The Unusual Attraction of Shelter TikTok
The apartment appears like lightning while a song by Frank Ocean is played. We see a white couch with throw pillows: white squares, pink square, ocher ball, black square. Quick cuts come later: to a standing bookshelf (only white backs), to the pillows again, to a see-through coffee table (a real opportunity to show the plaid carpet underneath). We see a dog on the bedspread, a side table, a TV stand, again the couch, a dining area with Thonet-style chairs. Below these curated images is a shelf of curated objects centered on a Polaroid camera. Then comes the bedroom, the bar cart, the white Smeg toaster. It all passes before we can absorb it, but we are not meant to absorb it – just to have impressions.
This is typical of what I refer to as Shelter TikTok, a 2021 spin on 20th century design and architecture magazines. On Shelter Tok you don’t move so much through a field, but lurch from object to object. The cornerstones of the genre include zoomed shots of carefully placed objects and a lack of interest in negative space. Everything flashes over on TikTok; Why should it be any different with houses?
In another video, we see a tattooed hand turning a gold illuminated dial before panning over a padded headboard. From there we cut to the ceiling, where a wooden pendant lamp hangs on white strips between undulating zebra crossings. The camera turns to the floor where we see that the headboard is not for a bed; it carries a row of orange pillows. Nearby is an emerald green carpet with an orange border and a stylized image of a cheetah in the center. We see a gold-framed smiley face. A projection screen that rolls up to reveal a mirror over a white brick fireplace. Hanging plants. An alcove full of windows. We are back at the hand on the dial; the video loops.
There are people who will study these TikToks exactly like I did. They pause in each room to jot down details that can be collected on their Pinterest boards, if not within their own four walls. They want to know where the couch, the carpet, the bookcase come from. “That’s exactly my style!” Says one commentator on this first video, maybe happy to find a new way to identify yourself. “What would you call that?”
The first known use of the term “Shelter Magazine” appeared in the New York Times in 1946 when the newspaper reported that Jerome J. Brookman was named advertising director for Your Own Home, a “shelter magazine devoted to affordable housing.” Brookman was a World War II veteran, and his return home coincided with a housing boom when 2.4 million other veterans received government-sponsored loans to help them realize their (often suburban) American dreams. During this time, flavor makers like Elizabeth Gordon, who edited House Beautiful for 23 years, made the animal shelter category a blueprint for life. In 1960, Gordon’s two-part series on the Japanese concept of shibui was so popular that the set was resold for up to $ 12 – that’s more than $ 110 today. When I visited Gordon’s Archives at the Smithsonian in 2017, I found them full of letters of praise for Japanese design topics. One woman wrote: “Not since the doctor said, ‘It’s a BOY!’ I was so excited ”; Her husband was so excited that he built a terrace and a windbreak, inspired by the designs in the magazine.
He was able to do this because the leading animal shelter magazines – House Beautiful, Better Homes and Gardens, House & Garden – provided floor plans and building instructions along with photos. They even had competing model home programs. Shelter meant approaching the structural aspects of the house as something that the resident had control over: the light sources, the indoor climate, the ceiling height, the landscaping.
It’s hard to pull off monastic minimalism when you have a popcorn ceiling.
This control is a thing of the past at Shelter Tok. The majority of American TikTok users are under 29 years of age, a group that includes young millennials (only 37 percent of whom own a home by age 34), Gen Z (24 years or less), and others who are too young to even think about building a windbreak. According to Bloomberg, 18 percent of millennial renters have no plans to ever stop renting; Many will continue to live in situations where they are barely given permission to repaint. Some Shelter Tok videos may result from actual renovations – furnishings, appliances, wallpaper – but the audience is there to identify with the tastes shown, not implement them.
Where function is not negotiable, form thrives. Much like a teenager’s bedroom, Shelter Tok is about masking a lack of control with personal items and good vibes. Not only is this a far cry from the old shelter magazines; it is even a far cry from the videos on other social media platforms. For example, YouTube – a platform with extensive DIY renovation content – is also home to Architectural Digest’s celebrity series “Open Door”, in which the viewer is greeted at the entrance of the subject’s house and led inside to experience the actual flow of the space. Shelter Tok has no such formality.
Last year, a popular TikTok video introduction was a version of “Objects in my house / apartment / bedroom that just make sense”. This is the modern version of tearing down a wall to open up a room: understanding your identity in the house. Recently, a conversation-starting variant showed the dangers of a young tenant with a strong taste. “Things that I think make my home unique,” begins its creator. Instead of shelves, we are shown a tatami mat on the floor and short stacks of books. There is a Rei Kawakubo chair, but it is used for sweaters, not for sitting. The decoration is sparse but includes a black single-stemmed vase, a wallet hanging from a cup hook on the ceiling, and a closed garment bag.
These objects were presented with a straight face, but some wondered if it was a joke. A friend pointed out to me that when you have a popcorn ceiling, it’s hard to achieve Rick Owens-style monastic minimalism. A bigger problem for me was the awkwardly located power outlets, which reminded me of all the ugly places I lived in my 20s because they were the best among the bad options. On the other hand, this Rei Kawakubo chair, which sold for over $ 7,000, is still cheaper than a mortgage.
Last year, after appearing on Architectural Digest’s “Open Door” series, Dakota Johnson’s green kitchen went viral, with particular emphasis on the artfully placed lime peels on the counters. Johnson later admitted that she was mildly allergic to limes; the bowls were only arranged, objects arranged to make an impression. I learned this information from TikTok – you guessed it – where the platform itself is the architecture, and we shuffle from room to room in our slippers to tour an algorithm.