Domestic Cozy: 9

This entry is part 9 of 9 in the series Domestic Cozy

After a couple of more theoretical entries to this blogchain, time for a roundup of recent phenomenology. I have five exhibits to introduce into evidence.

Exhibit A, these schizophrenic shoes from Patara Shoes (ht Kyle Chayka). They appear to combine the comfort-oriented domestic-cozy appeal (and price point) of Allbirds with a bit of premium mediocre eco-signaling and public narrative construction (“globalist multicultural nomad” living dangerously on the edge of appropriation outrage potential). I’m seeing more and more examples of premium mediocre intersecting with domestic cozy (weighted blankets are a good paradigmatic example), mostly in incoherent ways, though analyzing the incoherence is above my trend-logger pay grade and is probably best done by somebody in Brooklyn.

Exhibit B. There’s a long article out in Buzzfeed News by Anne Helen Peterson that profiles a design firm called Pattern, and its first brand launch, Equal Parts, a cookware line. Take a moment to click through and check out the imagery and price positioning. Note the pastels, soft+rough textures, and sturdy, utilitarian designs. Note the comfy, cozy pictures of the team. This stuff is about the same price band as most things I tag premium mediocre, but the tradeoff seems to have shifted to delivering utilitarian value over signaling woke virtue. This stuff probably is more serviceable than it is instagrammable.

Pattern is apparently the result of a pivot by a design firm called Gin Lane that was apparently responsible for branding several products that we’d label premium mediocre. Peterson uses domestic cozy to theorize the pivot, and constructs it as a sort of reorientation to address post-burnout millennial priorities.

“Pattern’s central mission is helping young adults today ‘enjoy daily life,’” he wrote. “We’re doing this by raising awareness of burnout caused by work culture, the attention economy, and by creating brands that offer a combination of products and personal guidance around simple, everyday activities at home.” Their first product? Equal Parts cookware

Though domestic cozy is a Zoomer-native trend, I suppose it enjoys some higher harmonic resonance in the burnout-Millennial demographic as well. I’m not quite on board with Peterson’s reading of Pattern in domestic-cozy terms, but there’s definitely a there there.

The general attitude of resignation evident in Exhibit C, the Ok, Boomer meme, for example, is more domestic cozy than premium mediocre, and appears to have been generally tagged a Zoomer meme. But it also strikes me as a burnout-Millennial meme. The mask slips. The facade of desperately anxious performative normalcy, partly an attempt to avoid violating Boomer-parent narratives, is abandoned. But so is any attempt to persuade the other side of the generation gap of anything. The shift is from conformity to disregarded dissonance rather than active dissent. The time-rich/money-poor giving up pretending, and begin running out the clock on the time-poor/money-rich Boomers.

The difference is in the implied intonation I suppose. The Zoomer rolls her eyes. For her, Ok, Boomer is a mildly contemptuous Ok, Grandpa. For the burned-out Millennial, it’s a weary conflict-avoiding tiredness. Mask fatigue. It’s more Ok, Dad.

Both are versions of what I called mask strain in my 2015 post, Pretending to Care, Pretending to Agree.

Exhibit D. The rise of comfy as a loaded meme-word. Domestic cozy is generally a somewhat feminized sensibility, but comfy appears to be a more masculine young-bro chan-culture side of it. It appears to be in use to talk about (for example) getting financially comfortable through crypto investments. In that usage, it has some of the same connotations as fuck-you money, but lacks both the high ambition and the undercurrent of anger and rebellion (though there’s something about the bravado behind comfy that seems to me adjacent to the sorts of simmering resentment that drive the incel subculture, with all that connotes). It also has an element of what for Millennials was “life hacking” but there’s more emphasis on getting lucky than being clever.

To be comfy is to secure your own future in a darkening world by being attuned to luck, while being generally apathetic to the condition of others. There’s an element of schadenfreude there, perhaps a streak of displaced empathy. To be comfy is to safely short the world rather than exit it as a political statement, and turn empathetic pain into satirical laughter.

Exhibit E: The mainstream rise of the adjective “thicc” (borrowed from older usage in black culture apparently). There are other terms in the same family, such as “absolute unit” and “chonky”, all of which gesture at an aesthetic and design sensibility of solidity, durability, and resilient strength. On the visual side of “thicc” we find increasing currency of meme images of sturdily built animals (which has triggered outrage cycles on occasion, when read as commentary about human bodies). We find young girls on TikTok sharing tips on how to take selfies that exaggerate thiccness (according to one TikTok I watched, turning toes inwards as you face the mirror can exaggerate the size of your butt, which is apparently one aspect of achieving a thicc look). Whatever else premium mediocrity is, as far as I can tell, thiccness is at best an accent within the aesthetic, rather than the central element.

Exhibit F: TikTok itself, which I finally caved and checked out. It is full of domestic cozy. The cultural grammar is the opposite of Instagram. Domestic friends-and-family entertainment over public success narrative performance. TikTok versus Instagram is pretty much the perfect synecdoche of domestic cozy versus premium mediocre.

