After the ’94 Northridge Earthquake, we had to remodel our house. Though it hadn’t been flattened like many of the parking garages just five miles away from us, we took the spidery cracks in the walls and our utterly destroyed knickknacks as an opportunity to turn the old, quaint ‘40s-style two-bedroom into something more modern, ripping up the stained mauve carpets and installing energy-efficient double-paned windows.
Starting from scratch, we were able to design our dream house—within the limitations of both space and cash flow, both of which were tight—cobbling together things we liked about other spots in the neighborhood and incorporating them into the design of our own. I say “we” here, but I had very little to do with the planning of this new home, aside from maybe an enthusiastic yelp about the vintage, heart-shaped stained glass that was to be installed in my bedroom. I was ten; my contribution to our family’s aesthetics was rightfully nil.
For the months leading up to constructions, my mom would drive around the neighborhood taking pictures of the things she liked. There was the river rock siding from this house, the composite roof from another. Bay windows were always preferable and street lamps straight out of some Dickensian dreamscape were a must. After developing the photos, my mom eventually cut and pasted everything she liked onto one piece of paper, creating our little Frankenstein home in 2D. This was a lesson in real DIY, beta design. And, though the term was far too hippy dippy for my corner of the San Fernando Valley, a sort of “dream board.”
Like most dreams, not everything about my mom’s plan for this house came true. The backyard, meant to be laid with rich brick, went unfinished. Knobs on the kitchen drawers were never installed. I recall wanting to do something grander with the front patio but that didn’t happen either. Which was fine. Once the house was built, there was no lamentation about what we got and what we didn’t get. The little 2D dream board was out of sight, out of mind.
Whenever I stumble upon Pinterest (and the Internet at large, really), I am reminded of my mom’s comparatively limited access to inspiration. All she had was what could be found around the neighborhood and gleaned via some gentle mining through magazines. Our dreams for this house were simple, in that where we lived was simple, devoid of flash and grotesque novelty. (Though we did want a Sub-Zero refrigerator, which at the time we saw as the ultimate in luxury, and a luxury we could not afford.) But other than that, there was not this crushing anxiety of want that persists today, because you can only want what you know you don’t have. And today, we are all too aware of our shortcomings.
Every day we are presented with thousands of things to covet—a better car, a better butt, a better home. The Internet is the ultimate environment of depraved desire, where we are put in close proximity to every spectrum of wealth from the glow of our computer screen. Pinterest—with its troves of design inspiration and tasteful interiors—is like if my mom went driving around the billion dollar homes of Beverly Hills, thrust into almost obligatory, paralyzing, ineffectual desire. She could have copy and pasted pictures from these trips into oblivion, only to have very little of it come to fruition.
While I do think it’s amazing to have such a wealth access to the beautiful lives of others, I have to wonder if it’s healthy to be exposed to things so beyond your grasp. Or, even worse still, if simply creating these virtual dream boards is becoming a sad supplement for executing the dreams in real life. Because what use is a dream so large and impossible that you cannot place into the context of your actual life?
Photograph: Jeska Hearne