Domestic Cozy: 2

This entry is part 2 of 13 in the series Domestic Cozy

Phrases like domestic cozy and  premium mediocre are what you might call world hashes, fingerprints of worlds. They enable you to instantly classify whether a thing belongs in a world, or is an alien element within it, even before you have characterized the world at any significant level of detail.

Take this picture (a screenshot of the landing page of, an “inactivewear” company, ht Adam Humphreys) for instance: domestic cozy or not?

I’m going to say yes, that’s domestic cozy. It’s not an exact science. The associations with inactivity, indoor life, and comfort over presentability put it firmly in the domestic-cozy world.

There are certainly problems at the margins. The well-groomed look of the model, and the non-messiness of the background suggest there’s a residual element of Millennial premium mediocrity in the positioning. It’s more the fake “good-hair” domesticity of a staged Instagram performance than a representation of a genuinely domestic aesthetic. Maybe they’re trying to get some crossover appeal going.

If I had to fine-tune this graphic to strike exactly the right note, I’d pick a more ordinary looking model, perhaps with properly unkempt frizzy hair and freckles. Maybe  a pile of laundry and unwashed coffee mugs/plates in the background (not disgustingly messy, just TV-messy). Maybe softer, darker evening lighting. Maybe a less glossy, more scruffy visual texture. Maybe a board game next to the model. Maybe a note of anxiety.

Still, close enough. This passes the fingerprint matching test.

Domestic cozy is a world hash that picks out a grammar in a world. As with premium mediocre, domestic cozy is tempting to reductively see as just an aesthetic. But if you like where this going, I suggest you check that tendency, because it makes things so much less interesting. To confuse a world hash with an aesthetic is like saying Sherlock’s Holmes ability to read the clues in his clients’ appearances made him a fashion critic rather than a detective.

This grammar is easiest to pick out in visual elements, but it suffuses all aspects of the world. I’ll save more general theorizing about world hashes for the worlding blogchain, but what does the grammar of domestic cozy tell us about the underlying world? What parts of what it picks out are enduring traits of the generation (remember, Gen Z can expect to live into the next century), and what parts are simply a function of life stage and contemporary conditions?

One thing that strikes me about examples I’ve noticed so far is that they paradoxically combine passivity and sense of play. As Visakan noted in a comment last time, there is a dark note of palliative self-care. Instead of Bruce Sterling’s “acting dead“, what we have here is a kind of playing dead. Instead of favela chic, we have mortuary chic.

This is an aspect that, I predict, will not endure. It is an artifact of life stage and 2019 conditions, not the generational temperament.

But the playfulness will mature into a more alive version of itself.

Series Navigation<< Domestic Cozy: 1Domestic Cozy: 3 >>

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter


  1. Bruce Zhuang Jia says

    Is it possible to organize the grammatical components of say, Domestic Cozy, or Premium Mediocre, according to some sort of internal rule? Or are the relations between components more like how a hashtag links disparate items together based on nominally common characteristics?

  2. Romeo Stevens says

    A hash that picks out a grammar is a nice turn. Maybe also the key signature of a symphony?

  3. Love this example. As to why it isn’t pure domestic cozy though, look at the price tag: $300. This is a ridiculous amount to pay if you actually just wanted something low-key and comfortable. So it’s already for rich people who want some combination of fashion and cozy. I.e. more premium than premium mediocre?

    There’s a broader thing too about commercialism & advertising pulling any social pattern, like domestic-cozy, toward pure aesthetics and image, and away from any actual values or stances toward the world that they embody.

  4. Seems like premium mediocre connotes values like social performativity, extraversion, conformity, and brand-centered consumerism. In other words, finding belonging by embracing an identity that prioritizes accruing public social capital in order to fit in with the desired tribe over being yourself. At its extreme, this classification is perhaps most evident within the status-seeking confines of fraternity/sorority culture.

    Meanwhile, domestic cozy can be characterized by detached self-assuredness, introversion, individuality, and an unbranded DIY lifestyle. Finding comfort in the privacy of your own world. On the other hand, it might also indicate someone who’s a loner, out of the loop, and unable to find their place in the community. As already mentioned in the comments of part 1, at its most severe, there is the risk of conforming to the hikikomori archetype.

    Regardless of the distinctions between premium mediocre and domestic cozy, the truth is contemporary society is fluid, so many of us typically have to strike a careful balance. The ability to adapt to shifting circumstances via seamless code-switching of identities is often critical to long-term success.

    Extrapolating further, I’m tempted to place premium mediocre and domestic cozy on two ends of a spectrum, with outgoing spendthrifts on one side, and introspective minimalists on the other. Consider the distinction between self-described foodies (code for ‘frequent restaurant-goer with discretionary income’) vs. those who pride themselves on always cooking at home (code for ‘cash-strapped homebody’).

    And yet, that doesn’t quite do either concept justice…

    Is there a middle ground between the two?

    Could domestic mediocre exist? How about premium cozy?

  5. PM vs DC jock vs nerd.

    If this is accurate, this might have something to do with nerds being cool these days.

  6. You might be interested in my comp lit/cs PhD work about something pretty much exactly like the idea of ‘a world hash that picks out a grammar in a world.’ (I even use the fingerprint metaphor frequently in the dissertation.) The best parts of it are here:

    • George Pickett says

      Peli, this seems interesting but it’s a bit dense. Is there a most blog post-friendly/less scientific version of this to explore?

  7. Akshay Bhat says

    I see this most clearly in my Gen-Z second-generation Indian cousins growing up in America. They are cynical of the conventional careers chosen by their parents and have a lax attitude towards school etc.
    Also, “experiments in refactored perception” sounded better for the blog. It will take me some time to get adjusted to the new logo.

  8. Pierre-Emil Chantereau says

    I love the new slogan. It was always a meta-physical quest, a coming to consciousness of the substrate rather than a optimization project. The reality model was always expanidng beyond the borders of efficiency, spilling into the resistance of the intangibly real.

    This example is rather a form of self-care and neurosis, exemplified by the writings of Alain de Botton. A sort of embalming survival guide for neoliberal society. The pricing, copy and aesthetic are all geared towards the older millenial or GenZ demographic. Those who live on the edge of burn-out. The anti-thesis of the performance they display on stage, is this full blown neuroticism displayed at home. A performance of the Self, to the self itself.

    The actual presence you seem to hint at in your description would not be the lavishly designed and overpriced home-coat of the creative executive de-winding with weed, (cause that is what this is, it is a smoke jacket for wealthy stoners), but rather the collection of tiny glass bottles you will find in the home of any aspirant witch.