Design touches every aspect of our lives, whether we’re renovating our homes, observing the interiors of our workplaces, or wondering why our cities lack functional sidewalks. This year, Curbed explored the intersections of design and daily life in dozens of longform stories, on everything from the reality of eviction to the everyday experiences of people who outfit their spaces with high-end home tech. Here, we present 13 of our favorites, so grab a plate of cookies and settle in for some reading.
Evictionland by Joseph Williams
Whenever I entered or left my apartment building, I held my breath and scuttled on tiptoe past the leasing office near the front entrance. It was as if I believed denial made me invisible, or that the increasingly urgent messages that Jen, the property manager, left on my voicemail, and the invoices she slipped under my door, would magically vanish if I ignored them.
The man’s man’s kitchen by Ashley Fetters
As men discover kitchens, kitchens have been quietly discovering men. Take a look at any roundup of the kitchenwares every man should own—the kitchen “tools” and “gadgets,” that is, or “essentials,” a favorite man-brand euphemism for “accessories.” For one thing, you’ll notice a lot of kitchenwares now have the stark, clean, neutral-masculine palette of brushed chrome and matte black as a default. (If there’s a dudely analog to “shrink it and pink it,” it’s something like “steel it, matte-black it, and make it heavier.”) Both appliances and the kitchens they fill have evolved around the men who now inhabit them—even if appliance brands often would prefer not to talk about it.
The case against sidewalks by Alissa Walker
A century ago, sidewalks were the centers of American cities—public places for business transactions and social interactions. “Sidewalks” is actually a misnomer, because before cars existed, all modes of transportation mixed freely in the street: streetcars, carriages, horses, pushcarts, and, most of all, people walking in every direction.
Home smart home by Libby Copeland
I spent months talking to people across the country, in California, New York, New Jersey, Georgia, Texas, and Washington state. And what I found was that almost every early adopter has that one thing that drives him or her. Perhaps a slightly obsessive quality is what it takes to make people outfit their homes with technology that isn’t quite there yet. Unless you’re rich and have someone to do it for you—OneButton’s jobs typically range between $50,000 and $750,000—you can do a lot for several hundred bucks, but you’ll need a blessed amount of time, patience, and technological facility to do it yourself.
Are home renovations necessary? by Kate Wagner
Consciously or subconsciously, our constant remodeling is an effort to make ourselves more acceptable to others, something we should do as “good” homeowners. Like the beauty industry, the home-improvement industry plays on (usually gendered) insecurity—the fear that we are unattractive or inadequate. But the truth is, “other people” don’t have to live in your house, and when they come to visit, they’re there to see you, not your succulents and marble-and-brass side table.
McDonald’s 2.0 by Nate Berg
On a recent Saturday night, I invited a couple of friends out for dinner and drinks. We got in a car in Los Angeles, where we all live, and drove 40 miles south to Newport Beach, a pricey oceanfront Orange County city known for its nightlife. We had journeyed this obscene distance across multiple Southern California freeways to try a new restaurant. Its name is Taco Bell Cantina.
Bywater faces its future by Anne Gisleson
Our little shotgun houses and broken-up sidewalks, our subtropical gardens and street-level proximity to Katrina’s tragic backstory, provide an ineffable commodity that that famous actor staying at my neighbors’ couldn’t get at the W. You can’t blame travelers for wanting a deeper experience with the place they’re visiting. But all these tendrils of touristic desire, every tweet, can reach through a neighborhood and break up its residential life. Within a few years of Airbnb’s introduction to the neighborhood, short-term rental speculators were buying whole homes as investments, driving up rent, driving out neighbors, and bringing in the bachelor and bachelorette parties. Not only does Airbnb pit neighbor against neighbor, but the city also punts short-term rental policy back and forth between the City Planning Commission and the City Council. Is this what we worked for through all those years of rebuilding?
How terrazzo made a comeback by Jessica Furseth
Once you start seeing terrazzo, you won’t believe you didn’t notice it before. If you’re out in a city, it rarely takes more than a minute before terrazzo—marble chips in concrete—shows up on a shop floor, on the stairs leading down to the subway, or in an office building. It was also the material of choice for airports, schools, or any public building built during the mid-20th century, when terrazzo had its defining moment. And over the past few years, terrazzo has staged an incredible comeback.
Living alone and liking it by Ashley Fetters
In the United States, more than a quarter of households were single-person households as of 2015; in urban areas like New York City, that figure is estimated to be something more like half. And as the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies pointed out in 2015, “In the 19th and early 20th centuries, single-person households consisted mostly of men, but the greatest gains in living alone during the past 50 years have been among women. Today, women head 54 percent of all single-person households.”
There are, in other words, more women living alone in America than ever before. By now, it would seem, we should still have some kind of familiarized term for a woman’s spin on the bachelor pad.
In many ways, the world has moved on from the cataclysmic 2008 financial crisis, triggered when sloppy mortgage lending popped the massive U.S. housing bubble. But the scars of the crisis are still visible in the American housing market, which has undergone a pendulum swing in the last decade.
The pure joy of HGTV’s My Lottery Dream Home by Angela Serratore
All the participants make it clear that their dreams are coming true and that they couldn’t be happier, and it’s the idea of home ownership itself as a dream that relaxes a certain tightness in my chest. On other homebuying shows, the idea that someone will find the house for them and that they’ve already established the ability to pay for it is a given. Here, the lucky winners recognize themselves as lucky, and it imbues the whole show (and its viewers, or at least this viewer) with a spirit of generosity. They find nice things to say about each home they tour, and while they like certain homes more than others, and express worry about too-small kitchens or backyards that will need a lot of maintenance, what comes off as entitled on other homebuying shows is another chance to root for the lucky winners.
California and Texas are American heavyweights. They’re the two most populous states, with GDPs that place their economies in the ranks of global superpowers. Their landscapes and their ideologies are etched deeply into the collective consciousness. Both lead the nation in renewable energy and high-speed rail. Their largest cities support—and hinder—equitable urban policy. They host international borders, and are known for their diverse residents. Seeing the two states in opposition misses the point: What’s happening in Texas and California is really the story of what is happening in America.
The rise of stadium seating by Kieran Dahl
Stadium seating, says Mark Lamster, the architecture critic of the Dallas Morning News, has become “a standard trope of standard office design.” With no divisive walls or hierarchically stratifying closed doors, and with no task-specific designation, it represents transparency, autonomy, and flexibility—all traits that define the modern office. It creates “light and a suggestion of openness that is, overall, positive,” Lamster says. Anything a worker does on it, from observing a lecture or taking a call to eating lunch with colleagues and pretending to do work, happens in the public eye.