Notes on the journey of motherhood

Why we get lathered up over house porn

minimalist interior

If the bookmarks on our family tablet are any guide, we are consumed by home real estate. The top two sites are realestate.com.au and domain.com.au, and my husband visits them everyday – often several times a day – just as one might check the weather or the news. It’s odd; we’re not in the market for a home. We have every intention of staying in our current home while the kids are in school.

My husband, it would seem, is addicted to house porn.

There is no greater temptation than other people’s domestic spaces. Online and in print, homes have shrugged their mowing overalls and their aprons, and instead prowl around wearing nothing but a pair of Jimmy Choos. In house porn, there are no shoe baskets boiling over at the backdoor, no hooks creaking with school bags and weather gear, no rubbish to take out. The stone island bench with double sink is the new money shot.

Carina Chocano in The New York Times speaks of this preoccupation with interior spaces as a kind of ‘sehnsucht’ or “addictive yearning”, a longing for a life we think we should have, but don’t. Here it’s not so much about the thing being longed for, so much as the longing itself. Of the pictures Chocano collects, she says, “they were mine because I internalised them.”

“Why not dive into an alternative world of beauty and novelty and emotion and the hard-to-put-your-finger-on feeling that there’s something more, somewhere …” These collectings are chosen because they tell us about who we are, and who we want to be, a form of self-expression. What does this form of self-expression say about our true desires?

For a long time the only thing my husband and I read outside of work were interiors magazines, online and off. As DINKS (double income, no kids), a large part of our owning house involved us ‘playing house’ inside our heads and on weekends, touring interiors stores as though walking through art galleries.

Our own playful curation ended for me when our first-born began to use his new found mobility to completely undo all of our carefully styled plans. This form of pinning and pining for styled domestic spaces at this point began to feel like an exercise in holding my breath. Instead of measuring life by what we already had (a lot by world measures), it became a yardstick of all the things we didn’t have. It was as though the house externalised everything I felt inside; when will this (or I) ever be enough?

The images used in selling homes and interior products portray painfully unrealistic spaces. Six bedroom homes with four bathrooms and not a single towel is draped casually. All are folded with the precision of a CAD drawing; all it took to present this image of perfection was a click and drag motion. It gives the illusion that life in this house would be so free and easy. All of my problems would be solved if only those were my towels hanging in the bathroom. No part of my brain registered that I would likely be the cleaner of those 4 bathrooms, or that some of our towels date back to the early noughties.

How much of this yearning is a result of our technology and its connectedness: its pace, its finish, and its flawless minimalist veneer? Never before have we had such unlimited access to other people’s private spaces, and never before have these spaces been so curated. It creates the illusion that everybody else is leading a stylish, organised life, with every article of domestic dreary neatly tucked away beneath the sink. The untold effect of this world built of veneers is the pressure it puts on our domestic lives. There are so many Joneses on the World Wide Web, how will we ever keep up?

It’s true Australians are fixated on home ownership. The steady stream of home improvement shows and reality television in the past 15 years have fed our appetites to such an extent that buying and selling real estate has virtually become a competitive sport. Gone are the days of making do with what you have and upsizing as you grow out of it.

The only house porn my husband and I agree upon is Grand Designs. The show reflects host Kevin McCloud’s belief that “a home is a working environment. It’s like a piece of engineering, a work in progress.” Good design creates a home that fits a person (in size and style) and will do so for some time. Private spaces in this respect can be regarded as places which can be beautiful but also allow us to be unfinished; artifice, on the other hand, will only fit for as long as the season allows before it’s shrugged off for the next new thing.

So many homes are styled as though they are public spaces, erased of their soft corners. They have seats only for resting as a bird might land on a perch, never with the expectation of settling down. The nest – the place where the bird finally comes to rest – is made of found objects, woven together and held there only by intimate force. A nest is a place that is unfinished, because its inhabitants are constantly remaking it.

 Do you read house porn for the articles?

51 Responses to “Why we get lathered up over house porn”

  1. Kelly Exeter

    Ha ha I wondered when you were going to mention Grand Designs. We watched a pearler last night. Dreaaaaaaaming – but it is fun dreaming :)

    Reply
  2. Jess WhoaMamma

    Oh, Kevin! I love him! I went and saw him at the Grand Designs Live expo in Melb recently. I will unashamedly admit I went fir a perve. And Peter Maddison isn’t too bad either, in an intellectually/architecturally arousing kind of way x I get my domestic erotica thrills from Ikea catalogues, Inside Out magazines and Pinterest. My father was an architect/musician. I think I got my love of abodes from him. X

    Reply
  3. Michelle

    This is just beautiful and true. Have you sent this one off to be published elsewhere? (hint: you should).
    Michelle

    Reply
  4. chelseajin

    I think that a “nice” house is a bad investment, because oftentimes it’s out of your price range but you think having this perfect exterior/interior will make you happier. If you can restrain yourself to work in a more affordable space, I think it does pay you back as a nice looking environment that will lift your spirits.

