I’ve been living in this house for almost a year now and I still don’t have bowls. Or a rug, or a night stand, or art that isn’t covered in glitter and foam stickers. I have a week to get my life together because we’re hosting my husband’s colleagues for dinner, including the dean of the medical school, who is by far one of the most down to earth people I’ve ever met, but I refuse to have my place look like a dorm room sponsored by Ikea when she comes over for the first time.
We’ve had dinner parties, but not an American one yet. The ones where the host assigns you a seat next to a stranger at a spectacular table set up with not one, but two different glasses for drinking. We mostly host our Persian families, who have no concept of having each course prepared on a plate for them in the kitchen and then served on top of another plate called a charger. This dinner is uncharted territory for us. We’re even considering napkin rings, which took my husband a great amount of effort to describe to me. Do we need those things for the napkins? You know? The thing where the napkin goes? The THING!
A HomeGoods just opened near my house and it’s been all the rage with anyone for whom the thrill of receiving Amazon packages has run its course. I went there for the first time ever and I get it. It’s basically a really shiny garage sale with everything you could possibly need and also absolutely not need. (Like mugs and planners that say “Girl Boss.”)
I was overwhelmed. Then I overheard this lady yelling on the phone about how she refuses to serve ketchup in its bottle and I decided to follow her around. Apparently she was upset with whoever was on the phone because they were suggesting that “for mom’s birthday party” she just serve the ketchup in its own bottle like some sort of savage, and she insisted she wants to serve it in a nicer dish because “you know that’s how I roll.” Honestly she kind of has a point; imagine you’re having Mom’s 100th birthday in the Hamptons (the lady was older and had a cardigan tied around her neck, so my assumptions check out) and someone is squishing the ketchup bottle making fart noises. (Though at this imaginary elegant lake party I don’t know what she’d serve that would require ketchup.)
I followed her down the aisles hoping I’d find out what a special ketchup-serving dish looks like until it was getting too obvious I was stalking her. I had to quickly stop and pretend to browse the dog bowls (I don’t have a dog). I left empty handed, which according to another woman who said “this is my Disneyland” is impossible to do.
Being an adult and putting a house together is much harder than I thought. I wanted to do things right without having to actually hire a designer. This is our home home. So I did the next best thing and watched a lot of The Design Network on Plex for inspiration. Like a lot. And because it’s live TV you have no control over what to watch. You just leave it on and go where the wind takes you. The wind took me from one hot blonde host to another, from a multimillion dollar mountain home reveal to a souped-up Winnebago at a Finnish wedding where it’s tradition for the groomsmen to kidnap the wife until the husband wins her back (a la Dwight Schrute).
And I’m happy to report that after endless hours of watching show after show, I learned absolutely nothing.
Ok, that’s not true. I learned some things. Like what a flex room is (a multipurpose room), or that a “cloud” is something you build when your ceilings are too high and luxurious, a problem I’m sure we all can relate to. Also, The Design Network is basically one really long Home Depot ad.
Full disclosure, if you are here looking for tips on how to be a better, more organized and stylish hostess, you’ll be very disappointed.
If you are here looking to discover how the whole design industry is gaslighting us, and DIY is a scam and you don’t actually want a tiny house, you just think you do, then pull up a vintage chair with distressed flat paint you found at a citywide garage sale and join me as I regale you with all the things you’re missing by not watching these shows.
I’m going to start with my favorite of all time, Levi Kelly, host of Tiny BNB. I watched a lot of this and not one time was I convinced that he was convinced that “this cute little tiny house located in an alley” was an ideal spot for a vacation. You can talk about Fredericksburg, Texas being the new Napa Valley all you want, but this garage transformed into a tiny house still looks like a place where people get murdered.
Levi walks around the homes pointing at things and saying “here you have a couch that’s really good to have” or “the windows all look symmetrical and good.” And because we’re all wondering, “the grill is good for…grilling.” In his defense, how many of these homes can he stay in before he runs out of things to say? They’re tiny, so even though there’s a lot of cool small space design ideas, there really isn’t that much you can do.
Better than his descriptions are his demonstrations. He walks into showers and tells you how “amazing” they are. To the average person in a regular-sized home or apartment, it’s just a shower, but to Levi it’s a “really great design aspect.” Especially the shower in a tiny BNB near Joshua Tree that had a random boulder in it. (I’m sorry, but a rustic industrial tiny house in 118 degree weather sounds like a total nightmare.)
But by far his favorite thing to demonstrate are curtains. Whether it’s shower curtains, window curtains in the bedroom or even curtains outside separating the Jacuzzi from the suspicious alley, he is never not shocked or unamazed that they exist and they work. And you know what, I love this positive energy and childlike enthusiasm.
But not enough to actually ever want to live in a tiny house (where do you even hide from your kids?) or vacation in one. Do you know what else is tiny? Hotel rooms, and they don’t make you climb a ladder to get into bed like a ten-year-old at sleepaway camp, and they even clean up after you. And they have curtains galore.
Vintage Style / Modern Life
Leah Ashley is the host of Vintage Style / Modern Life and she’s actually kind of great (yes, there’s a but. Be patient). I really want to incorporate vintage in my house because I have a lot of stuff from Iran my mom keeps passing down to me because she thinks she’s dying (which she’s been thinking since I’ve known her). But my husband experiences severe cognitive dissonance when antiques and modern pieces are in close proximity to one another.
While I do love vintage pieces, I also think we need to–as a society–draw a line between what is a quality piece and what is worthless junk.
