August 26, 2022
Loot and the Bland Design of the Ultra-Rich
Twenty years ago, if you wanted to get a peek inside a very rich person’s home you could watch MTV’s Cribs, wherein a celebrity would guide you through a usually raunchy and half-serious tour of their home. The episode featuring Missy Elliott’s house famously showed off submarine-replica doors and a falling-water wall. Mariah Carey took viewers to a Miami-themed room that was “supposed to be seen only at night.” Nowadays, you can scratch the same itch by watching YouTube videos curated by magazines like Architectural Digest and Vogue. Some of the videos are equally unhinged—Cara Delevingne’s home has a “vagina tunnel” that starts at a fuchsia-feathered entrance behind an oak panel in her living room and ends in a repurposed vintage pink washing machine. But generally, these newer videos feature homes whose aesthetics are markedly less wacky and much more uniform. Design decisions are clearly made with resale value as a priority. The charm of Cribs lay in seeing personal taste taken to its extreme expression via the availability of copious amounts of money; in 2022, such conspicuous displays of personality seem passé. The celebrity home is now a billboard for their wealth, not their idiosyncrasies.
What does this look like? Kendall Jenner has James Turrell’s Scorpius installed in the foyer of the house. Kim Kardashian’s home is rendered entirely in shades of white. (The people that clean it are almost certainly not getting paid enough.) And, in a fictional but no less telling example, Molly Wells—the protagonist of Apple TV+’s Loot, which follows the recently divorced Molly as she figures out what to do with her $87-billion-dollar settlement and gets involved with her eponymous foundation, which she only learns about seven years after its creation—lives in a house whose interior looks like a very fancy hotel and whose exterior looks like someone typed in “McMansion designed by Richard Meier” into an AI image generator. There are several pools, an enormous, elevated lawn, and a Mike Fields sculpture in the foyer standing under a custom Murano glass chandelier. There are vast expanses of marble and hardwood, raw materials shown off in exaggerated quantities. There’s a deceptive minimalism in the muted color schemes and monotonous finishes, as though a lack of surface articulation could hide the fact that these materials are ostentatiously expensive. In one of the show’s most emotional moments, a bereft Molly walks down several long, monotonous corridors free of knick-knacks, rugs, tchotchkes, or any sort of personal details.
There is no excitement behind these design choices, no flair, no personality. Where Missy is most excited about the things in her house that most represent her—a car bed, retractable shelves full of sneakers, those submarine doors—Molly seems to be proudest of the fact that she can have every consumer convenience without ever leaving her house. When she gives Sofia, the woman who has been running Molly’s foundation for seven years, a tour of the house, she might as well be walking around a luxury hotel. Every decision—from the Philippe Starck chairs in Molly’s office to the Ceramica Cielo tub in her bathroom—is about telegraphing the kind of taste manufactured to signify wealth and, crucially, ensure a high resale value. This house is not a home—it’s an asset.
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