August 31, 2017

Design Within Reach has lost its anal-retentive mind.

I love Design Within Reach. It simplifies everything. There is no clutter in the design or in the process of shopping for good design, and I aspire to the clutter-free, utterly simple beauty that has been its concept all these years.

But then, suddenly, I get the new catalogue, and it's all changed! Somebody must have decided that the simplicity was off-putting, sterile, too challenging, or — what? — insufficiently hygge.

Here's the main photo on the front page right now:



What's all that crap on the tables? I'm supposed to infer the existence of people? People with beverages. I appreciate that these glasses — even with ice cubes — are not dripping with the condensation that plagues ordinary humans who might feel challenged by the erstwhile crystal cleanness of DWR, but still. What chaos! And are those matches on and next to the white plate? Is there smoking going on? Where are these people going to put the pits from all those olives in that bowl? Why is there a plant pot on the books? And what are those books? "How to Decorate with Plants"?

I made up that book title. The topic How to Decorate with Plants plagued me back in the 1970s when I had the job (in marketing research) of writing code numbers on all the articles in an endless stream of magazines. There was a number for interior decoration and a number for plants, and we had to pick one, and then — having picked one — stick to the same code number when the topic came up again. Decorating with plants kept coming up. It turned out to be a big women's magazine topic circa 1975, but we kept forgetting which code number we'd assigned to that first decorating-with-plants article, and it wasn't easy digging up what we only vaguely remembered. Was it in House & Garden or House Beautiful or Better Homes and Gardens? Or was it in one of the women's magazines? Ladies Home Journal or Woman's Day or Family Circle or Good Housekeeping.... We had stacks of those magazines, real paper magazines, on actual shelves. Fortunately, we didn't have to search for the code for the original decorating with sheets article. Decorating with sheets was also a big topic of the time, but there was no code for sheets, because sheets weren't thought of back when the code numbers were devised in the 1940s or 50s. But in the 70s, when manufacturers kept coming up with new colorful patterns, magazine editors kept coming up with new ideas for how to use sheets — drape them over tables, reconfigure them into curtains, and (most importantly) staple them to walls. The decorating with sheets articles all got 1140 (or whatever the interior decoration code was). That made it easy, but I still had to look at that madness.

Do you see why I loved the old Design Within Reach catalog, the one without the clutter?

Let's do one more photo from the new DWR:



Madness! Pens on the chair. One pen is even uncapped. Backpack on the floor (as if DWR is pleading with us to believe that their furniture is compatible with the harboring of children). And charging a mobile phone! Have we ever before even seen an electrical outlet before in a DWR photograph? Here is an outlet with the wire stretched across in the way of getting to the chair. And the wire isn't white, which I think means that the phone is not an iPhone. The heresy is raging. Madness!

55 comments:

Rocketeer said...

You have me laughing out loud!

But really, few furniture designs are more kid-harboring-friendly than Charles and Ray Eames designs.

antiphone said...

Madness! Pens on the chair. One pen is even uncapped.

Anal-expulsive, a text book example.

Big Mike said...

A little more clutter and it could look like our house.

Earnest Prole said...

Upper-middle-class whitechicks: why is it that the freest and wealthiest women in all of human history are so unhappy?

rehajm said...
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EDH said...

And who put the abominable snow woman's merkin on the sofa?

rehajm said...

Friends went to Australia and New Zealand and brought me one of those furry things on the couch. Its very soft but I know my moms dog is going to hump it.

rehajm said...

That thing is apparently someone's merkin...

rehajm said...

Country cutesy clutter makes me hyperventilate.

traditionalguy said...

Wait until you see the post flood edition from the rich houses of Houston. Terrible cluttering without pity.

Sebastian said...

"What's all that crap on the tables? I'm supposed to infer the existence of people? People with beverages." It's to make sure their female readers don't feel bad about themselves.

Other than Althouse, of course. (The coding story was good.)

Rob said...

Major Clipton in "The Bridge on the River Kwai" agrees with Ann.

mockturtle said...
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dustbunny said...

I love Design Within Reach but I think they might be suffering from bourgeoise-derangement-syndrome. All the middle brow design mags are embracing simplicity and clean design so they are signaling their displeasure by embracing the opposite. Can't identify too closely with the design-impaired.

mockturtle said...

While I don't like clutter [I especially abhor knick-knacks or objets d'art], I do like cozy. Probably because I grew up in a modern, rather sterile, open-spaced home that never encouraged comfort.

The Japanese have elegant simplicity down to an art. Literally.

Ann Althouse said...

