to Houzz.com, which is addictive and allows me to save the best bits to an on-site folder to drool over later. This is perfect for those times of year when I can’t get out in the garden, or have the flu or am in that weird MUST CHANGE ENTIRE LIFESTYLE mood that strikes occasionally. It’s also a lot cheaper than buying decor porn magazines, and I don’t have to find storage for them afterwards.

For the most part, this is a harmless and uncontroversial pastime. Most of the homes are pretty dull granite-countertop McMansion affairs, which I ignore, but occasionally they drag out the nifty Santa Fe pueblos or the funky cottages and I drool a bit.

The ones that are really funny, though, are when somebody posts a house that has brightly colored walls or weird knick-knacks, and the crazy people come out of the walls.

Seriously. You get five hundred generic houses with “Oh, nice counters,” or “What is that paint color in the bathroom?” and then somebody posts an artist’s studio and people lose their shit. All caps everywhere—“I FOUND THIS HOUSE TO BE REUPUNGNANT (sic) IN EVERY WAY.” People demanding that the site take down images and apologize for having posted them. “This is a hovel. It isn’t decorating, it’s unbounded filth and perversity.”

(At this point I tend to go back and look at the photos to see if I missed the tentacle porn shot. Hmm. No, not finding it. Apparently someone is very VERY upset that the site allowed a photo of a cat on a countertop to be shown on the site, as this is proof of filth, horror, depravity, doom, and possibly a incipient rain of chickens.)

Lots of demands that various places be de-cluttered to the commenter’s specifications (often couched as “I want to come in and edit that for you…”) that no one can live there, and that it must be filthy because…err…reasons. “How do they dust!?” people demand to know, with the air of one asking “But what kind of life will he have?” over someone with no brain activity and a pickaxe in their sternum.

Another place had shockingly vivid wall paintings, murals, and hand-made wallpaper. Not so much my thing, perhaps—I like vivid color, but I tend to like it in solid blocks. But the fact that this house exists and has such walls does not actually impact my life in any significant way, and I love what they’ve done with the kitchen.

Oh dear god, the screaming. The anguish over what paint had done to that poor innocent furniture. The concern trolling taken to levels generally reserved for discussions of breast-feeding. “I am a licensed COLOR THERAPIST and I am SO WORRIED about these POOR PEOPLE living in this house who will be driven TO MADNESS AND PSYCHOSIS because BRIGHT COLORS WILL MAKE YOU INSANE!!1!”

Don’t have taxidermy on the walls. Ever. Even if you explain ten times that you fished them out of a dumpster because you felt it dishonored the animal to throw them away like that, people will scream that you would chop the heads off their pets if left alone in the room for five minutes. (No word as to whether said pets would have to be on the counters.)

I love this stuff.

Really, I do. Not that people are nasty and hysterical on the internet, but I love the knowledge that there is no form of human endeavor so placid and personal that people will not FLIP THEIR SHIT IN ALL CAPS over it. It’s a train wreck with impeccable curtains and rather nice wainscoting.

Accusations of wallpaper-induced schizophrenia. (And it wasn’t even yellow wallpaper!) Accusations of perversity, because we all know that tile mosaics in the bathrooms is the gateway drug that leads to buggering dingos. Accusations of destroying the resale value (a sin significantly worse than dingo-buggering.) Accusations of hoarding.

Now, I have known hoarders. I have packed up houses that were deeply and profoundly filthy. (Occasionally I will help friends move and they will apologize, and I always shrug and say that I’ve seen worse, because I have.) Having excessive art on the walls is not hoarding. Having a great many kitchen spoons is not hoarding, unless they are piled ankle deep and you weep when someone throws one out. Trust me, if you have actually encountered hoarding, you will not call anyone who allows their home to be photographed for a home decor site a hoarder ever again.

Nevertheless, wander through the comments on some of these, and you will find the enthusiastic, the polite-but-not-for-me, and then you will find the rabid and offended that such a place dare exist as an affront to all that is right and good with the world.

I have a theory about this strange and baffling excess of emotion. (Ok, I have two theories, but one involves IKEA controlling people with birch-laminate mind rays, and I have no proof of that one.)

The first bit is that decor, like cooking and fashion (which I imagine also engenders such rage) are deeply personal. You live with it every single day. It is the next thing after the clothes against your skin. It is the one chunk of your environment you get to control absolutely. And yet, (second bit) like so many aspects of human endeavor, we believe on some level that we are Probably Doing It Wrong, and thus when we find something we think is Right, that which does not conform must be Wrong or else we ourselves might be Wrong, and therefore those who are Wrong must be told so, at increasing and hysterical volume, because…uh…

Okay, theory falls down a bit there. I do not actually care what goes on at other people’s houses, so long as they do not infect me with bedbugs or leprosy. Their wall colors do not reflect on my self-worth. But then again, I am not a Color Therapist On The Internet.

