12 July 2010

A question for the ages: do highly styled rooms help or hurt?

I look over many, many room photographs as part of my job. As a designer, I look at these photos with a different eye. Usually, I want to see how things fit together both structurally and aesthetically. I find cleverly styled rooms to be distracting. A big glass bowl of Froot Loops on a bed makes me roll my eyes and wonder what someone was thinking.

But that's me. What about you guys?

by Decor Demon, photographed by Sarah Dorio modern

Does seeing a line up of Campbell's Tomato Soup cans make you think of Andy Warhol and pine for some pop art? or do things like that come across as literal ideas?

Dream Pantry  kitchen

Do abnormally well-organized pantries inspire you to get more organized or make you feel inferior? Does it come across that the subjects of these photos are fantasies?

by Decor Demon, photographed by Sarah Dorio modern

How about that big glass bowl of Froot Loops? Interesting because it's an interesting shape, color and texture? I'm I being too literal in not being able to see it out of its Froot Loopy context? How about that ladder? Think it's there all the time or was it popped up there just for this shoot?

Between Naps on the Porch traditional dining room

Please don't invite me to dinner if this is the centerpiece. I'm kidding of course. Sort of.

LOVE tablescape eclectic dining room

Do dead and spray painted starfish add interest or are they unappetizing?

Styling with magazines eclectic living room

Do stacked, old children's books, a DIY lampshade and a Russian nesting doll make a nightstand complete?

Do you find cleverly styled rooms to be helpful or distracting? I'm curious.


  1. Are we allowed to say "It depends"?
    I think the froot loops are a relief from the overly limited colour scheme in the first room, but I would have taken them for coloured pebbles.
    The soup tins are fine. They stand for "Decorations, yada yada" because they are so yada yada IYKWIM. Anything regularly arranged isn't a problem.
    More annoying are tablescapes (a new word to me; discovered it via blogging) where the idea is to have a beautiful but completely impractical table setting, with flower arrangements that hide the guests from each other and settings that make eating difficult. The equivalent of that in decorating is a problem.

  2. I take these immaculate, precisely designed rooms to be inspiration. There is no way my house can be that uncluttered and still have family live in them. (LOL) They are unlivable! But, I might take the idea of the DIY lampshade and translate it to my livable home. Or, the ladder stuck on the wall as art - could be translated to some other, more pleasing object that can be spray painted and made into art. It is all about inspiration.

  3. Hello Paul, I hope you had a great weekend!
    Great post but before I go any further can we please burn that bunny centerpiece.
    It hurts my eyes but I can't stop looking at it because it makes me wonder WHY? Are there really people that wake up one morning and think "today I am gonna make a creepy bunny centerpiece". And to make it worse it's in a box.
    Does the hostess crawl under the table during dinner and pop-up the bunny to scare the living daylight out of her guest? Or perhaps a ventriloquist that had a mental breakdown and made it under the influence of anti psychotics?
    The scary bunny centerpiece fascinates me but back to the subject.
    I find it distracting. Clothing items draped over furniture, shoes lying around a room, a half eaten cake on a desk, froot loops on the bed, it all looks like the cleaning lady quit. If you get guests, you clean your house. I like to watch beautiful, clean, clutter free rooms in a shelter magazine. Not that make believe stuff "look there is really someone living here!". I mean come on who has a ladder above their bed? Perhaps if you are into some kind of kinky sex thing but otherwise NO! Well, if your hanging curtains it may come in handy.

  4. These to me are the home equivalent of crazy fashion runway presentations.

    The dude who owns the home in the 1st and 3rd photos, however, does indeed live like that. Perhaps because he used to be a visual merchandiser. The rest of his Atlanta loft is just as bonkers.

  5. I have a tendency to be absurdly literal when I'm reviewing designs and I find all of that shuush to be distracting. In my own work I am the less is more guy and I feel like I've done a good job when I leave behind wide swaths of wide-open spaces. In my mind it's in the big picture you get clever, not in the clutter. But maybe that's just me.

  6. Paul - you might like this blog:


    Not sure if you've seen, but the writer makes fun of overstyled catalog photos. A little like unhappy hipsters.

  7. Already your responses to this post is making me laugh. A well known fact about me for anyone that knows me is that I have a medium case of obsessive compulsive disorder. I don't wash my hands or lock doors or things like that, I just over organize everything in my home, I eat M&Ms one color at a time, etc. So...the photo with all the jars is heavenly to me. I'd be the person who would actually live with a pantry like that. BUT the bunny! My Dad gave my sister and I bunnies like that for Easter when I was about 8 years old, so that made me laugh out loud. I had a boss one time who had a new house built. The big joke among all my co-workers was over this breakfast tray his wife insisted on setting up on the bed every day after they made the bed. So...my opinion is that the weirdos are people who see decor photos styled and think you are really supposed to live your life like that...except for me and the jars that is!!

  8. I think we should discuss what someone that would set a table with a folk bunny would serve a guest for dinner. I'm going with green bean casserole.

  9. Everything served would be a recipe from Women's Day and each would have a hokey name that had nothing to do with the ingredients. Something like "Busy Day Casserole."

  10. Reading your blog has ruined me for life. I was at a friend's new condo over the weekend, saw the mosquito netting hanging over the master bed, and nearly had to smack myself upside the head to keep from saying anything.

