Gan Chin Lin
“And you may find yourself in a beautiful house
… And you may ask yourself, “What is that beautiful house?”
“Once in a Lifetime”, Talking Heads
Personal yearnings, private dreams for a room of one’s own, a sense of vicarious hunger. These motivate the exceptional algorithmic ascension of house tour content: the top 10 YouTube videos rack up 72.6m views collectively. Some are seconds long, others last a whole hour – allowing you to pore over meticulously curated design, but also access into the most intimate of spaces. Drawers with rolled intimates, the contents of a pantry, hidden storage under a couch.
Pointing to material aspirations as the core drivers behind this atomic rise seems too shallow a take. Sure, makeup YouTuber Jeffree Star’s mansion with branded bag walk-in closets clocked millions of views for its opulence. Lifestyle influencers like Jenny Welbourn and Elena Taber fulfil aspirational aesthetics of consciously curated yet careless cool: symbolic vintage tchotchkes, houseplants, Smeg toasters. Student dorms with mandela tapestries, fairy lights, and colour-coded bookshelves paint soothing Pomodoro dreams. But ‘imperfect’, ‘realistic’ and ‘messy’ have seen a rise in popularity as SEO hit terms: an anti-Pinterest niche of unmade beds, laundry on the floor, “What $1000/month gets you in Hong Kong” (a spartan bed directly beneath a closet, a desk squeezed beside).
It’s not necessarily ‘bigger is better’, either. The wildly popular channel Never Too Small champions minispaces, as does the Tiny House movement. TikToker Axel Webber went viral for his tour of ‘the smallest apartment in New York’ – at 100sqf, enough room for a bed, a closet, a sink. These spaces don’t even have to be real: with the recent release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a Nintendo game under the life simulation genre, there has been a trend across all social media platforms where users share virtual villager house tours of all kinds of elaborately decorated mansions and rooms, through videos and screencaptures.
In his experimental essays ‘Species of Spaces’, George Perec muses about our lived environments: “Is to live in a place to take possession of it? What does taking possession of a place mean?” With the grandly seesawing 21st century – a cost of living crisis, an energy crisis, a bloated rental market – adult life seems synonymous to an existential hail. The stepping stones to stability and security, let alone personal fulfilment, are opaque — other than graduate, get a job, afford living. Especially after these plague years forced us to re-examine notions of safe space and shelter, it’s only natural that we attend intensely to every form (including the digital and vicarious) of physical refuge (and why Kirstie Allsopp’s comments heaped grievous insult upon injury).
Andie Karas writes that she is addicted to home tour videos because she desires “finding pride in my home and looking forward to the future. Seeing independent adults’ sanctuaries offers me a glimmer of hope that I’ll get there soon, too.” Beyond coveting the insouciant materialism implied, what is most appealing is seeing someone move through intimate, relational space: to inhabit a perspective whereby we can confidently exhibit life to others. The rhetorical questions that Perec follows with (“Is it when you’ve heated up your spaghetti over a camping-gaz…when you’ve used up all the non-matching hangers?”) detail the contouring rhythms of mundane life which – perhaps – are what we hunger for, within house tours.