The Celebrity Home Genre Needs a Vibe Shift
You don't even need to click on these stories to know there is going to be a very large, high-contrast piece of marble SOMEWHERE.
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Since I first gazed upon it, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Montecito home as recently depicted in Architectural Digest has been seared into my brain. Perhaps this was done in my sleep with a tool intended for the embers in one of her approximately 900 fireplaces. Or maybe it’s more like how the mind edits mildly bad stuff that happens at work into a horrific montage of “scaries” that replays over and over as you lie in bed Sunday nights. The celebrity home feature story long a staple of luxury magazines like AD and Vogue is similarly repetitive and plaguing.
Magazines like AD have no choice but to look at their beat through the prism of celebrity. I’m guessing many editors there would rather not have to do this, but every outlet has to hustle clicks and the scrolling public has been long conditioned to think celebrities are more interesting and tasteful than they actually are. However, with home features, the brilliant editors who work at these magazines can’t come in and impose their good taste on a celebrity, as they do with fashion photo shoots. So we’re at the mercy of the celebrity’s vision, which is often just rather blah. This is why the celebrity home genre needs a vibe shift, to either more interesting celebrity home stories or non-celebrity homes entirely.
It’s not that I dislike Gwyneth’s home, to be clear. I do like it and if someone was like, “Hey, want to live here?” I’d obviously be like, “Yes.” This is not a middle class home, as evidenced by the airy entryway containing no sitting furniture but then a fireplace. This is also not a home for little kids, as its Hermès plates live upright on a full wall of shelves instead of stacked inside a cabinet where their Hermès-ness cannot be properly enjoyed.
Little children would break these exposed dishes from half a mile away. Even if she put them away and invited a few 4-year-olds over for one of her home-cooked meals — probably turkey tacos in jicama shells — Little Kid Energy would then be pitted against the following: low shelves filled with multiples of every single cast iron pot Staub has ever made; a rolling ladder in the kitchen (to reach the plate uglies stored away in high cabinets?); fireplaces *everywhere*; a nearly $63,000 couch thing that dangles from the ceiling; and — celebrity home staple — a sea of light-colored upholstery.
I find Gwyneth’s Montecito place disappointing because I want celebrity homes to be either like Drake’s — strange in its utter outlandishness — or, like Cindy Crawford’s Malibu place overlooking the Pacific Ocean, unquestionably stunning and without flaw. (To be clear, any misses Cindy may have made with her furniture or art would be offset by that incredible setting.) However, celebrity homes are kind of like red carpet dresses — often not entirely satisfying in their greatness or in their badness.
Related in Back Row: Cindy Crawford's Malibu Dream House
Gwyneth’s home is in some ways incredible (see: aforementioned dangling couch). It is part wine mom with taste, part “the outside world is so crazy, I just need a home that can balance my chakras.” Its design is not terribly special, despite the dining table coming from a “furniture gallery,” she explains, or the wallpaper being hand-painted in an “atelier.” You don’t even need to look at the pictures to know in your soul that this home features both an unnecessarily large cooking range and at least one imposing high-contrast marble feature. You know there are WORDS somewhere, on throw pillows or the walls. Gwyneth is either too fancy for a lot of throw pillows or the AD editors took them away, leaving us with just “AVANT GARDE” on a piece of wall art. (The NYC apartment she used to own was arguably more gorgeous — or maybe I am just much more of a low-contrast marble person.)
Another sign the celebrity home feature needs a vibe shift: Recently, Vogue showcased a second visitation of the empty Maison Martin Margiela store in Calabasas that Kim Kardashian calls her house. For her 2019 Vogue cover story, she and Kanye West let the 73 Questions camera crew inside, allowing the internet to marvel at her apparently stain-free nearly entirely cream interiors. She showed off her Steinway grand piano, informing us it is “unbleached” with distinct smugness, as though she is the only one to conceive of filling her house with life-size doll furniture.
She says in her new Vogue video pegged to her March cover story, “I find that there’s so much chaos out in the world that when I come home, I just want it to be really quiet and I just want everything to feel calming.” (This is what like 99 percent of celebrities tell the media about their homes — the one percent who don’t being the Delevingne sisters, whose Los Angeles home, AD reported, “finds eloquent expression in the emerald-lacquered dining room, with its rattan monkey chandelier; the pink and green velvet upholstery in the living room; a proliferation of banana-leaf and palm-frond fabrics and wall coverings; striped outdoor umbrellas with a Slim Aarons flavor…”) Kim says the house is minimal, but it is among the tackier possible versions of minimalism. Given she is a Kardashian — who helped popularize things like contouring and latex for day — this is appropriate.
However once again, I’d rather her house serve something. Give me a few unnecessary shiny metal surfaces. Hit a girl with the kinds of obscene ceiling ornamentation that you thought only materialized in upscale malls during Christmastime. Instead we have, like, a white breakfast nook lined with glorified airplane pillows.
Or this huge hallway that looks like a college for influencers.
“Shockingly, four kids hasn’t messed up my cream house,” Kim tells Vogue, failing to reveal that when one has the resources she does, one can surely employ a Cream Integrity Team to clean that cream. Other highlights of Kim’s house in this video include her spongey gray basketball court, a “meadow” in which she grows her food, and custom-painted gray cars.
This is not the height of home design. This is a famous conspicuous consumer with a Lamborghini. More refreshing in a celebrity-heavy internet are the interior design stories about the random people with stunning houses in random places we all feel we should visit but probably never will, like Marfa. Who doesn’t love a good restored midcentury home in the desert? A random wood-paneled NYC penthouse crammed with furniture and bases? Or the occasional maximalist Mexico City home by “a Kelly Wearstler disciple”?
Celebrity house features need to become surprising again. They can go micro, as when Anna Wintour’s ceramics collection appeared in World of Interiors, teased on the cover with, “Anna Wintour’s passion for pots.” Or macro, like “tour the RV Jason Mamoa may or may not be living in.” Honestly, people would probably click on a headline that just read: “Tour the RV.” Why overthink it? Why go to Kim’s house a second time??
There is a better way. Imagine a world in which you do not know that Adam Levine’s outdoor fire area is described as a “sunken conversation pit.” In which no Twitter feed ever suggested you look at a picture of Jason Statham sitting barefoot in his swivel chair. You could be blissfully unaware of the shiny, gargantuan bronze slab curiously framing Kris Jenner’s fireplace next to otherwise whatever furniture.
It either needs to be all insane “luxe” stuff, like Aerin Lauder’s “modern tree house in the jungle” situated on 1,200 acres in Panama, a project that began with planting a forest, which AD also featured:
“There are no nails,” Lauder says with awe. For the roofs, IM/KM collaborated with VTN Architects, a Vietnam-based firm globally recognized for its bamboo pavilions. “The challenge was, how can we create something primitive in construction but make it air-conditioned?” says Ivan, adding that six engineers from New York and a translator completed the effort.
Or it needs to be all unnecessarily mirrored surfaces and horrible sculpture art everywhere. I will take nothing in between.
(PS — Do you hear that? It’s the echo of Kim Kardashian typing into Google, “nail removal mansion.”)
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