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Property porn and the Irish psyche

An Cailín Rua

An Cailín Rua
Anne-Marie Flynn

Isn’t it quite the reflection on the Irish people that after a devastating economic crash fed by an over-inflated property bubble, our national obsession with property remains as fierce as it ever was?
Examples of this are plentiful, but it really struck me again the other night when I caught a glimpse Room to Improve, RTÉ’s architecture and interior series which so bizarrely claims a place in the hearts of many Irish viewers.
Our hero Dermot, not for the first time, is (probably) busy overseeing the instalment of more giant single-pane windows overseeing another bland courtyard space, when the talk turns to baths. And it turns out that the owners of this project – it’s not really a house or a home, but a project – are seriously considering parting with many thousands of euro for a single bathtub. And the Irish viewing public is lapping this up. And you start to wonder a little if we are not all, in fact, insane.
Room to Improve is, for many, the acceptable face of property porn in Ireland. Why, I wonder? Is it that, while most of us can agree to pour scorn upon the ubiquitous Irish Times’ glossy property supplements, plastered with seven-figure red-brick mansions with manicured lilac-treed gardens, Room to Improve at least occasionally acknowledges that fancy houses exist outside South Dublin and has featured the odd culchie.
And sure don’t we all love Dermot’s little strops when the people who are actually going to live in these houses are brave enough to voice their own opinions?
The other phenomenon that has emerged in recent times is that of the self-build/renovation/interior-design Instagrammer.
These accounts consist of people documenting their self-build or renovation, all the way though from the planning to the preening. They are honey to any bee that has ever dreamed of owning their own home, myself included.
From the PR freebies to the Farrow and Ball paint, and the €200 duvets (most definitely not microfibre, you guys) to the passive-aggressiveness of the smaller accounts that aren’t on the PR lists, they are highly entertaining, if not at times a little contrived, with the casual draping of expensive throws as they ‘style’ their living spaces.
Such accounts are open to begrudgery of all kinds of course, despite their money being their own – but isn’t that the Irish way?
Trends will come and go, but I wonder if our obsession with owning property and the nesting process is an Irish thing, rooted perhaps in the losses of the famine and the British invasion, both of which are still deeply embedded in our psyche today. While efforts have been made in the past to start discussions about alternatives, such as Michael Davitt’s proposal of land nationalisation, property ownership remains king.
But whether it’s on Room to Improve, The Irish Times or Instagram, the picture-perfect photo is for the most part no reflection of reality.
Clutter free, organised and devoid of any trace of real living for the photos, it plays to the aspiration that lives within most of us for order, for perfection and for material things. That level of aspiration and obsession with owning stuff is set to deepen throughout the next generation as government policy – the prioritisation of private developments over state-owned/state-run housing – continues to ensure a shortage of housing and a rise in homelessness. A designer duvet cover is far from the minds of far too many; some of us still don’t have a front door to call our own.
So perhaps the property obsession isn’t all consumerism, voyeurism or narcissism. On Instagram, for example, house-related content is addictive on many levels, often because much of it is also genuine and educational.
It’s the documentation of the planning process; how someone envisions their home, the journey they go on to realise their vision, the roadblocks they meet, and the cleverness, inventiveness, craftsmanship and creativity on display that make it so compelling.
Aspirational or not, the process of creating and crafting something as tangible as a home is a personal journey; a story to be told. And of course, a different type of property porn to which I would love to be immune… but we all have our weaknesses.  And perhaps that’s what makes Room to Improve so compelling too.

MPU Mayo