There are many reasons why Netflix’s Selling Sunset is one of my favourite shows. Besides the fact that the cast are, for want of a better word, iconic, there’s plenty of drama, high stakes and general chaos to dig your teeth into. And then, of course, there’s the houses.
From the all-important $40 million house which has dominated the show since season one, to the luxurious bachelor pads and sprawling family homes in the Valley, there’s something addictive about getting to explore the seemingly perfect homes with the agents – I watched season three in just over 24 hours.
And now, Netflix has yet again captured my attention with Million Dollar Beach House. I wasn’t expecting to love it nearly as much as Selling Sunset, but yet again, I found myself speeding through the episodes, loving the show even more with every luxurious detail, architectural staircase and kitchen appliance.
My fascination with other people’s homes didn’t start with these real estate reality shows, however. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with getting a glimpse into the hallowed halls of people’s homes, whether that’s a multi-million dollar LA estate or the dining room of my colleague’s house via Zoom. There’s something about seeing inside someone else’s home that feels slightly transgressive and exciting – as if I’m on some kind of adventure into another person’s reality.
I know I’m not the only one who finds other people’s homes so fascinating – you only have to look as far as the 22 milliom posts on the #interiors tag on Instagram to see how many people share my obsession. Many people have also admitted to doing a bit of Zoom-spying during lockdown – when we’re not subtlety eyeing up the books on our colleague’s shelves, we’ve been analysing the background of celebrity interviews to see what their living space looks like.
“From watching Changing Rooms in the 90s to binge-watching Selling Sunset last week, I’ve just always enjoyed shows that give you a peek into somebody else’s home,” explains Hanna Ibraheem, Stylist’s senior beauty writer. “As well as serving great interiors inspiration (well, maybe not Selling Sunset – I can dream), a home can reveal so much about a person.
“Even while working from home, I feel like I’m learning more about my colleagues’ by seeing their backgrounds and surroundings in Zoom and Slack calls. Plus, I’m just nosey.”
So what is it about seeing inside other people’s homes – especially ones we could never afford – that is so intriguing to us? According to consumer psychologist Kate Nightingale, it could be to do with our innate need to “fit in” with our peers.
“Observation and social copying are necessary mechanisms for identity management as well as understanding what is required to fit in, and therefore survive, in social groups,” she explains. “This combined with our human integral drive for betterment means we have an inherent need to find our way into the lives of those considered having higher status in the tribes we live in.
“Think of it as information gathering, research, just in a social, more natural, way.”
When it comes to our fascination with the homes of people we know in real life, such as our colleagues on Zoom calls, psychologist and author Dr Meg Arroll says our fascination could come from a desire to understand how we present ourselves to the world.
“It’s completely natural to be interested in other people’s environments – whether we’re zoning out during a Zoom call and inspecting the precise organisation (or not!) of books on a shelf, or when watching a high-end property programme such as Selling Sunset, it’s a compelling view,” she explains.
“We all present ourselves to the world in a specific, and often highly constructed way (whether consciously or unconsciously), usually based on our beliefs of who we want to be, known as the ‘ideal self’. This is contrasted with our ‘actual self’, which is the real person, who you really are, and includes your vulnerabilities as well as strengths.
“Perhaps you have a work colleague who’s always immaculately presented, not a hair out of place, but when you see her home office background it’s a mess,” she says. “We don’t have an exact word in English for this feeling of satisfaction that everyone else might also be imperfect, but it is akin to the joyful sensation of schadenfreude at others’ misfortune.
“This isn’t necessarily a negative trait – it makes it easier for us to accept ourselves when we know that others’ projected ideal selves and actual selves do not quite match either – an important mechanism in our modern day ‘Instagram perfect’ lives.
“Even in a show like Selling Sunset where the backdrops are multi-million dollar homes, we gain some thrill and delight in the human drama, in which a perfect backdrop doesn’t equate a perfectly happy life.”
In a world jam-packed with perfect images on social media, getting a glimpse into someone’s home is a chance to gain rare insight into their unfiltered existence.
From the multi-million dollar mansions of your favourite celebrities to your mate’s bedroom, seeing inside someone else’s private space allows you to see their ‘actual self’ – what’s more fascinating than that?