This particular segment was about setting a dinner table, starting with the dining room table and beat-up chairs she found at a garage sale. “For 20 bucks a chair, I couldn’t pass them up.” You should have. They’re garbage. The paint has come off and the wood is totally chipped and you haven’t upholstered the seats. No one is ever going to have dinner at your house because they’ll get splinters and probably bedbugs.
I also have issues with how she sets the table. It’s a beautiful table with a nice runner. So far so good. Then she takes the candles out of the holders and adds planters instead. Ok fine. I can deal with this. But then she brings candle holders–a lot of them–because you “need candles.” But she just removed candles to add planters. Wouldn’t you save some space if you just left those candles where they were? And this is where she loses me: she adds antlers, antlers. “Because why not? We’re in Texas.” Here’s my question: Where does the food go? Do I need to weave my hand through the antlers to get to the albaloo polo? Where do your mom and mother-in-law display their dishes and keep tabs on who is eating what and how much if there are fauna carcasses and vegetation all over the table?
I love me a beautiful table setting, but don’t push it. My pro tip is to get some flowers and a couple of candles, not your whole vintage brass candlestick collection…and call it a day. (I was wrong, I do have tips for you after all).
DIY House Call
Next is Kelly Edwards, host of DIY House Call, who has a really hard job. She basically has to convince people (usually women, it seems) that they’re doing the work themselves. Take Jeannie, for example: Kelly has her smash her vanity to pieces with a sledgehammer so they can replace it. What seems like 10 minutes later, Jeannie comes back to a new, beautifully upgraded “DIY” bathroom. You can’t call it DIY if a literal professional who has a whole show based on remodeling is coming to your house with a team of professional workers to fix everything.
If we’re going to use the term DIY so loosely, then I basically built this house with my bare hands.
Then Jeannie’s husband comes home and sees the remodel and is very happy, no questions asked. Like how much did this cost? And Did Mr. Ohanian approve this? Mr. Ohanian is our family contractor. Any home-related changes or additions go through him. He comes over, has small talk about life, family and politics, comments on our weight loss/gain and then the last 2 minutes of his visit he explains what he’s going to do, regardless of what it is you allegedly think is best. Then he sends Hovik, his right hand man, to do all the work. Which he does in a couple of days with little to no small talk, and leaves. Absolutely nothing like these super perky hosts who humor their clients by letting them use the nail gun once. Ask Hovik to use his nail gun and he’ll nail gun your mouth shut and very nonchalantly get back to his work mumbling something in Armenian that you’re sure is offensive but know you deserve. (I would 100% watch a home improvement show with Mr. Ohanian and Hovik as hosts.)
The DIY delusion is a running theme in most of the shows. Someone takes one paint stroke over their cabinet and the host squeals, “you did it!” Like when I let my kid dump a bag of chocolate chips into the cookie batter and he tells everyone he baked cookies. We are way too wrapped up in DIY projects to validate our competency, when what we really need is to come to terms with the fact that we can’t be competent at everything. Leave it to the professionals. If you need knee surgery, do you DIY it with a saw from Home Depot or go to a professional? Exactly.
So if you ever feel like you need to be that person who builds their own bookshelf and tells everyone about it in order to feel fulfilled, don’t. It’s not necessary. No one will think less of you.
Dream Room in a Day
One person who is by far doing too much is Fariha Nasir, host of Dream Room in a Day. In a day. Why? Why put that pressure on yourself? What if you did it in two days instead? Can they pretend to read The Great Gatsby somewhere else or is a reading nook absolutely necessary by tomorrow? Only a Middle Eastern person would feel they need to one-up everyone by doing it faster and better.
Nasir is from Karachi and has been in the States for 10 years. She’s “dreamed of becoming an interior designer” and I’m glad she made it because also coming from a brown family and being known as the sister who’s NOT a doctor, it’s hard to follow dreams that don’t include a medical or law degree. I wonder if her family has disowned her or just refer to her as a “house doctor.”
Nasir’s show is similar to Kelly’s in that they are allegedly DIY-ing everything. She seems very sincere and and actually offers good tips that I’d be willing to take if she hadn’t placed the books with the spines facing the other way. Now she’s dead to me.
Back to hot blonde hosts, let’s discuss Anne-Marie Barton from The Reveal. She is one of my favorites because one, she actually sounds like she knows what she’s doing. Two, she seems like the type that will definitely not encourage you to DIY anything unless it’s like a hook for your guitar in the basement away from anyone’s sight. And three, she uses “yummy” and “saucy” to describe almost anything.
The episode that really spoke to me was “The Little House” which is actually not that little (though considering the other houses she’s designed, I see why she’d think so). It’s a stunning house with every piece carefully thought out, including curtains that don’t actually work and are just there to “warm” the place (sorry, Levi) and a wooden kitchen table she used as a “large” cheese board at her daughter’s wedding. (Yes, the whole table served as a cheese board, you Neanderthals.) At the end of The Reveal it turns out that though this is a home she would “feel comfortable living in”, right now she uses it as her studio. Her studio.
This is her studio:
She is definitely that person who’d have a special dish for serving ketchup.
Feeling pumped and inspired from all these beautiful (unrealistic) homes, tiny and big, I went back to HomeGoods, where I bought a couple of blue decorative throw pillows for this unyummy and unsaucy couch that’s been the bane of my existence. I then stood back and admired my DIY skills, confident that all those hours watching The Design Network definitely paid off.
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