Gimme shelter magazines

Gimme shelter magazines

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"Hmmm, that looks comfy."

I was flipping through a glossy home decor magazine and stopped at a section on bathrooms. The featured element, the tub, was a harsh, gray rectangle with knife-edge corners made of gray poured concrete. If it weren't for the rose petals floating on top of the water, you might mistake it for a particularly cruel and unusual horse trough.

Maybe the rose petals are there to lure alien life forms, because certainly no human will ever sit and soak in that tub. How would you clean it? Sandblast the soap ring?

If the tub was harsh, the sink looked as if it came from the Country Club Prison Collection. It was a stainless steel basin that jutted from the wall with no pipes showing, presumably so they couldn't be ripped out and used as a weapon during an escape attempt. The toilet, though, looked as if it came from the future. You would need special training to use it, like the astronauts on the space station.

As I looked at the pictures, all I could think was, "These guys don't have kids." I don't even think they have adults. There were no wet towels lying across the tub, no half-squeezed tubes of toothpaste by the sink. There were no nail-clippers, brushes or combs in sight. No trash can with a strand of dental floss hanging down the side, no bottles of prescription medicines scattered about. No towels showing their age, no deodorant sticks or cologne bottles visible, no lipstick, no mascara, no mouthwash.

Absolutely nothing indicated human habitation. Who lives here? Robby the Robot? If so, why does he need a toilet?

Home design magazines call themselves "shelter" magazines now. I wonder if that's how the editors talk to each other at dinner parties.

"Nice shelter you've got here, Bob! Who does the rose petals in your bathtub? My guy quit, so I'm looking for someone. By the way, have you got any Band-Aids? I cut my hand on your tub, but I couldn't find the medicine cabinet. Oh, the medicine cabinet is the thing made out of razor wire? I thought that was a towel rack! You're so right, it probably does keep people from snooping."

I go through shelter magazines now, not looking for the latest trends in furniture or window treatments, but for signs of life. You see the ultra-modern living room, all white, glass and sharp corners; does it say "cool sophistication," or does it say "We have no kids, no pets and no friends?" Can you imagine having people over for beer and pizza in this joint? Can you see a mom changing a baby's diaper on a white Italian leather sofa while watching "Ellen"?

You never see a purse plopped down on the hallway table in these magazines, or a newspaper folded over to the sports section. You never see a sweater hanging over the back of a chair, or dirty socks in front of the TV cabinet. You never see crayon drawings and family photos stuck to the refrigerator with magnets.

Here's a fun game idea: Try to find any five items on this list pictured in an issue of any design magazine: a stack of junk mail, a set of car keys, a branded bottle of dish soap, mismatched pots, refrigerator magnets, an open bag of lime-flavored taco chips, a random pile of notes beside a phone, a jumble of books on a bedside table, a tube of Neosporin, reading glasses, a dog or cat dish with kibble spilled all around it, some ugly thing that a relative gave the owners that they display just to keep peace in the family.

I don't know what shelter magazine editors do with all their personal junk when company comes. Maybe they just dump it all in the square tub and cover it up with rose petals.

Contact Jim Mullen at


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