Can’t stop bingeing Open Door? You’re not alone. The thrill of seeing an acquaintance’s apartment for the first time, scanning the spines of your Airbnb host’s book collection, watching an influencer’s closet tour—catching a glimpse of someone’s private space reveals new elements about them. Exploring why we sometimes feel the need to rifle through others’ bathroom cabinets, sociologist Jeanne Curran was quoted in an article from the Los Angeles Times saying, “A medicine cabinet contains objects, and we have a weird faith in objective reality.” In every corner, drawer, and closet of a home, there are truths to be interpreted through the objects they hold. Or, alternatively, we might project what we think it says about ourselves and how we choose to live.
“Shelter magazines” first became popularized in the late 19th century, and many began as architectural journals and eventually morphed into interior design–focused publications, making them more consumer-friendly. Despite the fact that they highlight the homes of celebrities and well-off strangers, they’ve long reflected the sociopolitical shifts in our rapidly changing world through design and trend forecasting—from adopting “livable modernism” during the Great Depression to the romanticization of suburbia during the “white flight” of the 1950s and ’60s.
While we look to house tours in magazines and on Instagram for celebrity info and inspiration for our own homes, there’s a lot about ourselves that we can project onto design. Where do we come from? What give us comfort? What do we value most?
“Questions of home reach deep into our sense of belonging on the planet. How we design our living spaces, and the extent of our ability to do so, speaks volumes about our sense of self-worth and our value in relation to others,” says environmental psychologist Adeola Enigbokan. “The interest in looking at pictures of home design goes beyond escapism. It touches people’s experiences of immigration and asylum, exclusion because of gender or sexual identity, rising and falling in class, fear of living alone for the first time after a divorce, and so on.”
“We all want to know how other people live,” says Genevieve Garruppo, an interior-design photographer. “People are excited to be a voyeur and to look at some design in total amazement, but they’re also looking to see themselves—or who they could be. Not necessarily in an aspirational way, because good design isn’t always about being able to afford the most expensive things: It’s about making your personal space feel like an idealized version of yourself.”