    I like your comment that they are sterile and impractical spaces, and yet, we are in love with them. The laws of physics can’t be denied though, everything goes towards entropy.

    Reply
  5. Theasaurus

    Three years ago, I bought a property for the first time, and since then my interest in other properties has intensified.

    I wonder if owning a property has any effect on enhancing this “pining for styled domestic spaces” syndrome. Perhaps it’s a case of “once you’ve tried, you’ll always want more.”

    Reply
  6. Ursa Bowers

    Oh my, I can related to this. I never used to really care for that sort of thing, but then, last Christmas, my family had HGTV on all the time and I became addicted (probably part of creeping closer and closer to 30– I’m 23). It’s definitely a way for me to imagine myself living a cleaner, less complicated life, and I always come back to reality afterwards feeling rather bitter about it. Honestly, you put it so perfectly, I don’t know what to add.

    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed, you really deserve it. It’s rare to see someone on the blogosphere addressing topics like this with the care and intelligence you clearly applied here. I would definitely love to read a piece like this in a magazine… do you publish elsewhere beyond your blog?

    Reply
    • Ursa Bowers

      I debated whether it was worth saying anything… but shame won, so… Sorry for the typo! This is the third or fourth time that the lack of an edit button has kicked my butt today.

      Again, love your blog! And again, sorry *bows out*

      Reply
  7. wordswithnannaprawn

    Terrific post and I’m guilty as charged….I too trawl realestate.com.au on a regular basis. I’m trying to strike some sort of compromise by fishing great ideas for my current home from sale photos of other peoples interior design. In 23 years of marriage we’ve owned four homes in the UK, two in Australia and rented one. We’ve built two of those from scratch and still weren’t completely satisfied with the end result……..I think I just have eternally itchy feet and Kevin,Kath, and Kim et al don’t help with the emphasis on ‘unusual, different, noice’!! Doesn’t say much about our individuality when we are constantly trying to emulate the Jones’s….maybe it’s the picture perfect, mess free existence I crave the most!

    Reply
  8. avistyle89

    This is hilarious because I use Pinterest to do the exact same thing! I’m constantly pinning pictures of mansions into my board “In my Dreams” filled with dream homes! So yes, I absolutely look at house porn.

    I just wrote a blog post about this actually, how we spend an impeccable amount of time looking at the past or future instead of just looking around. I think you may enjoy it as much as I enjoyed your house porn! haha!

    https://nerdlaughlove.wordpress.com/2012/10/27/staring-contests-with-my-cat-hurricane-sandy-puts-things-into-perspective/

    Reply
  9. michaellangford2012

    We live in a ‘happening house’ that has been in the process of growth and adjustment for twenty years; comfortable, funky and inviting. Our neighbors can’t understand why we don’t appreciate their brand-new, architect-designed eco-trendy house where he doesn’t have room for a proper workshop. The entire house should be creative space, and whoever lives in it should have the freedom to create there. Anything else is simply obscene.

    Reply
    • Cherrie Zell

      I agree with the idea of a house being a creative space – the entire house. Growing up, I lived in a number of house configurations and the best had space for doing stuff that did not have to be cleared away to allow space for the evening meal. My current home has plenty of creative space, but it is now too disorganised to allow for much creativity. “Renew” is the happening word at the moment.

