Real People Don’t Live in Magazine Spreads

Much to my postman’s chagrin, I receive oodles and oodles of home decorating magazines. Once I discovered Amazon’s $5 magazine subscription deals, I was a wild woman ordering this magazine and that magazine. Now, they just pile up, because I don’t have the time make the time to look through them all.

When I do find myself in a bubble bath with a few moments to myself, I love checking out the beautiful rooms put together by real-life designers. More often than not, I dog-ear pages in the magazines thinking, “Oooh, that would look great in my bedroom,” or, “I could do that for so much cheaper!” Occasionally, though, I find myself thinking, “What real person lives in that space?”

Before you get depressed that your house isn’t as beautiful as the ones in House Beautiful, I want you to remember one thing: REAL PEOPLE DON’T LIVE THERE. Sure, there’s a family or a couple living in each space photographed, but THAT’S not how they actually live.

One read of Eddie Ross’s blog or even a visit to the Lettered Cottage reveals exactly what you need to know – when the magazine pros photograph a home for a spread, they enter a spectacularly fabulous home with an army of stylists and props to make a space look more magazine-like. Throw blankets are strategically placed so that they photograph well and add a splash of color to a bare spot. A beautiful place setting is styled on the dining room table in case an impromptu dinner party errupts. And what is with there ALWAYS being fresh cut flowers just laying on the kitchen island? I’m I the only one who notices that?

Don’t you just LOVE the color of those kitchen cabinets, though?

Do you want to know what a real home looks like? I’ll show you. It has pliers and space shuttles in the oven.

It has a giant mess tucked away in one room where you can simply close the door (don’t we all have a messy room like this?).

It has a pile of throw pillows on one side of the room (and lots of Legos on the coffee table), because let’s be honest – it’s not really comfortable to sit on a couch with throw pillows.

I just want to tell you right now that your home is perfect the way it is. Absolutely perfect. There’s always room to refresh your space – to add a new chair here or a book wreath on your wall there – but your home is perfect. Don’t ever, EVER let magazine spreads make you feel your home is unworthy.

Remember, it’s all just a mirage.

Beautiful photos by House Beautiful. Real-people photos by me.

Filed Under: Decorate Your Home

About Lindsay Ballard

Lindsay Ballard is a former college mascot turned political geek turned DIY fanatic who is conspiring to live in a Technicolor dream world. Her designs are bold and graphic, while her spirit is fun and full of color. Lindsay chronicles her projects and design ideas here at Makely, where she shares daily tutorials and inspiration. Lindsay lives outside of Austin, Texas with her husband (Tom), children (Zack and Emma) and dogs (Jack and Duke).


  1. hahahahahaha! I heart this post. I too have wondered how these people have the budgets to have gorgeous fresh flowers in every room and I too have a "closed door" room. Thanks for the reminder that it's perfectly fine :)

  2. Thanks for keepin' it real! So true about the Legos on the table and uncomfortable pillows on the couch.

  3. So well said!!!

  4. What a great post, Lindsay, and so true! I find myself, seeing as I'm still in college and don't have a lot of space to call my own, that I dream of perfectly decorated rooms in the house of my dreams, but I have realized I need to be realistic because I will only let myself down by thinking in this way. I want to have a large family, so I have to decide what is more important – a magazine-worthy room or a loving family. I think anyone in the right mind knows which one I should choose.

    Thanks for bringing us back to earth!

  5. Oh I so agree. Why is it we all rush around when company is coming or we start to take a pic and rearrange everything. It is perfect the way it is. Thanks for the reminder. Hugs, Marty

  6. Great post! Even reading some home decor blogs and seeing people's rooms can make me feel my home doesn't measure up. (Probably shouldn't be following them, then :) But I love how you've made this real, and I enjoy following your blog and seeing your great ideas! Thanks!

  7. We just sold our house and had it staged beautifully. You wouldn't know that two messy kids lived there. We got rid of about 1/2 of their toys and they aren't missing them. Thankfully we only had it on the market for just over a week since there was no way we could live like that for much longer. I mean it might not look the best but we need somewhere to put our wet boots, and the grocery list on the fridge and the recylcing bin in the kitchen. They might not look great but so pratical.
    But having your house so clean is inspiring me to keep a bit neater.

  8. I read this on my blackberry this morning and had to come back to comment because it was so true!!! Good stuff, chica!

  9. Thanks for posting this. It's easy to get caught up in thinking my house isn't good enough because it's not always spotless and bright and airy-looking. I will say, though, that my "messy room" makes yours look immaculate!

  10. thanks for the reminder!

