The strange allure of the TikTok refuge

The apartment flashes up as a Frank Ocean song plays. We see a white sofa with cushions: white squares, pink square, ocher orb, black square. Later come the quick cuts: to a free-standing shelf (white backs only), to the cushions again, to a see-through coffee table (an opportunity, really, to show off the checkered rug underneath). We see a companion dog on a bedspread, a side table, a TV stand, the couch again, a dining area with Thonet style chairs. Among these selected images is a shelf of selected objects, centered on a Polaroid camera. Then come the bedroom, the bar cart, the white Smeg toaster. Everything passes before we can absorb it, but we are not supposed to absorb it – only to have impressions.

This is a typical post on what I have come to think of as Shelter TikTok, a 2021 take on 20th century design and architecture magazines. On Shelter Tok, you don’t move so much through a space as you move through it, orbiting from element to element. Mainstays of the genre include enlarged images of carefully placed objects and a lack of interest in negative space. On TikTok, everything scrolls; why should houses be different?

In another video, we watch a tattooed hand spin a golden illumination dial before it walks through an upholstered headboard. From there we cut to the ceiling, where a wooden pendant hangs from a white molding amid undulating zebra stripes. The camera turns on the ground, where we see that the headboard is not for a bed; it supports a row of orange cushions. Nearby is an emerald carpet with an orange border and a stylized image of a cheetah at its center. We see a smiley framed in gold. A projection screen that rolls up to reveal a mirror above a white brick fireplace. Hanging plants. An alcove full of windows. We return to the needle on the dial; video loops.

There are people who will carefully study these TikToks, as I have. They will stop in each room to jot down details that can be collected on their Pinterest boards, if not in their own homes. They want to know where the sofa, the rug, the bookcase came from. “It’s my style exactly!” says one commentator on this first video, perhaps happy to find a new way to identify with. “What would you call it?”

The first known use The term “shelter magazine” appeared in The New York Times in 1946, when the newspaper reported that Jerome J. Brookman had been appointed advertising manager for Your Own Home, a “low cost housing shelter magazine.” . Brookman was a WWII veteran and his return home coincided with a housing boom as 2.4 million other veterans received government guaranteed loans to fulfill their (often suburban) American dreams. It was during this time that taste makers like Elizabeth Gordon, who edited House Beautiful for 23 years, made the refuge category a model of life. In 1960, Gordon’s two-issue series on the Japanese concept of shibu was so popular that the set sold for up to $ 12 – the equivalent of over $ 110 today. When I visited Gordon’s Archives at the Smithsonian in 2017, I found them filled with letters of praise for Japanese design issues. One woman wrote: “Not since the doctor said, ‘He’s a BOY!’ was I so excited ”; her husband was so taken that he built a patio and a windbreaker inspired by the designs in the magazine.

He could do this because, along with photographs, the major shelter magazines – House Beautiful, Better Homes and Gardens, House & Garden – came with floor plans and building instructions. They even had competing model house programs. Shelter meant approaching the structural aspects of the house as something the occupant had control over: light sources, indoor climate, ceiling height, landscaping.

It’s hard to pull off monastic minimalism when you have a popcorn ceiling.

On Shelter Tok, such control is a thing of the past. The majority of US TikTok users are under 29, a group that includes millennials (only 37% of whom will own a home by age 34), gen Z (24 or older) and others too young to think about it. build a windbreak. According to Bloomberg, 18% of millennial renters don’t plan to stop renting someday; many will continue to live in situations where you can barely get permission to repaint. Some Shelter Tok videos may be the result of actual renovations – appliances, appliances, wallpaper – but the audience is there to identify with the taste displayed, not to implement it.

Where the function is not negotiable, the form thrives. Much like a teenager’s bedroom, Shelter Tok is all about masking a lack of control with personal items and good vibes. It’s not just a far cry from the old shelter magazines; it’s even a far cry from videos on other social media platforms. YouTube, for example – a platform with copious DIY home improvement content – is also home to Architectural Digest’s celebrity series “Open Door,” in which the viewer is greeted at the entrance to the subject’s home and led away. to experience the real flow of space. Shelter Tok does not have such a formality.

Last year, a popular intro video on TikTok was a version of “Objects in my house / apartment / bedroom that make sense.” It’s the modern version of tearing down a wall to open a play : give sense of your identity within the house. Recently, a conversation starter variant showed the dangers of being a young tenant with distinctive tastes. “The things that, in my opinion, make my house unique,” ​​begins its creator. We are shown a tatami mat on the floor and small stacks of books, instead of shelves. There is a Rei Kawakubo chair, but it is used for sweaters, not for sitting. Decorations are sparse but include a black single-stemmed vase, a purse hanging from a cup hook in the ceiling, and a closed garment bag.

These objects were presented with a straight face, but some have wondered if they could be a joke. A friend pointed out to me that it’s hard to get Rick Owens-style monastic minimalism when you have a popcorn cap. For me, a bigger issue was the poorly located electrical outlets, which reminded me of all the ugly places I lived in in my twenties because they were the best of the bad options. Then again, this Rei Kawakubo chair, which sold for over $ 7,000, is still cheaper than a mortgage.

Last year, after an appearance in Architectural Digest’s “Open Door” series, Dakota Johnson’s green kitchen went viral, with special attention paid to bowls of limes artfully placed on the countertops. Johnson later admitted that she was mildly allergic to lime; the bowls were just set, objects arranged to make an impression. I learned this information from, you guessed it, TikTok – where the platform itself is the architecture, and we wander from room to room in our slippers, going through an algorithm.


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