Unpacking Our Fervent Fixation on Celebrity Home Tours

The voyeuristic obsession with peering into celebrity homes is reaching a zenith. Has it become unhealthy?

In the late ‘90s, MTV show creator Nina L Diaz brainstormed ideas to give the network’s viewers more insight into the lives of their favorite artists à la Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. The concept for Cribs was born, but the network was hesitant to pull the trigger. “We were told that no one would entertain the idea of letting us into their homes,” Diaz later said to Entertainment Weekly. But her unshakeable belief turned Cribs into a smash hit, offering never-before-seen glimpses inside the over-the-top lifestyles of the TRL generation—even if they skewed lowbrow and stretched the truth. Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne’s episode sprung their own wildly popular series, and it’s hard to picture Keeping Up With the Kardashians succeeding without the foundation laid by Cribs. 

The MTV staple offered its fair share of unforgettable pop culture moments over its decade-long run, but went off the air in 2009 as the Great Recession soured viewers on unabashed maximalism. More than a decade later, even as rents skyrocket, young people wrestle with housing insecurity, and class divides are increasingly scrutinized, our collective appetite for celebrity home tours has only grown more fervent. Architectural Digest, whose Open Door video series debuted in 2012, now holds the crown as the go-to purveyor for the genre, patience-testing and painfully staged as it may be. The most recent edition, in which Lily Allen and David Harbour tour their colorful Brooklyn townhouse designed by Billy Cotton, has already amassed five million views in less than two weeks.

Open Door’s success is twofold: Condé Nast is doing everything it can to cater to a younger audience more likely to open YouTube or TikTok than a glossy magazine packed with antique chandeliers and stuffy pieds-à-terre. And ever since the pandemic necessitated remote work, places of residence have adopted newfound significance. “Homes became the spaces from which many people worked, and for public figures, this often meant giving interviews from their homes which were intensely scrutinized and enjoyed,” Dr. Jessica Martin, a sociologist at the University of Leeds, tells Dazed. “Home ownership is becoming increasingly unlikely for more and more young people, so the escapism of witnessing someone with an unlimited budget for renovation and interior design can be alluring.” Did we mention that Cribs is back? 

The interest has intensified so much that journalist Jess Cartner-Morley argues Architectural Digest has usurped Vogue’s long-held position as the ultimate cover story. Forget the velvet rope—celebrities can reach the “zenith of the zeitgeist” with their velvet sofa. High production values and A-list subjects amp up Open Door’s rewatchability—who wouldn’t delight in seeing a deadpan Dakota Johnson fawn over two giant bowls of limes in her relentlessly green kitchen? But astute observers have noted the series masquerades as celebrity real estate marketing. In 2021, Vice found one-third of its episodes either “coincide with or predate the home’s active real estate listing.” That may explain why Vanessa Carlton’s SoHo loft seemed eerily empty—and why Adam Levine and Behati Prinsloo listed their “serene L.A compound for $57.5 million a mere nine months after their Open Door feature.

Home tours may indeed quench an aspirational thirst, but rarely do they reinforce a healthy image of everyday life. And according to architecture critic Kate Wagner, they’re just plain boring. Such “house porn”—bespoke single-family homes that seem to exist in an apolitical vacuum—is “so far from my personal reality and the realities of others, it may as well be alien,” she writes in Azure. “The purpose of these glossy houses is to showcase the architect’s skill in making buildings as much as the client’s skill in spending money.” Rarely does the media open up these homes to actual criticism, either, until they start uncannily resembling Instagram ad carousels. Or when Dakota Johnson admits she’s actually allergic to limes. 

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