  11. Great post, Lindsay! I think we all need to hear this now and then! 😉

  12. I needed to hear this! Thank you!

  13. Becolorful says:

    It is so interesting that you would write this because I just left a post at Inspiring Interiors where I said the pictures were beautiful and that there were some things that I really gleaned from them but my overall impression was "Who lives here?" They could be anybody's house. Where is the personality? I hope I didn't offend her but sometimes honesty is a risk. Thanks for sharing.

  14. AMEN sister!! Most of them I think, Who would WANT to live there?" Even when I do have everything in it's place for two minutes, I'd still prefer 15 minutes' notice by visitors so I can do an emergency pick-up. Thankfully, I've grown out of the shrieking phase when cars pull in the driveway…


  15. Julie Johnson says:

    I needed that today! I'm a busy mom with 4 kids and 2 dogs, and do my best to keep the house presentable…and livable. It's not perfect. There is dust. There are fingerprints. There is a trail…and you know what? I'll miss it when they are all gone.

  16. You. are. fabulous.

    That is all. 😉

  17. That makes me feel better…thanks!! =) p.s. so jealous of your sewing space!!

  18. AMEN Sister!! :o)

  19. Pam @ bibbidi-bobbidi-beautiful says:

    Thanks for keepin' it real! The fresh flowers on the kitchen island (and dining table, and entry table, and randomly strewn throughout the house…)thing always kills me. That kitchen in the first photo is gorgeous, but take the flowers away and even with all the beautiful finishes, it's a little,… bleh. If I could afford to have fresh flowers all over my house all the time, my house could look like a magazine too!

  20. Pink Princess says:

    YES YES YES!! Thank you SO much lol. I am always thinking it looks great but WHO lives like that!! NOT me, hehe. I have a kitten that makes a mess sometimes. I have a craft/dining/junk room with a door that is always closed because I am too embarresed to show it. My kitchensink always has something in it, My laundry-room…oke let's leave it at that LOL!! But it is MY home and I love it, mess and all ♥♥♥

  21. Great post! I was just looking at one of my home dec mags and they were showing different ways to use throw pillows. There were sooo many pillows on that couch that I thought, "There's NO WHERE to sit!!" It's just as easy to get caught up in the hype of the perfect looking house as it is the perfect looking body. It's great to be reminded that reality doesn't come in the mail as a glossy photo shoot. It's also great to start hearing other women stand up and say that reality is beautiful. Thanks.

  22. Oh so true. Life is messy, if you didn't do anything, you'd make no mess but you'd have a pretty dull life. I'll take messy and interestingover dull and immaculate. Those doggie noseprints on my window may drive me crazy but I can't imagine not having my sweet puppy.

  23. Angie @ The Country Chic Cottage says:

    Love this post girl!! I so live this life. I mean — I hope you all have toys in your family room too — I know I do — EVERYWHERE!! It is like a truck parking lot! 😉

  24. Amen, sister. A very good thing to say. And it's good for you, someone whose house looks so picture-perfect in so many ways, to say it. Kudos to you for writing this post!

  25. Thanks for the reality check reminder. So true. I like the way you think!

  26. This is such an adorable post…an adorable blog and…YOU are adorable. I just signed up to follow…and thanks for letting me know that because MY cottage isn't always straight and clean and uncluttered, it is OK !!:)Come see me when you can…

  27. Great post! I think I need to write this on a giant post-it note and stick it in a frame! Maybe when my 3 kids are married off with their own houses, mine will look as pristine and beautiful as the magazines…or maybe not?!

  28. stitching under oaks says:

    Lindsay, this is so true…and so good. thanks for the reminder. we've got to let go of the pressure. real life is way better than stylized living spaces!

  29. Kendra@My Insanity says:

    Thanks for this great reminder! It's so easy to fall into that trap!

  30. PeaceLoveApplesauce says:

    We have the same kitchen, minus the pliers. Our oven holds Superheros instead.. 😉

  31. FrouFrouBritches says:


    I have Barbie shoes, Thomas the Trains and stuffed animals EVERYWHERE in my house. Practically every room needs to be shut off on a daily basis and I'm lucky to have fresh flowers once a year!

    Thanks Lindsay!

  32. True that!! Although your crafty room is one I sure wouldn't mind having- it's so bright and cheery!!

  33. Esther@fleurcottage says:

    spot on, girl!

  34. I like to play a little game. When I'm looking at a spread on a particular home, I like to look at all the great accessories and furniture and watch where they land from picture to picture. Once in a BH&G; layout, I saw the same truly gorgeous piece of pottery in 2 different rooms and in 3 different places. Once near the mantel in the LR, then on an end table in the living room, then in the MBR in the shelves. It was so unique and one of a kind, you couldn't miss it in any of the pics. Stylists beware…we're on to you.

  35. Thanks for this post lady. Sometimes I stress about our "lived in" home…but it's our home and it's where we brought the dude home…and that makes it beautiful!