      Reply
    • knottywood

      mic, I could have written that. Hahahahah… I was a California remodeling contractor for over 20 years. When I see stuff like this I always wonder if the contractor made money! Ha! I’m a sucker for photos. I got boxes of them, some would blow this photo away. This house is just soft-core, afternoon soaps kind of stuff… not real xxx rated porn. During the ’90s dot-com boom to bust I worked on some of the most incredible pieces of property building crazy big houses. Real graphic obscenity!! I will bet you a hundred bucks that in the last 20 yrs they never yet set foot in the dining room or the formal living room… their housekeeper decorates for each season… bedrooms that have never been slept in, and not a soul has knocked on the front entry door or wrung the bell. More money than brains contractors used to joke about clients. I had clients who were yuppie millionaires when I first met them and in ten years they reached a point where they could spend a mill a day and never run out. I worked for maybe three clients in all that time who had real vision, creativity, guts, knew how their lifestyle worked and where they wanted to be in 25 years… money not an issue. These were very talented, prolific, hardworking creative people. They felt their homes/studio/shops, surroundings should be a reflection of their own persona and lifestyle. Truly works of art through a life time in progress. A shame in a way, their places will never be photographed, because privacy was the reason for the locations. I love building cool stuff and spending other peoples money! I’m a ho, I’ll build anything for money. The majority of my clients looked at their homes as an accessory… are you a Aston-Martin guy or Ferrari, Lear or Gulfstream… Los Altos Hills or Woodside? They were madly gifted at turning lines of code into money. Some architects, designers realized it was of little consequence how much something cost and they could schmooze them into some crazy sterile, cold feeling, barren “modern” houses. Clients that really didn’t have any self confidence that they could decide how their surroundings should look or feel. They were truly looking for professional guidance, but like a visit to the dentist or vet. It’s something that they didn’t have time to deal with and for them it was no real emotional consideration. It’s a just a house… or just another of their houses. Yeah, that’s what I say too… it’s just a house, all just stuff, material crap. I watched mansions burn to the ground in minutes. All that was lift was the firebox, footings and granite counters. I’m so jaded. I have worked on some really mind bending jobs. It takes a lot to impress me. I mean I get design and style as a statement. I guess I don’t run into people very often that I would have a burning desire for them to design my clothes, home or furnishings… let alone give them money to do it. So maybe it’s hard for me to wrap my head around living in this house in this photo. Whenever I walk into places like this, the first thing I think is; where is the grand piano! If that was my house, where the couch is would be a Steinway Concert Grand, set of drums and Double Bass… hahahah know what I sayin’… I mean what a waste of a space.

      Reply
      • michaellangford2012

        Have you seen Len Brackett’s book on building Japanese style houses? Read Chris Schwarz Anarchist’s Tool Chest? Why bother improving the wealth of the wealthy? Someone else will do that.

  10. sarahtsib

    I love looking at interior design mags but the killer for me is peoples instagram shots of their clean homes, casually draped cushions, outdoor furniture that doesnt look like a mismatch of hard rubbish finds. I want cute quirky items, I want long wooden benches distressed just enough to look old but feel rustic but I know the minute I get the house the way I want it Ill probably stop, look around and realise how pointless it all is. Ill take grubby finger marks on my windows any day. A cushion isnt a cushion until someone has wiped their Vegemite mouth on it.

    Reply
  11. Just Me With . . .

    Great post. I completely understand, though I think I might be a recovering house porn addict. But I do enjoy it, still, in moderation. I tsk tsk at the sterile homes, though, and shake my head at the open floor plans that are hard to live in. I wonder wear the “stuff” is and whether people really spend that much time in those huge bathrooms, and whether they actually use those bathrooms for the intended primary purpose. I wonder how people, especially the ones who move to the other side of the world, really expect their friends and family to visit so often that they need to purchase rooms for them. Okay, so maybe I’m still addicted. Maybe I am.

    Reply
  12. bambusasolutions

    You know how you go into a dress shop and the attendant asks if she can help you, and you respond with “Just browsing”? Well, my husband and I are perpetual “house browsers”. We look at house porn and then we visit open homes – quite regularly.

    We provide agents with critical reviews of their products too, whether they want them or not – like real estate secret shoppers; and we’re not in the market to buy a house at the moment.

    We don’t always browse; we have bought and sold houses a few times over the last 10 years, but it will probably be a few more years before we buy another house.

    Reply
  13. rockedbypilates

    My husband sounds like your husband’s twin. Grand Designs is his fave show and he looks on the property websites all day too. Mind you, after 2 years of him doing this, we are finally in the market. So it may all come to good then!

    Reply
  14. joehoover

    It’s all I ever do on my laptop these days, saving for a property but I live in London so you need a deposit which would buy a house outright anywhere else in the country! Even though am still 18 months off buying somewhere it doesn’t stop me looking constantly and dreaming.

    Reply
  15. Theophania Elliott

    Great post! I know what you mean… I’m not a house-porn addict myself, but I can see the attraction. I wonder if, looking at those perfect spaces, the real attraction is the life the people who own those spaces must be living? A house like that clearly says “I have money and, more importantly, I have time. I have time to keep the house absolutely perfect (or the money to pay someone else to do it); I don’t have to rush anywhere. If I have children, they are perfect children, and they put things away after they finish playing. Since birth. Because my house is now perfect, I have the time to pursue other projects. Travel the world. Write a book. My life is elegant, graceful and fulfilled.”

    I dream of redecorating our house; it still has the old-lady wallpaper and carpets from the previous owner, seven years ago. But other, more important – to us – things have claimed our time and money. One day, though… :-)

    Reply
  16. ApparentlyApril

    I’m only 21 and I’ve always loved looking at homes. It might have to do with how often my family moved around, but I still love to fantasize about my ideal house. :D

    Reply
  17. lifeinzuri

    I love Grand Designs! And as a thirty something with no kids, still pride myself in constantly half-creating my perfect space! Always disappointed at it’s not as easy as it looks……. Then I give up. Until next time!

