The Other Affair in ‘Conversations With Friends’


According to Samuel Gosling, a psychologist who studies the relationship between people and their living spaces, one of the central functions of our home environments is as an ‘identity claim.’ “These are deliberate statements we want to make about ourselves to others, saying: ‘This is who I am,’” Dr. Gosling said. People generally feel happier when others see them as they see themselves, he said, citing research by Bill Swann, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, so much so that being seen in an overly positive light can make us feel misunderstood.

This may explain why it pains Melissa so much to feel “pathetic and conventional” in Frances’s eyes, a characterization out of step with the stylish, cultured person her home reveals her to be. It would explain why some people may have mixed feelings about inviting people to homes they share with roommates or others, whose décor choices they fear might be mistaken for their own.

For people in their 20s and 30s, the desire to be seen accurately through design choices may be heightened, and perhaps warped, by the desire to perform our style for the public on social media. “Our homes started to look more and more like sets,” Ms. Oudghiri said, noting that bright blocks of color, zany rugs and groovy, selfie-friendly mirrors are often used to make a statement on social media. The soft, unchallenging look known as the “millennial aesthetic,” heavily marketed as a signifier of good taste, often crops up in these spaces. Among young men, the Eames lounger has become a status symbol akin to hard-to-find street wear, telegraphing success to the outside world.

Melissa’s muted house doesn’t seem to contain any terrazzo or pastel pink, but it does hit certain design trends that have received the millennial seal of approval. Rebecca Atwood, a 37-year-old artist and textile designer, identified a few: enveloping wall color (that moody gray), goods purchased from brands and makers with a story (those Irish ceramics), an indoor-outdoor feeling (the greenhouse-like dining nook). Ms. Rackard noted that the conservatory’s fashionable glass doors, while perfect for the warm weather of Los Angeles, would be uncommon in Dublin, where double-paneled windows are more suited to the climate. Such is Melissa’s commitment to style, to what people think.

Ms. Oudghiri, for her part, isn’t putting too much stock in her own décor. She has been renting a furnished home in Los Angeles decorated by someone with a taste for “rococo looking” furniture.


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