Showing clutter in design magazines... this is a field of study in itself.

I don't know what's true today, but back then it was more down-market for a magazine to show people in the rooms — or evidence that people had recently left the room. Showing people sitting on the furniture and hugging kids and pets... that was something you'd see in Woman's Day but not House and Garden. Might still be true. I don't read these things.

Ann Althouse said...

"All the middle brow design mags are embracing simplicity and clean design so they are signaling their displeasure by embracing the opposite."

Is that really true? I haven't looked recently.

Okay. I looked. here's the decorating page at Better Homes & Gardens. It is not simple and clean design.

Laslo Spatula said...

"Showing clutter in design magazines... this is a field of study in itself. "

When photographing indoor furniture the only thing on a desk should be a robot.

I am Laslo.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

A little more clutter and it could look like our house

Clutter....I've been thinking a lot about it lately. I hate clutter. I like clean lines, clear table tops, orderly shelves, very few objects of art or knickknacks out at anyone time. My decorating style is more art deco/mid century modern than anything else. Less is more.

When you live daily in the house, things gradually begin to become cluttered and you don't notice. It creeps up on you. Magazines left on the coffee table. Extra something on the kitchen counter. Desk with a stack of papers and pens scattered on the surface. Pottery on the shelf seems to be breeding and replicating. Remote controls on the side table instead of tucked away in the basket container meant for those things. Etc. Little details.

All that clutter becomes "background noise" when you LIVE in the house and you just sort of overlook it. It becomes part of the scenery.

I went on vacation for a few days. When you are gone from your home (your nest) and return, you tend to look at everything with new eyes and really SEE the environment.

Upon returning, I was appalled. It wasn't messy or dirty, just cluttered. Things just seemed out of place, randomly placed or just too many things. So....I have been on a purging and reorganizing spree the last few days. We now have a big pile of "things" to be donated and "things" to be boxed up and put into storage to be rotated out and re-used as decorative accents later. I routinely do this rotation of items about every year or two. It makes the house seem newer again and brings out of storage some "things" that I enjoy viewing again, like old friends.

The purging and reordering is liberating!

tshanks78 said...

Interesting. I have the same chairs and essentially the same table as those in the photograph. I am also no fan of clutter but the truth is that this is what my kitchen almost always looks like. Pens on the chairs and a phone charging at the table. Maybe Design Within Reach has decided to stop clutter-shaming us! That being said I am with you on the phone not being an iPhone...definite heresy.

Chris N said...

Oh no Althouse, you will not have Herman Miller $5,000 chairs floating in glass houses floating above downtown L.A. beneath Klaus Remstuhl studios Chandelier #7.

No more clean lines, airy modern ergonomic industrial designs and 10k Spanish rugs.

tcrosse said...

Lileks offers some perspective. This is a world in which I used to live, for my sins.

The Brass Age of American Decor

Chris N said...

Check out Tracy Emin's bed for clutter.

Now that's modern design. Brilliant, brilliant stuff

Ryan said...

How about all the ad clutter on your blog? That should irk you as least as much as seeing a pen on a chair in a catalog.

Gahrie said...

Someone has a touch of OCD.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

@ tcrosse

OMG!!!. That was the decor of my parent's house. ORANGE ORANGE ORANGE!!! Plus the avocado green

To this day, I really dislike those orange and avocado colors. I mean, really. You can use orange as an accent color but in the 70's it was everywhere. To make it worse, my mother was colorblind and the clashing of colors in the house was enough to make you want to go colorblind too.

Ken B said...

Jibbers. A bedside table for under $1000! http://www.dwr.com/bedroom-bedside-tables/raleigh-bedside-table/2196586.html?lang=en_US

CStanley said...

To this day, I really dislike those orange and avocado colors.

We had the more timeless "Harvest Gold" appliances. And faux wood paneling everywhere. And shag carpet. And we made macrame plant hangers.

Previously the house I was born into had pink bathroom fixtures and the wallpaper in the kitchen had a repeating pattern of teapots. To this day when someone makes a reference to Watergate I'm taken back to breakfast at the kitchen table staring at that wallpaper and listening to the news that streamed out of the intercom/radio that hung on the wall, wondering what they kept going on about but understanding that there was some very serious grown up thing happening in the world.

dustbunny said...

Is that really true? asks Althouse. My experience is based on flipping through a variety of decorating magazines in Barnes and Nobel and Lowes and yes I see an embrace of clean lines and simplicity in magazines I would consider mid range. There is also an embrace of eclectic design in hipper but not necessarily high design magazines such as Living Etc. It's the eclectic messy look that is messing with the editors of DWR.