  36. LOVE it.

  37. This is a great post! There are times when I completely stress myself out about my house. I so want it to be perfect – just like those beautiful glossy photos in the magazines. Thank you for the reminder that they aren't real!

  38. Annie Rose says:

    Thanks for a great post. After looking at my teens rooms this morning after they left for school I seriously needed to read it! Thanks to you I have now settled for a gentle reminder for all of them to clean up a bit when they get home instead of the "your grounded for the rest of your life what are you thinking" response that I was going to say.

  39. love it, love it, love it! I was just thinking the same thing today as I sit in Monday madness mess! Ya know-leftovers from the weekend? Thanks for keeping it real!

  40. Southern Gal says:

    I was just telling a friend that I was going to have to stop subscribing to certain blogs. I don't want to covet or be unhappy with what I have. Contentment is my goal. Thanks for this.

  41. Thank you! :) This was so needed after I just vacuumed up the 959,568 Cheerio off the kitchen floor.

  42. Miss Mustard Seed says:

    Amen to that! That's one thing I love so much about the blog world. You get to see real spaces that are not fixed up by a team of stylists and captured by a professional photographer with thousands of dollars of equipment.

  43. Omg, I so needed to read this today! My house always looks so bad on Mondays after the chaos of the weekend.

  44. I agree, the home is an expression of yourself.

    P.S. I. Want. Those. CABINETS!

  45. I don't live in a magazine spread but my SIL does. Nothing out of place, nothing personal and it looks cold and uninviting.

    To Mary, try Joann's or Nancy's Notions for the ironing board cover. I think both places have them

  46. Karli @ RockyBella says:

    Preach it sista!!!! =) I couldn't agree more. Thank you for pointing that out to us. Seriously though… whats IS up with the food spreads in kitchens? Do people really have fresh cut veggies constantly sitting next to their sink? I think not.

  47. Kim @ NewlyWoodwards says:

    This is so true. Great post. We totally keep most pillows put away so the sofas are more comfortable and they don't get destroyed by the dogs. =)

  48. busy lizzie says:

    Its true!!! We were very lucky (er lucky?) to renovate, and then someone asked if we wanted to go in House and Garden. We didnt quite stretch to stylists and wot not, but it took a week of intensive cleaning preening and general nervous breakdownness! Everyone ooeh and aaahed, and thought it was beautiful (yes it was) Fast forward one week and I would open my teenage daughters bedroom door so all my friends could see "The Reality"! Im nuts enough without it looking like a show home, so you would go nuts trying to keep it like that. A home is for living in not looking at!

  49. Carmie, the Single Nester says:

    Sometimes I see such great rooms on blogs that I follow and I think 'Ugh! Mine stinks!' Thanks for the post. And I too picked up a bunch of $5 magazines from Amazon. You can see mine at my site.

  50. Condo Blues says:

    I bet you the next issue of House Beautiful is styled so there are pliers and space shuttles in the oven :)

    I hear you with the closed door room. I had a TV news crew come to my house to do an interview. They wanted to shoot my utility room. A lot of the items in it where thrown in a closed door room…and in the dryer.

  51. I love it! I actually had a conversation about throw pillows yesterday. I told him he couldn't lay on them and he looked at me like I was crazy and said, "What am I supposed to do with them, throw them?". Seriously…what sort of person created a pillow you can't lay on!!!

  52. Ok, I have to know…does your ironing board cover have a tape measure etc printed on it? And if so, where do you get it? Yea, that's all I saw in your messy room behind closed doors!

  53. Jess @ Frugal with a Flourish says:

    What is it about the flowers on the kitchen island??? Is everyone a novice florist in their spare time?

    BTW – I did a post the other day on Unhappy Hipster. Have you been there yet? I think you might just get a giggle out of it!

  54. Amy @ Living Locurto says:

    I don't know what you mean?? I always have my beautiful tulips sitting on my cutting board waiting to be put into my giant glass vase that my kids will no doubt break! :-) Doesn't everyone? hee.

  55. Kate @ That's What Living Is To Me says:

    Thank you for keepin it real. Sometimes I force my home (and myself) to try reach a unattainable perfection. A good house is one that is full of life and love!

  56. TheVirginiaHouse says:

    Perfect! You are so right. I used to work at this beautiful log house and JC Penny did a clothing photo shoot there. I was amazed and very happy and disappointed to see them take all the extra fabric in the back and put big "chip clips" on them to give the perfect look. I don't think I can walk around with a chip clip poking me in the back or fresh cut flowers on my counter, but I can still be happy with what I have! Great post!

  57. I love this post, and I want to thank you for keeping it real!

  58. Amen sister! I love the throw pillows comment! Why do we do that?!! We bought a sectional so we could sit in the corner and extend our legs but I chose to put throw pillows there so now we don't even sit there – crazy!!