To summarize:

  • Exhibit A: schizoid premium mediocre+domestic cozy brands,
  • Exhibit B: burnout-millennial consumerism as a harmonic of domestic cozy
  • Exhibit C: Ok, Boomer as mask-strain intergenertional language, differently deployed by Zoomers and Millennials
  • Exhibit D: Solving for comfy as a bro-shorting side of domestic cozy
  • Exhibit E: Thicc as key adjective in an aesthetic built around solidity and strength
  • Exhibit F: TikTok as the anti-Instagram

What are we to make of this phenomenology? Let me share a 2×2 Nils Gilman came up with in a brief brainstorm about what’s going on here. The motivation was to classify what Nils calls High Peasant, a lifestyle sensibility based on very expensive, high-quality recreations of a peasant-inspired life that actual peasants could never afford.

Juxtaposing High Peasant against Premium Mediocre and Domestic Cozy is what motivated this 2×2. Think Alice Waters (born 1944, so cusp of Silents and Boomers). That led to us talking about the newly uncovered 4th quadrant: public display and low cost. This is Thrift Store/Favela Chic, and is arguably very Gen X (and very appropriately, required 2×2 engineering to uncover, since it is easily forgotten). An openly subversive, satirical posture. Macklemore, of the eponymous song, is an older Millennial, but the Thrift Store sensibility is definitely very Gen X.

So that gives us a full Strauss-Howe theoretical scaffolding.

  • Low cost/private pleasure: Gen Z, Domestic Cozy
  • High cost/private pleasure: Boomers, High Peasant
  • High cost/public pleasure: Millennials, Premium Mediocre
  • Low cost/public pleasure: Gen X, favela chic/Thrift Store

And here is a first stab at capturing how the 4 generations respond to the 3 non-native sensibilities they see in younger/older people. It’s a sort of culture matrix.

If you have other exhibits to introduce into evidence here, please do share. I have the beginnings of a fuller theory developing, but I’m in no hurry to get at it. I’m all comfy here, waiting for this to develop into a proper thicc description at its own pace. Gen Z is young, and isn’t going anywhere particularly fast.

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About Venkatesh Rao

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

Comments

  1. An interesting question is how to reason about aesthetics as a right-brained syntax of stack integration – domestic cozy and premium mediocre both are non-symbolic encodings of how to integrate various sub-systems into a greater global pattern and thus achieve gestaltual uplift out of the lower levels – these aesthetically-transmitted affordance-mappings in the space of territory-mappers – whether you call them “hipster”, “survivalist”, “rationalist”, “premium mediocre” or “domestic cozy” – include both constraint (the shape of the Lego) and open-endedness (how you stack them).

  2. Off topic, but funny:
    “ You didn’t think, and therefore, you aren’t.”
    https://madgeniusclub.com/2019/11/04/i-told-you-so/

  3. Those pots remind me of a mix of 1960s and 1930s design, intuitively, and that kind of value aesthetic, the raw material kind, with solid construction and appreciation of materials, is the kind of thing that can really only apply to those people specifically optimising for specific forms of comfort, “objects to be loved” etc. but not necessarily prioritising mobility. On the other hand, solid rounded objects could be easier to pack than easily chipped or chip forming ones..

    By its very hard to fake hard-to-optimise-costs-out-of physical nature, that kind of approach’s probably not going to be a mass market expression of the gen z perspective on things, but it occurs to me that the “weirdly satisfying” trends, and general attention to immediate experience, could produce some very good physical design niches if we could just lower the precarity a bit and give them some reasonable purchasing power.

  4. Next phase, domestic cozy moves to a hidden under-layer, so Zoomers can feel safe leaving the house.

    Business casual clothes, waterproof on the outside to rinse off urban muck…lined with pajama flannel (which shows when cuffs rolled up)?

    • Oh, this already exists! Check out the Kickstarter-esque Betabrand, who sells the popular “Dress pant yoga pants” and the inside that unconvincingly looks like a full suit. Though their target demographic is the SF programmer type, so not sure where that fits in performative vs. internal…

  5. My daughter is 17 and starts at University in February (to study design). Her biggest concern right now is whether or not the other students will play Uno and drink tea with her while she eats her home-made salad each lunchtime. She also hopes her new friends won’t be into “getting drunk” or other such activities. She would love it if they could play Monopoly together. At high school this year she and her friends played card & board games together in a huge group and would alter the rules for added fun. She plans on only wearing sneakers to university. I can see the domestic-cozy factor increasing whilst she earns her degree rather than wearing off.

  6. This is easily the best summary — and synthesis — of recent cultural trends that I have seen, period. Also delightfully well-written.
    However, I would argue GenX reaction to Premium Mediocre goes beyond “apathetic” into full-on “cynicism and disgust.”
    Thinking back to how I, a (mildly successful) Gen Xer, responded to the poorly-utilitarian mid-century-knock-off crap-design hotel experience I had in LA last year: it enraged me. Like, every bit of thrown-together insta-design-student aesthetic and non-functional furniture choices (and lack of proper blackout curtains IN LA) had me pissed off the entire 3-night stay. I felt sorry for the succulents.

    Incidentally, with a ceramic coating, there’s no way those aluminum pans are recyclable, at least in current facilities — total posturing bs on the part of Pattern. I do like the trend to durable goods with non-toxic materials, though.

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