How the Other Half Lives

America Gets in Touch With Its Interior Designer

Magazines dedicated to interior design seem to outnumber the plain old art magazines at the local newsstand, and they nearly overwhelm the music rag section. While old standbys like Martha Stewart Living concentrate on doilies for your grandma, magazines like Real Simple and Dwell also suggest that younger folks previously concerned with partying now have interiors on their minds. Ready Made, a quaint how-to mag from Berkeley, breaks down simple home-decorating tricks for the design impaired.

Indeed, much of the supposed appeal of While You Were Out and Trading Spaces is their how-to aspect. But for most people who watch and think, I'll try that, the walls remain white, the mirror rests on the floor, and the artwork goes unhung. "It's probably similar to somebody choosing a new wardrobe," says John Bruce, the WYWO designer who made the Gummi Bear light fixture. "They want it to be an expression of themselves but they don't know exactly what cuts or colors to try. It ultimately has to come from the person, but they often need somebody to put the stake in the ground and say, 'Start here.' "

Nest, an artsy design mag, dispenses with the notion that we could ever do any of these things ourselves, or that we would want to. Its m.o. is purely Peeping Tom. The whorehouse featured in the latest issue is intriguing simply because of its function. The design is slutty yet quaint: Tacky floral prints on the bedspreads give the rooms a homey feel, but the mirrors surrounding the beds remind us of the rooms' real purpose. We don't want to live there, we don't want our homes to look like that, but we want to know.

Nestalso shows a house built totally underground in Las Vegas, with air-conditioned everything, replete with fake evergreen and palm trees surrounding a garden terrace. There's even a controlled skyline where the sun sets and rises at will. Forget it. We will never have it. But we can revel in it.

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