A Heavy Dose of Realty

Malcolm's uninformed opinions on modern home decorating, fully furnished.

I can’t tell you how delighted I am to share the news that my good friend John Begeny is co-starring in a new television show. And by “delighted,” you should understand me to mean “jealously seething with the white hot rage of a thousand suns.”

No, just kidding. Why would I be jealous? Just because we both hosted our own TV shows on local cable access back in the 1990s and now he has graduated to having his own show in one of the nation’s largest TV markets while I have, um… a Substack account boasting literally DOZENS of readers? Jealous? Don’t be ridiculous.

That aside, I am incredibly happy for John, and I’m enjoying his program tremendously. It’s called “If You Lived Here” and it airs on WETA, the Washington DC PBS affiliate. In each episode John and his co-host, Christine Louise, visit a DC area neighborhood to walk through and discuss three different homes for sale and then guess the list price for each.

The reason I can’t possibly be jealous is that I would be hopelessly lost if I had to walk into an unfamiliar home and try to talk coherently about the layout, decorations, fixtures and other appointments. I’m not even sure if I used the word “appointments” correctly in the previous sentence. But John and Christine do a terrific job breaking down the pros and cons of each home, and even though they’re not professionals, they certainly come across as knowledgeable. Just from watching them I’ve learned plenty, like what a “floating staircase” is, or a “jack-and-jill” bathroom. Although I have my suspicions that they just make up certain terms just to mess with uninformed viewers like me. “Caesar stone?” “Pickled finish?” Yeah, right, nice try.

Hiding in Plain Sight

Watching the show I’ve also confirmed the existence of one home decorating trend I’ve observed in real life, which is the practice of disguising dishwashers and other kitchen appliances so they look like regular cabinets. I admit I’m not clear on what the point of this trend is. Do we not want guests to know we have appliances in our homes? Lord knows in the past maintaining this sort of pretense would have been much more difficult.

“The Wisemans are here—quick, hide the refrigerator!”

Or maybe the point is to have a little fun at your guests’ expense when they come over.

“Sure, you can get a clean bowl out of the dishwasher. But you have to find it first!”

I believe this trend may have originated when bathroom designers started placing panels that look like drawers on the cabinetry in front of sinks. You know what I mean, how it looks like there’s a drawer there, but of course it’s not because the sink basin is where the inside of the drawer would be? I think this practice may have also started as a prank. 

“Hey, could you grab me a hairbrush out of that drawer? Ha ha, you fell for it! There’s no drawer there - it’s a sink, dummy!” 

Perhaps this trend will soon swing back in the other direction and we’ll do the opposite by making our kitchen cabinets resemble appliances. A whole kitchen could be made to look like it’s filled with a dozen ovens. Or maybe every kitchen will just become a hall of mirrors that’s impossible to navigate. That will at least give us a good excuse to order out every night.

Some people will still be tough to fool, however. I know an architect with the uncanny ability to enter an unfamiliar kitchen and correctly guess which drawer contains the silverware. This is, admittedly, not a particularly marketable skill, but I’ve seen her in action and it’s an impressive party trick. Although, jerk that I am, I’ve secretly dreamed of inviting her over but only after spiriting the silverware away in some unlikely spot and then feigning surprise when she fails to suss out its location.

“Really? We’re the first family you’ve ever encountered that keeps the silverware in the freezer ice tray? Weird.”

Smart for Smart’s Sake

Of course, no discussion of the modern upscale home would be complete without pointing out the burgeoning “smart” home trend. Unlike traditional “dumb” homes which rely on old-fashioned technology like “keys” to open doors, “switches” to turn on lights and “brooms” to sweep the floors, today’s “smart” homes use web-enabled technology to connect the appliances and other electronics in your home in ways that were once only imaginable in the terrifying dystopian future of science fiction books and movies.

“Smart” technology offers boundless conveniences, from remotely operating your home’s thermostat, lights and appliances to a refrigerator that orders milk for you as soon as your supplies run low to using your phone to monitor everyone who comes to your front door. I’ve personally discovered the wonders of a “smart” smoke alarm that sends out a piercing shrieking noise as soon as you start making toast with no way to turn it off, as opposed to the old days when you could just pull the thing down from the ceiling and remove the 9-volt battery. Truly, what a time to be alive.

That said, there remain ways to make smart homes even smarter, which is why I offer the following suggestions: 

Smart Fridge: Forget about when I run out of milk — I need a refrigerator that alerts me when that three-month-old bag of spinach in the back corner of the bottom shelf has transformed into a shapeless mass of black muck and needs to be disposed of, possibly by a HazMat team. Or, better yet, a fridge that tells me I’m deluding myself about that prospective “health kick” in the first place and keeps me from buying the bag of spinach at all.

Smart Doorbell: I want a doorbell that not only alerts me whenever people come to the door, but can also scan to see whether the visitors are carrying pamphlets or any other sort of religious paraphernalia, and if so, give me the option of releasing a noxious gas or possibly start blasting Black Sabbath music.

Smart Weapon: Even better, whenever a car alarm goes off in front of my home for more than two minutes, I’d like my house to automatically respond by deploying a roof-mounted rocket-propelled grenade launcher that targets the offending vehicle for destruction (after first determining that there are no people or animals inside - I’m not a monster).

Hey, maybe that could be a TV show — me walking through “smart” homes and offering tips for making them even better. Along the way I could also give suggestions for new and innovative ways to hide your appliances. And I could team up with my architect friend to make a game of trying to find where the owners store common household items. 

Clearly, I have lots of great ideas, any of which should be more than sufficient to interest a TV network, especially since they appear to be handing out hosting gigs to pretty much anyone these days. Again, not that I’m jealous.

To find out what all the fuss is about, watch episodes of If You Lived Here on the WETA website here. Talk about “appointment” television!