Home decorating becomes matter of instinct
Many Canadians start by imitating, but over time develop their own style
From our colour-blocked bookcases to carefully chosen coffee-table books, it’s easy to assume Canadians’ style is about as authentic as the knock-off Barcelona chairs staged within.
But a Montreal researcher finds that even as “our homes are clichés,” we’re not phonies so much as people who fake it ’til we make it. That is, our decor choices may begin with imitation, but those decisions eventually become instinctive – much like how we know not to pair socks with sandals (well, most of us, anyway).
This bears out in a new Journal of Consumer Research study that suggests taste gets so ingrained, home decorating is actually less a public performance than a genuine means of personal fulfilment.
“Some critics can be cynical, like we’re just decorating for others. But we do it for ourselves, too,” says study author Zeynep Arsel, an assistant professor of marketing at Concordia University in Montreal.
“Of course i’m happy when one of my friends sees something in my home and says, ‘That’s cool!’ But 85 per cent of the time, I’m the one appreciating that cool thing.”
Arsel’s study, co-written by Jonathan Bean of Parsons the New School of Design, draws on 15 hours of interviews and analysis of more than seven years of posts and comments on Apartment Therapy, a leading design website. It explains tastemaking as a three-phase loop: problemization, instrumentalization and ritualization.
“It all starts with acknowledging that things could be better,” Arsel says. “Before visiting these websites, I never thought that having visible electronics cables was a big deal. But it turns out it’s a big aesthetic no-no, and I’m now very anal about it.”
Instrumentalization refers to rationalizing a design choice or purchase. And ritualization is the process through which imitation gives way to embodiment.
“We start by looking at these decorating sites and emulating what we see. But through repeated exposure, we develop a natural affinity for relating to objects, mix and matching them, picking the ‘right’ props and using them the ‘right’ way,” says Arsel.
“When we buy a coffee table, we not only know where to put it, but also which antique vase to put on it, and in which corner that antique vase must be placed. These decisions become normal to us after a while.”
Andrew Potter, Canadian author of The Authenticity Hoax, says the ritualization process helps explain why so many people don’t look at their style judgments objectively.
“When it comes to other people, we have no problem seeing their taste as a function of their class – ‘lowbrow,’ ‘bourgeois,’ ‘nouveau riche’ and so on. But when it comes to their own judgments, almost everyone thinks that they simply ‘like what they like,’” says Potter.
“It’s similar to the phe- nomenon where no one thinks they talk funny; other people have accents, while I simply pronounce words naturally.”
Nancy Marcus, the Vancouver blogger behind Marcus Design, confesses that Pinterest and decor blogs have been very influential on her style choices, as her background is actually in biochemistry.
“They’ve greatly affected my taste,” says Marcus, whose perfectly curated blog belies her inexperience with design. “But it’s a very fine line. There are even a few designers I know who’ve said, ‘I can’t do a chevron rug because it’s too ‘bloggy.’ So it can go the opposite way as well.”
Interior designer Julie Okamura says online decor sites are indeed endowing people with better taste and know-how. But she adds that it’s also making them unrealistic.
“Everybody thinks they’re a designer or a decorator now,” says Okamura, principal at Calgary-based Pop Design Group.
Home-makers often get decorating ideas from friends, magazines and other outside sources, but over time they tend to develop a style designed to please them and make them comfortable, and not to impress visitors.