    Reply
  18. Joanna

    I actually love looking at rooms designs, bathrooms, closets and house designs in general. There are so many things people can do with the space. Of course it also depends on the space available like size, dimensions, etc.

    I also look at them to get ideas for my room. =)

    Reply
  19. remodelingpurgatory

    I have been a “house porn” addict for years and it is finally paying off during our remodel. And yes, I read the articles as well as drool over the photos. The trick now is for the marriage to survive the project! it seems that you and your husband are on the same page regarding your house; keep it up!

    Reply
  20. Grumpa Joe

    At the tender age of sixty eight I finally bought the house of my dreams. Having raised kids in a dinky thousand square foot space we managed well. Then we upped to a larger house under the guise that the kids are older now; one was twenty-three and the other twenty-seven. They needed their own spaces. Within five years both kids were gone. Wifey and I were finally empty nesters. We kept the big house to entertain friends and for the family at holidays. It became a repository for collections, the stuff of life.
    Then wifey died and I continued. I found a new wife, and together we have moved into a the last home of our dreams. No kids, no stuff, just white walls and extravagantly framed art prints. Somehow, we manage to spend the bulk of our awake time in two rooms, me in my office (loaded to the ceiling with the stuff of life) and she in her sitting room crowded with books. The remainder of the dream house is an art museum.

    Reply
  21. Alison

    Oh you’re so right… That’s exactly why I look at these spaces online to see a space that’s so unlike my own – neat & tidy! I really want to recreate these spaces too but in reality I have an 18 month old who likes to tear the place apart and a husband who never picks up after himself! I think I best keep dreaming!

    Reply
  22. The Sandwich Lady

    Great post, and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! I’d love to see some of these showcase homes before the stagers moved in to get them ready for the cameras. Many of these homes just don’t look livable. It’s a challenge to make a home elegant yet comfortable at the same time. I remember visiting one “showcase home” when my children were small, and its owner followed us everywhere with a spray bottle of Windex!

    Reply
  23. kitchenmudge

    Is Australia still showing a lot of house porn on tv? In the U.S., that went out when the housing bubble burst. The proliferation of house porn, around 2005-6 was in fact a clear indication that the marketing of real estate was full bore, and the bubble was reaching it peak. That sehnsucht led lotsa people down the road to ruin.

    Reply
  24. karenspath

    Hilarious, but true, so so sadly true. I look at my house, and those futile but oh so cute throw pillows that spend more time on the floor than the corners of the couch, and think about all the things that still need changing (five years into a outdated house – think paneling, wallpaper from the eighties etc) and wonder if it will ever be done. Then I look at all the space where my kids build with legos and Lincoln logs and the tables overrun with art projects and realize that if I had that sterile perfect house than I probably wouldn’t let them doing anything for fear of “ruining” the look. Although … If I could change one thing from the last five years it would probably be the banana that got danced into the carpet by the 2 year old … twice! =) I like to look at those perfect houses but I think I’ll keep the living space I already have!

    Great post! Congrats on being freshly pressed!

    Reply
  25. TheWordpressGhost

    Reblogged this on thewordpressghost and commented:
    OK,

    I love beautiful living spaces. And I think that is what this blog was about.

    Help me out, and tell me if I am WRONG. It does have ‘porn’ and ‘house’ in the same sentence, so I might be wrong.

    Thanks,

    ghost.

    Reply
  26. Carli | Tiny Savages (@tinysavages)

    Great post Karen. I love reading house porn – be it Inside, Real Living or realestate.com.au however on one occasion I was admiring a celebrity’s abode and there on the cushions was a price tag! All my illusions were shattered ;)

    Reply
  27. sarahjbc

    Reblogged this on and commented:
    Omg I can relate so well. My favourite show I can watch for hours is house hunters international by hgtv!

    Reply
  28. Architectural Nexus

    Picture, pictures, pictures! It’s all about the pictures. There are articles in house-porn magazines?

    Reply
  29. DannaBunny

    Great story! I’ve too had these same thoughts about my ever yearning more a New Home and for some reason thinking that New Home wouldn’t have it’s share of problems! Ha! I’m dillusional I guess some might say!!! Get real I tell myself!!! Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  30. philofelinist

    I’m guilty of that and am addicted to the ‘Apartment Therapy’ site. As I don’t own, I trawl through realestate.com.au and fantasise about my dream place. I’ve noticed that there’s few ‘renovator’s delight’ kind of places. Everything has been fixed and that looks remotely shabby is torn down to make way for townhouses and apartments. The sterility comes from the bloody ‘Metricon’, ‘Porter Davis’ kind of project homes. Shabby chic is dead, the style just doesn’t suit McMansions.

    Reply

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