  59. Preach it, sista! Home magazines should exist in our homes to give us inspiration not to take us on a guilt trip!

  60. I feel like you were speaking to me personally! Thank you!!

    P.S. I adore your blog and I just bought the stuff today to make my very own book wreath. I can't wait!!

  61. I love this post! So honest and open. I really appreciate that sort of thing!

    Loving This Mom Stuff

  62. bridget {bake at 350} says:

    I'm going to come back to this post every time I get the Pottery Barn catalog! :)

  63. Amen sister! BTW, is that your beautiful sewing room? Oh my, I'm so jealous. :)

  64. I love this post. I also love your sewing/craft room!

  65. LOVE IT! You made me laugh out loud with the pliers and space shuttle in the oven. With boys and a husband, I'm on a near-constant struggle with socks. Wouldn't have thought that would be my biggest thing, but they're everywhere! Bought fresh flowers for my own birthday, so you can tell exactly when I have them just laying around – never.

    I envy you your big white desk and pretty work room!

  66. I would like to add that even if you don't or can't have the magazine look, don't buy the WHOLE room set from a furniture store. Each one of those rooms that we all fall in love in these magazines have different furniture pieces in them that compliment each other but don't exactly match. This was a great post, about great every day living!

  67. Teresa Pomerantz says:

    Ok, I want your whole work room, but I am dying to know where you got your dressmakers dummy?

  68. skideewink says:

    Dear Lindsey,
    Just this very weekend I was wondering what to do with all thoses spare pillows and glass containers, old paperbacks and wreath forms I have been collecting over this winter as I have been reading yours and numerous other bloggyland "beautiful" spaces. I donated it back to goodwiil, although I kept the whiteware. I will just have to keep searching for my Wonder Wanda powers and plug away at my everyday nerd hearding I call parenting, LOL
    Miss Dee

  69. I so very much LOVE your blog! You (and your guest turtorials) have inspired me in so many ways!

    I have a question. Where did you get the child size dress form pictured in your sewing room on the right hand side of the photo? Do you like it? I'm really only going to use it to take photos of the outfits I make for my etsy shop, but I don't want something that makes the clothes hang wonky! I've been looking everywhere for one but can't seem to find what I'm looking for.

  70. Lindsay! I would love it if my house was as "messy" as yours! LOL. I am not sure I feel any better now! Actually, I enjoyed reading this because it's true! Love where you live! Live where you love!

  71. Victoria@WhimsybyVictoria says:

    Lindsay, this post is so true! I can so relate to this and you had me laughing about all the real pictures you showed…looks like my home. I have 4 boys and if I thought my home could be perfect at all times…well, I would be crazy! Thanks for keeping it real!


  72. So glad to see this post. Sometimes I look around and see that my house could never make it to a magazine no matter how much I try but we all live here. It is very much lived in with special touches all around.


  73. I love the white coffee table!! love it! and you are right… though I often feel very very undecorated in my home… we play, we build forts, we have piles of toys, crafts, papers, school work, art work… its cluttered (to a fault… must work on it a bit!) But it is home… I would love a little less clutter and a little more 'style'… in time 😉 in the midst of loving and living!
    Just Jenn~ your 1610 follower?! wow!

  74. The Frugal Family Manager says:

    I love this post. Thanks for the reminder to be happy with what we have. Always a good reminder. And, by the way, your living room DOES look like it was from a magazine… you did a great job of decorating, despite the throw pillows. :)

  75. Erik & Marcie +2 says:

    Thank you for this post. I was just sitting here blogging getting all depressed with all the things I'd like to do with my home, thinking, "How do these women do it all?" "Why can't my home look like their home?" I don't know, maybe I'm hormonal, but I really appreciated your post. :)

  76. Thanks I needed that! I am getting my house ready for sale and I get a little fanatical about everything being perfect…driving my entire family crazy. I’ll try to keep this tucked in the back of my mind and calm down a bit. :-)

  77. Oh my gosh, it’s so true. And yet I still find myself falling into the trap of really wanting my house to look like something out of a magazine spread. My 17-month-old, on the other hand, wants it to look like a toy bomb blew up in every room.

  78. Love this! I went looking for this topic and found yours. Brilliant. I think about this all the time. I am a decorator and I never have a professional photographer for my spaces. One I can not afford it and two just like you mentioned I or they would go in and move things around and add things because unless they are a designer themselves or very into decorating their accessories are never just right. I decorate the bones of their rooms and then they always buy their own accessories or already have things they love. So, what I am trying to say is: if you look at my work you will find real homes, real budgets and real people living in these photos! I love the magazine photos but hate them at the same time. What a struggle!