  11. Sarah @ Mouser Cabinet Trends12 July, 2010 11:06

    Noting my kneejerk responses to the photos, I apparently find it all rather distracting:
    Photo 1: What a shame, that cake is going to get stale
    Photo 2: What kind of abnormal person would actually have a pantry like this? I don’t feel inspired, I feel pity for anyone who’s compelled to arrange all those jars just so.
    Photo 3: I LOVE M.A.’s ideas for the ladder. Ok, mostly the hanging curtains thing, but that’s all I’m saying…
    Photo 4: When a stylist loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real…dinnerware. Yikes.
    Photo 5: I think I saw that fat starfish move. He’s gonna snag him some chocolate lips.
    Photo 6: This one would have been fine for a boy’s nightstand, with the map shade and the books, but the nesting dolls blew it. It should have been a toy car, or at least have the nesting dolls being attacked by army men. USA! USA!

    I tend to want everything around me to serve a purpose, be really beautiful, or both. Anything else is a distraction. I have enough distractions already. I’ve been to more than one home meeting for remodel projects and saw the homeowner had her dining room table permanently set up with full place settings. I can’t help but hope she dusts those plates before the dinner guests arrive.

  12. YOW!!!!!!!!!!!! I’m not sure if I should shower with a Brillo Pad or scratch my eyes out! I wouldn’t want to live with any of those overly designed rooms. I love my books and have a huge library, but they’re books, not decorative items. The sort of thing that was done in the last picture has always struck me as much too cutsey wootsey.

    The pantry is another item that made my eyes glaze over. When my father first retired at age 65, he took some coffee cans to his workshop, painted them, labeled them, and carefully sorted out every nut, bolt, and miscellaneous item he had collected in a lifetime. When he showed it to me, I said, “Dad, I just hope I never get that bored.” Flash forward many years, and I am now 65. I have a workshop that is still in use. It is organized. I do NOT have rows and rows of those flippin’ painted coffee cans!

    The rest of the pictures you used are, to me, just designers showing off. None of them really has any soul, because it doesn’t look like anyone really lives in those rooms. They’re just items arranged just so for a picture to show off a designer’s purported brilliance. In my opinion.

  13. Kim: You have made my life complete with that comment.

    Sarah: Youa re a woman after my own heart. If something has no function, why is it there? I get into more trouble from thinking that way...

    Joseph: Some day I'll take a photograph of my retired Father's garage workshop. It displays a level of organization and labeling that borders on the pathological. So far as your comment about stylists showing off goes, I'm inclined to side with you but the real motives are a good deal more complex. I wonder if I can scare up a stylist to bring in here to defend his or her entire profession.

  14. I was watching HGTV this weekend...don't mock me, I love the tv show Selling New York. :) Anyway, I saw a commercial for one of those first time homebuyer shows or something and they had staged their home with fake everything. Fake food, fake laptop, it was hilarious.
    I'm on the same page as Chookie saying "it depends". A well organized pantry will inspire me any day. A bowl of Fruit Loops on the bed makes me think of an accident waiting to happen.

  15. No judgment Steph! I watched the unfolding, weekly bad dream that is Design Star last night.

  16. The accident waiting to happen is that lamp on top of the piles of books! That was a great way to render a table completely useless. I'm a less is more gal, too, Paul, but I find that I pick apart the content of the room photos to gather inspiration and try to ignore the obvious styling. I rather like the soup cans and the green ladder over the bed, because they add pops of color and create patterns and contrast, but it's not cluttered. The bowl of froot loops is...cute, though I doubt the intention was to make that room look cute. What can I say about the tablescapes? Complete visual clutter and well, just hideous. Starfish with heart doilies and candy? And don't get me started on the bunny.

  17. I understand the drive to make a photograph interesting, I really do. But at what point does it cross the line? Since you brought it up, the starfish really bother me. Starfish belong in the sea and if people knew the effects of the wanton harvest of starfish and seahorses I doubt they'd figured so highly in decor. As a diver, I take huge pains not to touch anything when I'm underwater (well I don't harvest anything --sometimes I have to pick up something to see what it is but I always put it back where I found it). Marine ecosystems need things like starfish to work and I can't stand seeing them anywhere but in the sea. Don't be anywhere near me when I see dead coral in someone's house!

  18. "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."

    William Morris 'The Beauty of Life' 1880
    The Arts & Crafts Movement

    The pantry would be useful....but I would need someone to keep it dust and dog hair free. The rest of these......not so much. I'd never get any sleep under that ladder.

    Posers posing.

  19. You never fail to crack me up. Upon first glance I thought this caption read: "Do stacked, old children's books, a DIY lampshade and a Russian nesting doll make a nightmare complete?" Whoops, my eyes play tricks on me.

    For me it's the overly done formal dinnerware settings.

  20. The word "tablescape" raises my blood pressure.

  21. Cyra: Posers posing is perfect.

    Becky: Between your hives and my blood pressure we should both swear off paging through design magazines.

  22. Here's one that drives me crazy, when people have a room designed professionally and never move any of the objects. I grew up in neighborhoods with housewives who did just that. They were like museum rooms that got dusted twice weekly. Boring!

  23. I can't imagine letting someone else pick out the accessories I have laying around. That's how I tell my life's story for crying out loud. Every object I own has some tale to tell. That sort of history's not available at Ballard Design!

  24. I am over all over-styled rooms. Either give me a room in perfect non-overtly styled condition, or give me a real-life interior. Most stylists are so into themselves they no longer see reality. The fact they get paid is extraordinary.

  25. I like the organized spices in the pantry although I know I will never arrange my pantry that way. Why? Because I won't use as much spices as that. I don't cook much, so there. With the other styles.... well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

  26. I totally agree with this post, which expresses my opinions so perfecty that I have nothing to add.


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