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.
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.
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?”
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
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
“I'm aware of it, but it doesn't mean I don't fall for it,” she says.
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
“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.”
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