Dwell's Depictions: Picture Perfect Living in Home Magazines vs. Real Life

Dwell

So much for contemporary shelter magazines trying to get past the gloss in order to show how people actually live. The line between aspirational and too-too perfect has been crossed in the recent New-York-focused issue of Dwell. At least the residents of this apartment are smiling, unlike in many pictorials of this ilk. Yet this immaculately maintained and cleverly designed compact apartment doesn’t jump out as the happiest of places.

Because I trust Dwell doesn’t use people as fictitious props in order to showcase the possibilities of high-style, eco-chic modern living, I assume the (adorable) kids live in this home. But that requires a leap of faith. Those toys in the boys’ room? Impeccably curated! The stuff on top of the gray and white Case Study daybed? So carefully strewn about!

The kitchen, however, is the real eyebrow-raiser. Dwell, whose editorial ethic dictates that apples are shown only if the people who live in the home featured do indeed eat apples, shows a cooking area where you don’t even see a glass of water lying around. Forget a loaf of bread or a bottle of olive oil. OK, I get that home magazines are like fashion magazines — all the blemishes are cleaned and prettied up for the camera. And yet I wonder. Either these are the neatest people on the planet who deeply believe in the psychological and design benefits of stark spaceship white, and/or Dwell has eased up on its groovy, organic approach. And in the process, the rest of us are left to feel hopelessly unhip and sloppy.

This feature reminds me of an article in Sunset about a “zero waste home.” A 100% admirable project. Enviable, even. This family’s organizational skills and intentions put my meager bulk bin purchases at the local health food store to shame. We all need to be reminded of how we can cut back on our over-consumption and earth-harming ways. But is this example a wee bit close to the OCD tipping point?

Let’s just chalk these feelings up to jealousy that this level of neatness nirvana will always elude me. In our house, most surfaces that would look much more attractive uncovered are hopelessly cluttered. (The contents of said messes include back issues of Dwell and Sunset.) Such is real family life. Even the most organized people and loyal Real Simple readers have some element of hidden chaos lurking in their homes, whether it’s a big scary box in the closet or a catch-all junk drawer. But that’s hardly the stuff of glossy magazine content. Instead, our current shelter media world is divided between the perfect Dwellers and the troubled Hoarders.

What do you think about the way shelter magazines portray home life? Weigh in and leave a comment below!

– Jessica Ritz

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