There used to be a blog devoted to the robotic zombies who inhabited the post-modern rooms of Dwell. It was hilarious, not sure if it is still a thing as Dwell started to let the inhabitants smile and look happy, which is messier than somber and rigid.

Sigivald said...

I think the "matches" are really decorative skewers, perhaps for a drink or a tidbit of food.

mockturtle said...

My parents subscribed to House Beautiful and Architectural Digest. I don't know if either is still in publication but when I was growing up they were quite devoid of 'cozy'. My father was particularly interested in using different types of wood as the sole 'decoration'. I found that when my husband and I had our log house the logs provided all the decoration needed and provided a warm glow without the distraction of clutter.

Ann Althouse said...

"I think the "matches" are really decorative skewers, perhaps for a drink or a tidbit of food."

I agree. I now think they are there to allay anxiety about the shared olives in the bowl.

Freeman Hunt said...

Looks like an Ikea catalog. Ikea is about a tenth the cost of DWR, so why DWR would want to ape Ikea, I've no idea.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Design Within Reach???

Not MY reach. I really like the couch, in the photo, looked it up; since we are in the market for a new couch and a sectional like that would be perfect.

YIKES !! 15,000 to 20,0000 is not withing the 'reach' of anyone that I know. Maybe I can find a knock off of the same thing.

FullMoon said...

A while back ,the wife would drag me through new model homes. To amuse myself, I would leave a DollarStore frame with photo of topless woman in every staged house.

Glad you reminded me of that.

Balfegor said...

Re: Dust Bunny Queen:

Haha, that was my reaction too. That is some expensive furniture.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

@ FullMoon

I like your style!

FullMoon said...
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ALP said...

About clutter - it kind of dominates our lives. We live in my partner's childhood home - took it over when his mom died suddenly. Mom was Japanese and NEVER THREW anything away, plus had a bit of a hoarding streak due to growing up in post WWII Japan. We were still working full time, had long commutes. Cleaning out this house on the weekends for two months was one of the most exhausting experiences I've ever had: tons of physical work on top of emotional exhaustion.

We cleaned up about 80% of it, moved in, and just left the rest we were just so worn out (and now with 4 hrs of commuting a day). Eventually, we just got used to it. Now, we are moving next year and FINALLY, finally, this stuff will have to be dealt with. I don't mind a little clutter of useful things: books, tools, pens - anything you use. Its the useless stuff I can't stand: The Hummels, Murano glass figures, Geisha dolls (my god, the dozens of Geisha dolls) etc. If its just for looking at it better be 2D and on the wall.

mockturtle said...

I don't mind a little clutter of useful things: books, tools, pens

Books are never clutter, IMO, unless it's a cabinet full of paperback romance novels that were in the house I bought in AZ.

Michael said...

We have neighbors who appear to have newly acquired money. Their house is like a hotel. There is not a personal item in sight, not a book anywhere nor a picture of their kids or a momento from a trip. Sterile. And not in a good way. There is also a very modern house in the neighborhood, all steel and glass and concrete and the "living" room has never had a person in it in all the years I have passed by. Nobody sitting in the uncomfortable modern chairs, nobody standing and looking at the ugly modern painting. I have a suspicion that in the rear of this modern house, out of sight of the passing crowd, are rooms filled with overstuffed chairs and chinz and nice pictures on the wall by very good but second tier artists. Oh, and bookcases to the ceiling.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

@ ALP
If its just for looking at it better be 2D and on the wall.

I collect art deco and art nouveau prints, pottery, sculptures and figurines. I like to look at them. HOWEVER....only one or two at a time is all that I allow myself. The rest are wrapped and boxed in storage and brought out, or rotated into the house every year or so. That way there isn't clutter and the newly brought in items feel like they are new to me again to be admired and to remember when and where we were when we acquired the piece.

One of these statues strategically placed on a book shelf or table is fine. A beautiful vase standing in lone glory on a table is great. A whole bunch of either at one time is too much. Nothing stands out and everything gets lost in the clutter

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Note: I can't actually afford the originals of those things I posted. I find similar items in less rarefied price ranges.

:-P

ALP said...

DBQ: "....only one or two at a time is all that I allow myself"

LOL - I consider having 3 of anything to be a complete "collection". Three vintage glass ashtrays - that's plenty! Three fancy candles...that's enough!

I recently found an action figure for $1 - the Borg from Star Trek's Next Generation. Two more cheap action figures - that's a complete collection for me. I actually manipulate that Borg all the time...so it does get 'used'.

tcrosse said...

