Inside our ‘uniquely American’ quest to create the perfect home

If it wasn’t clear earlier than, the pandemic has erased all doubts: We live in the reverse of a utopia. But at the same time as the world outdoors raged, many people spent the previous 18 months of lockdown attempting to create some semblance of peace in the solely area we might management: our properties.

Avery Trufelman [Photo: courtesy Curbed]

It is a pressure all too acquainted to Avery Trufelman, the host of Nice Try!, a podcast about humanity’s efforts to create an idealized place away from the chaos of the world—and completely failing. The primary season checked out utopian communities—suppose Jamestown, Levittown, the Biosphere 2—that flamed out in spectacular style.

The second season, which launches tomorrow, does an about-face and appears inward: at the home, but additionally at the self. Dubbed “Interiors,” the seven-episode season will discover every thing from vacuums and Crock-Pots to barbells and mattresses. Over the a long time, these merchandise have been marketed with the promise of bettering our lives: cleaner home, faster meals, hotter physique, higher sleep. They’ve primarily been offered as a type of self-improvement on the path to creating our personal customized havens. However in doing so, they’ve strengthened the very American thought of perfecting one’s non-public area and performing all the family labor individually.

This deal with creating a non-public utopia went into overdrive throughout the COVID-19 lockdowns, as home renovations surged and furnishings gross sales exploded. “Throughout the pandemic, everybody’s like, ‘Oh, I simply want I might personal a home. I want I had a home to retreat to. I want I had my very own non-public area,” Trufelman says. “However that’s such a distinctly American idea of a type of utopia.”


Trufelman could be very fascinated about the thought of personal versus public area, and the manner we, as People, pursue the former at the expense of the latter. The concept of “separate spheres” takes entrance billing on this season’s first episode, which focuses, fittingly, on the doorbell—that piece of know-how that bridges the exterior and the inside.

“It’s very a lot about who will get to select who they let in, who will get to select who feels snug having a loud dinging sound reverberating all through the home, who feels snug letting a stranger in,” Trufelman says. “With each episode we type of have what it’s overtly about and what it’s actually about. And so the doorbell [episode] is about how the doorbell grew to become the home safety system, however actually it’s about who feels snug and safe of their home.”

This concept of making an area that feels snug contrasts with how a lot these private gadgets can limit us at the similar time. Right here, Trufelman cites the vacuum, saying that initially it was virtually a public amenity—it will “rumble down your avenue and you’ll open the door for the hose to are available​​.” However that quickly morphed into an merchandise—typically two!—that every family had for themselves. Ditto for industrial laundries and communal kitchens.

Nonetheless, Trufelman is hesitant to body this collection as a full indictment of capitalism. “The concept of a vacuum that you just pay to use weekly as an alternative of getting to purchase your individual, that’s only a completely different construction of capitalism,” she says. “Certain, quite a lot of that is tied up with capitalism, however I feel quite a lot of that is simply the American conception of personal area . . . [and] the manner we’ve configured our cities.”

In the doorbell episode (which was the just one I had entry to earlier than the present’s launch), there are contradictions that Trufelman doesn’t shrink back from. The specialists she interviews stress the potential privateness points with Ring doorbells, which additionally perform as a type of safety digital camera, recording individuals who come to the door and even capturing unknowing passersby. The doorbells, and the corresponding app, have been accused of concentrating on minorities and fomenting racial tensions.

Regardless of acknowledging these points, two specialists Trufelman interviewed reveal that they each, the truth is, nonetheless personal these gadgets. Chaz Arnett, a professor of legislation at the College of Maryland, likes having the ability to reply the door when he’s touring. Shontavia Johnson, a patent lawyer, truly has three Ring doorbells. “We’re not attempting to be the police,” she says. “We simply need to ensure that our home, and the issues in it, are secure.”

This pressure will probably be a by means of line in the season: These are merchandise which have made our lives higher in some ways, even whereas their advertising machines have contributed to wildly problematic concepts about our work, our our bodies, and our properties. They’re additionally deeply tied to questions of race and sophistication—points Trufelman says are woven into almost each episode.


The vacuum episode delves into home labor with activist Ai-jen Poo; the Crock-Pot episode explores immigration and cooking with meals author Chandra Ram; and the mattress episode appears to be like at the historic inequality of sleep. As Trufelman says, utopias have all the time been about deciding who to let in and who to maintain out.

Trufelman herself moved throughout the nation throughout the pandemic, settling into her personal house in New York simply as she began engaged on this season. “It was so unusual and surreal to be eager about the kitchen whereas I used to be attempting to discover spoons and furnishings and slowly feathering my nest and actually attempting to construct my very own little utopia,” she says.

I had an identical expertise, transferring into an house that I wanted to furnish from scratch in the midst of certainly one of the worst COVID-19 surges final winter. I shopped for a sofa, framed previous posters, and located the perfect comforter, at the same time as evictions loomed and multigenerational households have been hammered by the illness. I used to be struck by how a home could possibly be each a haven and a supply of trauma.

As Trufelman stresses, utopias, by their very definition, don’t exist. However that doesn’t imply we’re not regularly attempting to construct our personal, whether or not it’s an alternate universe in the Arizona desert or in our 650-square-foot house.

“Are these issues at odds?” Trufelman asks historian Ruth Schwartz Cowan on this season’s first episode. “The concept of a utopia and the thought of a non-public home? Can the non-public home be a type of utopia?”

“Effectively that’s the $64,000 query,” Cowan replies, laughing. “Everybody I do know units out to create a non-public home that will probably be a utopia. And fails.”

It doesn’t imply we received’t maintain attempting.