Molly Erdman's New Book Mocks Home Decor Cliches, Asking: 'Who Actually Puts a Bowl of Limes on a Table?'
With their advertisements for overly organized, lavishly decorated abodes, the catalogs of companies like Pottery Barn and Pier 1 Imports seem to demand: "Who lives like this?" Like most of us, Molly Erdman has no clue, which is why she created the parody blog Catalogliving.net and its just-published spinoff book, Catalog Living at Its Most Absurd: Decorating Takes (Wicker) Balls (Plume), which pokes fun at the American dream for those who can't afford to count sheep in an expensive bed.
It began in 2010 with a West Elm photo. "My very first post was about a platter of figs under a table," Erdman says. "I thought, 'Wouldn't it be funny to find out who these people are and what their dialogue must be to justify why all this stuff is there?' "
Erdman started a Tumblr, and after enough positive feedback on Facebook, she turned Catalogliving.net into a permanent passion. Today, it attracts nearly 5,000 visitors daily; it was voted one of Time magazine's Top 25 Blogs of 2011.
The photographs Erdman picks perpetuate the myth of the perfect, happy home: impossibly neat rooms; blindingly white, or depressingly beige, backdrops; misplaced, non-functioning decor, "like a set of oars that are sitting in the corner ... or a table that has an enormous bowl of limes," Erdman says.
A Dallas-raised actress-writer and alum of Chicago's Second City comedy troupe, Erdman is familiar to many, thanks to a string of commercials for that quintessentially American eatery Sonic Burger. But rather than narrate the photos herself, she came up with the fictional characters of yuppies Gary and Elaine. As Erdman writes, they're the type who'd say: "Make yourself at home! There are clean sheets on the bed, plenty of reading material and, of course, a new spool of kite string over the headboard."
Erdman's book is organized into chapters on bedrooms, children's rooms, kitchens, bathrooms, outdoor spaces, even "other spaces." "Make a hallway more than a depressing tunnel of nothingness by placing a cherished collection of rocks or leaves on a slim console table," Erdman writes.
In a country where even dollar stores sell home goods, one wonders how these high-end businesses thrive. And in an economy where people are more concerned with putting real food, not ceramic versions, on the table, the question shifts from "Who lives like this?" to "How?"
"Catalogs get to people," Erdman says. "They're selling a lifestyle, a fantasy holiday or a fantasy summer vacation. So by buying those acrylic margarita glasses, you think you're paving the way to having the best summer ever."
While she says that neither she nor her friends fit into the socioeconomic bracket of most catalog shoppers, Erdman admits to being tempted. In her Sherman Oaks apartment, she points out a ceramic owl in a bird cage, as well as a metal bird on the dining room shelves.
"I'm aware of it, but it doesn't mean I don't fall for it," she says.
She's also aware that many of her readers not only own the products they find so amusing but also wind up purchasing them after seeing them on her site.
"At least it makes people get the joke and realize that, when they're buying decorative squirrels to put in their bathroom, they're being silly," Erdman says. "So we may be hopeless consumers, but at least we can understand that it's not anything life-changing. You will not die if you don't have that ceramic squirrel."Follow us on Twitter at @LAWeeklyArts and like us on Facebook.