It's strange that there have been no comments on the Trump Interior Design Aesthetic.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I consider having 3 of anything to be a complete "collection"

Oh...I don't mean I only have a couple of each item. I have LOTS!!! Let me tell you about my antique cut crystal stemware!!! (I will spare you) I just only allow myself to display a few items at a time and not all glombed up together. Strategically spread through the area. The rest are boxed and tabled for future display.....or perhaps for sale.

My grandmother collected those Hummel type figurines and every possible surface in her house was covered with them and every nook and cranny in a display case was crammed with them. So many that they all blurred into one kitschy mess. Besides being an eyesore....who wants to dust all that crap?! Certainly not me....as my screen name indicates.

ALP said...

DBQ: now that idea of rotating stuff is a good one; I'll have to work that into our new house routine.

Sounds like we have some of the same stuff. We have my in-laws china set (Noritake) from their wedding that is a very simple, timeless design with platinum on it. We don't want it - we've listed it on CL with no takers. What do to with it??? Crystal, punch bowls, etc... all sorts of stuff from the 1970's cocktail party era. We are near a small military base - I go to estate sales around here and see houses full of the same stuff. Ditto the antiques malls around here. Ex military with a career of travel with either free or near free shipping. Our area is awash in vintage/antique stuff.

Feste said...

Some book on any table should be a tome on cost efficiencies for ‘how to’ hire new waves of low-skilled H-2B workers to clean excessive clutter.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

@ ALP

Ooooooh. Let's go garage sailing together!!! You are in the sweet spot.

I knew my husband and I were made for each other when on one of our first dates, we had to stop at a yard sale and both reached for the same item. Later in the day we went to an antique/thrift store and he bought me a piece of pottery, as a gift, that he liked not knowing that it was a pattern that I was already looking for.

Most of our "stuff" consists of things we bought together and have memories attached. Like: remember that cute store up in Oregon where we got ABC and the restaurant we went to afterwards? Every item has a story. That's also part of the fun of rotating the 'stock'. We get to relive the moments.

He likes to collect car and auto related things and while not my exact style they deserve just as much prominence in the house as my favorite goodies, so they get rotated too :-)

mockturtle said...

I don't do fancy dinner parties any more. Gave my crystal stemware and my best china to my older daughter. No more cloth napkins, either. I have fired Martha Stewart from my much simpler way of life. But, credit where credit is due, even though I hate her politics, Martha is a very clever, talented and creative woman who has inspired many of us in home decor, cooking and entertaining without the tasteless frou-frou.

IgnatzEsq said...

I always assumed the "within reach" part referred to your proximity to the furniture, not you're ability to purchase said furniture.

ALP said...

DBQ: Its a deal - I'll let you know the next time I come to CA (State of Jefferson, right?) and you tell me when you make your way to Tacoma WA. I have treated antique/vintage/thrift shopping as cheap entertainment for years - tons of fun even if you don't buy anything. These days, I love our local estate sales simply to see where the former residents were stationed during their military career (lots of German/Japanese/Korean wares).

wildswan said...

I pictured that woman who surgically altered herself to look like Barbie living in these new Design Within Reach photos. The table with glasses was the end of a wild party. Big cleanup job left for the morning. It's strange that a design magazine based on clean lines would add items in a way that suggests clutter - and not happy-go-lucky, wear-and-drop, play-and-run clutter either. But an odd rigid clutter.

Bad Lieutenant said...

Blogger ALP said...
DBQ: Its a deal - I'll let you know the next time I come to CA (State of Jefferson, right?) and you tell me when you make your way to Tacoma WA. I have treated antique/vintage/thrift shopping as cheap entertainment for years - tons of fun even if you don't buy anything. These days, I love our local estate sales simply to see where the former residents were stationed during their military career (lots of German/Japanese/Korean wares).
8/31/17, 6:34 PM


Wish I could join you, ladies, but if you see any choice tobacciana, cigarette cases, lighters, tobacco boxes, and the like...sigh, I don't know, send pic?

Robin Eatmon said...

I know my way around a Eames chair but I have never heard of Design within Reach. I had to google "merkin" to find out what it was...that's an image I could live without seeing again. Game of Thrones used Ikea furry rugs as costumes for their characters. Do any of the characters in Game of Thrones wear merkins...I wonder...I don't watch it. By the way I live in a 1850's New England cottage filled to the brim using the multi-generational stuff design style. I am staring at three baskets full of pens and I bet half of them are useless. I admire clean lines and modern architecture. I am beginning the "purge of things that I have held on to in case my kids might want them" phase. The old pens are going first.