Are You Over-Propped?


This article which appeared in the New York Times last week has caused a lot of controversy out there in the blogosphere and touches on stuff we’ve been talking about recently.  The author, with a hint of self-deprecation, gently criticises those who style their homes to within an inch of their lives and fills them with ‘props’, such as vintage typewriters which look pretty but which are never going to be used. 




You used to see it a lot in homes which were styled for interiors mags or had been pulled together by an interior designer and filled with objects, art and even books, which had been chosen for how they looked in the space and not for what they meant to the inhabitants.

But now in these days of interiors mags, design blogs, books about design blogs and, heaven help us, Pinterest, design trends and ideas seem to appear, become ubiquitous and turn into clichés in the blink of an eye. As this also fascinating article in Vanity Fair has it, so many of us now;

‘have become amateur stylists—scrupulously attending, as never before, to the details and meanings of the design and décor of their homes, their clothes, their appliances, their meals, their hobbies, and more.’

There has been an inevitable backlash from bloggers, and lots of heated discussions on Facebook etc. – after all what’s wrong with wanting to create a beautiful and carefully curated living space?

For me part of the key is authenticity – by all means colour code your books if it’s easier for you to find them that way; display your Le Creuset pots with pride if you actually use them for cooking and revel in that inherited Arco lamp that fills you with memories of a favourite aunt. 

And yes, stubbornly continue to enjoy your owls even after 81% of your readers have told you they’re over as a design trend.

But at what point does today’s pretty object turn into tomorrow’s ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ poster? How do you decide what objects to give houseroom to? And what mistakes have you made – barcarts and globes that just gather dust; trendy paint colours that now make you cringe; objects that you bought on a whim because you saw them in a design blog, but have never really fitted into your home?

The writer of the article lists – extremely weird – design clichés here. Some like the bar cart I can totally understand, but fresh flowers, a cliché? Seriously?



  1. deri says

    What an irritatingly pointless feature. Sounds like someone was desperately scouting around to fill column inches. Of course interiors are trivial nonsense but what else are affluent people meant to do with their disposable incomes in an unprecedentedly long period of peacetime? (Apart from taking photos of every single one of their breakfasts on instagram?)
    As someone once said, it doesn’t take long for a piano to get into a house on the prairie….

  2. says

    I’m going to be the B who says I agree. It’s why we see the same stuff everywhere. It’s draining – draining seeing the same accessories at every house I show up to shoot and tiring keeping track, or worse, finding the latest coolest thing that no one has seen before in the hopes it becomes a trend. To not get caught up in the madness, my rule is it only goes in my home if I love it, and it has a purpose, even if that purpose is just to make me smile – trend be damned. I love your owls, Paola. Enjoy them. My house is covered in animal print. Sometime when I sit in a chair, my animal print outfit clashes with my furniture. I don’t care what anyone thinks and I don’t care if it’s gone out of fashion. I’ll pour you another martini from my (fictional) bar cart if it bothers you. When I was a child, my most glamorous ‘aunt’ always wore drapey animal print dresses (she had a bar cart). I thought she was the coolest with the white streak in her stark black hair. That’s what inspires me. The fact that it became a trend meant that I could choose and stockpile the products I liked for way less money than anything custom. Rock what you love. I don’t believe people are doing that today. And I think that’s the point of the article. Not that fresh flowers are out – that’s just ridiculous.

  3. says

    I think I agree with all of you, that it should be all about ‘rocking what you love’. But as @Michele points out some people are just rocking what they’ve been told to love by blogs and Pinterest.
    And I’m interested, because sometimes I find it difficult to distinguish between the two.

  4. deri says

    But why does it matter, whether it’s genuine and original or slavishly copied? Why bother distinguishing? No-one is truly original – well, almost no-one. we’re all influenced, we’re all copying someone… faintly cross with the whole feature for some reason and not sure why…. x

  5. says

    @deri I don’t think it’s a question of being original or copying. You’re right, there’s nothing new under the sun.
    I think it’s more whether the things you have are stage ‘props’ which just look good, or whether they’re there for a more authentic reason.
    I think the bar cart is a good example. Last year they featured all the time in American interiors mags. For a brief moment I even thought about getting one myself – all the bottles and pretty glasses looked so pretty. But then I came to my senses I’m not Don Draper and very rarely have a cocktail at the end of the day and it would just have sat there gathering dust and cat hair. But if I’d succumbed it would have been just another prop. But it sounds like for @Michele’s aunt (and possibly for Michele) it would fit much more into their lives and be a much more authentic addition to their home.
    Or take my friend who had his apartment interior designed right down to the knick knacks and ended up with a fat white porcelain buddha sitting on his shelf. It’s there because it looks good (if you like that sort of thing) and he has become grudgingly fond of it. But would he have chosen it for himself? Did it come from his travels or bring back great memories? No. It was just a prop.

  6. deri says

    I do think at the far extreme – ie letting an interior designer choose your stuff – you’re invariably going to end up with something fairly impersonal. I still remember my aching face after smiling politely following an exhaustive tour of xxx’s house in Richmond, which had been ‘done’ professionally – I found it utterly soulless, they were thrilled to bits with it.
    I dunno. I’m a total jackdaw. Alongside an ‘authentic’ tagine bought in a Marakech souk are ‘props’ I’ve bought because they looked so good in other people’s kitchens, or sets in magazines. Does this make the latter inauthentic? I love them equally…. ;-D

  7. says

    I love your owls. My mother has had a collection of owls for almost 50 years (they’re the mascot of the university my parents attended), so I don’t tend to think of them as being trendy. But I guess I don’t think much about trends; I’m pretty comfortable with what I like and don’t like.

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