Does it make me a bad person to take such joy in hysterical internet rage? Oh, probably. Partly it’s because I can imagine these people going stark staring mad in my home, which has brightly colored walls, excessive art, and cats on the mantlepiece. (To say nothing of the skull collection, or the standard Artist Studio Decor of “Crap Tacked To The Walls Because I Might Want To Look At It Later.”)

Partly, though, it’s simply a pleasure to know that we scream at each other for such profoundly unimportant things, which makes all the screaming that goes on on a daily basis about politics, religion, whatever seem much less scary and much more like “THESE COUNTERTOPS ARE THE SIGN OF AN UNHEALTHY MIND!”

  • reply Alix D ,

    Have you read New Domesticity? I recommend that – it’s about the new domesticity movement. I suppose I should point out that it’s eminently sane and reasonable writing about people who mightn’t always be either. Just so it’s not false advertising, or false failing to advertise or… whatever. Done now.

    • reply Jodie ,

      OMG!! Those people must channel my mother!! I grew up in the messy house – mom did the arts and craft thing so it was a combo of “cottage industry meets Peggy Bundy”. Warp speed up to about 3 years ago and now she’s a member of the “Home must not have clutter EVER” model home staged housekeeping thing and thinks that her daughters should embrace same because she chooses to do so. I’m, um, a messy housekeeper because it’s more important to DO stuff with my kids than chase them through the house trying to put a coaster under everything and obsessing about dog hair on everything… And the louder she nags, the more I ignore her. My house, my decor. She doesn’t even visit, and she lives only 12 miles away! Thanks for giving me the perspective it’s OK to be cluttered and not have home decor porn in my house!

      • reply Katie ,

        Woman, you have made me laugh so hard I will probably be sick later.

        And it was entirely worth it.

        *is lying on the floor giggling and holding her stomach.*

        “THESE COUNTERTOPS ARE THE SIGN OF AN UNHEALTHY MIND!”

        • reply Jessa ,

          “Accusations of perversity, because we all know that tile mosaics in the bathrooms is the gateway drug that leads to buggering dingos.”

          *dies*

          It’s like you’ve met my mother in law!

          • reply C. S. P. Schofield ,

            I somehow suspect that the people who are really coming unhinged are the ones who don’t actually have anything remotely resembling a style of their own, and live in daily dread that somebody will FIND OUT!

            Naturally, they are deathly afraid of anything that doesn’t look like a Martha Stewart project.

            • reply Jamie ,

              Pastels and dark colors are all well and good if you live in a sunny and warm house/climate. But when you live in a state that has winter for half the year and rainy cold yuck for a quarter of it–and the houses are built to deal with this, read: tiny windows to keep the heat in but unfortunately the natural light out–bright colors are pretty much the ONLY thing to keep you sane.

              I have every intention of painting my house fuchsia with lime and orange trim, because when the entire damn world is gray, I want to smile and feel relief walking into my personal domain. Which will probably be red and gold and bright purple and green on the inside, too.

              But hey, haters gonna hate. They don’t need to come to my place for Thanksgiving.

              • reply Mean Waffle ,

                — “I am a licensed COLOR THERAPIST and I am SO WORRIED about these POOR PEOPLE living in this house who will be driven TO MADNESS AND PSYCHOSIS because BRIGHT COLORS WILL MAKE YOU INSANE!!1!”—

                Oh, dear. That takes me back. My Mom took a shot at that, once, when I responded to a house that had bright red patterned wallpaper in the bathroom and bright blue and green wallpaper in the kitch by painting all the doors in one hallway in crayon colors.

                When I laughed, she switched to claiming to be concerned because the colors were so DARK. OK, one door was a blue so dark it was nearly black, but that was one door out of five. It still didn’t fly, but that was the story she stuck with for about a year.

                • reply Annie D. Cougar ,

                  Oh, so glad I followed the link to this post. You all are my people. OK, I admit it, I am strange and eccentric. I am also happy. My house is a studio with a kitchen (sort of), bath (double-duty), and bedroom. The living room is furnished with a sofa, a chair, two easels, a loom, a spinning wheel, drawers of painting supplies. The bedroom houses my stash of yarn and wool. Walls of every room are filled with paintings and wall hangings and found objects I just like. I LIKE LIVING HERE! I am planning to paint outside of house next year, and each side will look like a different house. Love hearing about like-minded people. Artists save the world from itself.

                  • reply Tom West ,

                    I find it more concerning when I watch property programs and people are selling houses that they have lived in for *years* yet never changed the builders’ beige. It’s like they never really lived there, and it creeps me out. Have whatever style you want, but damnit, I worry when you have none.

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