clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

13 favorite Curbed longreads of 2019

The magic of estate sales, life in a converted school bus, how homeownership became part of the American dream, and more

The quieter moments of the holidays are ideal times to catch up on all the reading we don’t get to during the more frenzied times of the year. We recommend curling up with your preferred device and some of our favorite longform stories, all of them deep dives, accompanied by original illustration and photography, into how our cities work, why we choose the homes we do—whether they’re houses or converted school buses—and what pop culture says about it all. We’ll be back with more in the first weeks of 2020.

Bright lights, small city

By Jami Attenberg | Illustrated by Kelly Abeln

Right around the time I turned 42, I started thinking about what my life was going to look like when I was 50. Long-term planning skills had previously been absent from my existence, and the fact that these concerns had surfaced was as much a surprise to me as to anyone else. Living day by day had always seemed a valid way to operate. But I wanted things to be easier and sunnier and I wanted to own a house, and I could not have that kind of life in New York.

Hitting the road

By Britta Lokting | Photography by Matt Winquist

Skoolie life is built on the idea that happiness and desk jobs are like oil and water. A fast-growing branch of the van life community, many of them millennial parents, is trading its homes and jobs to live in school buses in rebuff of the so-called American dream. Skoolies believe in a life free of picket fences, 401Ks, and 30-year mortgages—all the securities their baby boomer parents coveted. “We knew early on we wanted a different life than our parents,” says Amanda Smith, who lives on the Giant White Bussalo with her family of five. “Our parents just worked nonstop every day. We didn’t want to do the ‘you get married, buy a house, have babies, and pay off your debt the rest of your life.’”

I found lead paint in my historic house

By Alissa Walker | Illustrated by Paige Vickers

We moved into our first house when our daughter turned 1. It’s a low-slung, deep-eaved craftsman that’s 103 years older than she is, and almost as charming. One of the things we loved most about the house were the built-ins—a signature design element of the period.

The magic of estate sales

By Ann Friedman | Illustrated by Maria Ines Gu

When you walk through an estate sale, though, you’re perusing the stuff that was integral to a stranger’s daily life. The mugs they drank coffee from every morning in this kitchen. The chairs they pushed into the soft sand of the beach every summer. The books they read repeatedly, and the books they kept on these shelves because they always meant to read them but never got around to it. The framed prints that faded based on how the sun hit them every afternoon in this den.

Women on wheels

By Joanna Scutts | Illustrated by Tree Abraham

For men, the bicycle was “merely a new toy,” wrote Munsey’s magazine in 1896. But to women, it was “a steed upon which they rode into a new world.” Compact, cheap, and liberating, the bicycle was the tool that broke the lock on a generation. Suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony claimed it had done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. “I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a bike,” she said in 1895. “It gives her a feeling of self reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat.”

Why Marie Kondo’s method is ideal for my ADHD

By Kate Wagner | Illustrated by Paige Vickers

Kondo’s method is tailored to collectors like me: chronically anxious people with ADHD. For people like us, clutter is often a problem because we have difficulty with what is called executive functioning, the mental processes that help us organize information and regulate our decision making. This makes setting up systems, routines, and boundaries challenging. People with ADHD tend to keep things because we believe they trigger a memory or will be “useful” in the near future—and, being easily distracted, we simply store them away and forget about them.

Cynthia Kittler

The rise and fall of Laguna Beach, a gay California hotspot

By Brock Keeling | Illustrated by Cynthia Kittler

What I didn’t know was that, a decade later, the city that was once known as “San Francisco South” and “the Provincetown of the West” would be no more. From the late 1990s to the 2010s, through a combination of AIDS-related deaths, ’80s-era conservatism, and skyrocketing home prices, the rainbow-hued city lost its gay shine. Today only the Main Street Bar and Cabaret, a festive but small underground bar, remains from among those original venues.

A graphic collage of prominent Disney buildings including The Swan, Walt Disney Concert Hall, and Disney Headquarters Burbank and Orlando. Shutterstock (2), Getty (2), Alamy

The magical (postmodern) world of Disney

By Angela Serratore

It’s Disney’s theme parks and outdoor shopping malls that garner the most attention today, but its collection of buildings by Michael Graves, Robert Venturi & Denise Scott Brown, Aldo Rossi, Arata Isozaki, Charles Moore, and other champions of postmodern design deserve to be recognized as more than just great works of corporate architecture. For a brief moment in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Eisner was Disney’s Medici, enthusiastically commissioning (and bankrolling) monuments not just to the Mouse, but to postmodernism itself.

A bottle and glass of white wine, a large bowl of oranges, a cutting board and other personal artifacts sit atop large granite island in a luxury kitchen. In the background there’s a “Beach” sign above a hooded double stove. Illustration. Illustration by Sunny Eckerle

The Big Little Lie of the TV kitchen island

By Alexandra Lange | Illustrated by Sunny Eckerle

If we are being snobby about million-dollar properties, and who isn’t in the age of HGTV, Madeline’s house is really not that nice. The facade used on TV is blah, a collection of nonsensical gables fronting the road, and the back aims for a faux-Cape Cod look, all cedar shingles and white trim applied to a rambling collection of rooms. The New England styling appeals to Madeline’s idea of herself as a traditional mother, but the odd fit between the look and the Pacific location reflects her discomfort with where, and who, she really is. She’s the character we see the most in the kitchen, while the other rooms are architectural and plot afterthoughts.

Illustration of three recreational vehicles being repaired.

The truth about RVs

By Andrew Zaleski | Illustrated by Zack Rosebrugh

But as the Oleshes found when they bought a new motorhome, dueling forces are shaping the current RV market. A buoyant economy coupled with rising interest in the nomadic lifestyle led to a rebound in the RV industry. The comeback is as much due to millennials as it is to a retiring generation of baby boomers: Of 78.8 million households that hit the great outdoors at least once in 2018, the kids routinely blamed for their poor adulting skills and love of fancy toast made up 41 percent of campers. At the same time, stories abound—in forums, recall blogs, personal testimonies, industry publications, and talk radio—of disgruntled owners of RVs who purchased a unit only to immediately about-face the vehicle to a dealership to fix a problem.

A bat flies through a lush garden with blooming pink and white flowers and lilac. In the background there is a chainlink fence and a gloomy-looking building emitting smog. Illustration. Illustration by Yelena Bryksenkova

Not in my bat’s yard

By Nate Berg | Illustrated by Yelena Bryksenkova

The common pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus pipistrellus), with a wingspan of about 20 centimeters and a kiwi-fruit body of golden brown fuzz, is one of the newest species living in the Canal Club Community Garden. Like the garden space, the common pipistrelle is endangered. Unlike the garden, it’s protected under U.K. and EU environmental laws. That’s why wooden bat boxes now poke out from the garden’s apple trees and crawling vines. By turning these community spaces into habitats for a protected species, the bat boxes throw a wrench—arguably a small one—into the development process. “It goes from ‘How sweet, you’ve got bats,’” Smythe says, “to ‘Oh shit, you’ve got bats.’”

Kelly Abeln

The homeownership obsession

By Katy Kelleher | Illustrated by Kelly Abeln

There are two different tales we tell ourselves about houses. The primary story is not about ghosts or demons or red rooms or ghouls, but rather about bright futures, long lives, children, grandchildren, and hard-earned success. The second story, the darker story, is about the horror of being trapped. Throughout American history, these stories have existed side by side. For people with the resources to buy in, one once felt more “real” than the other, but as we learned after the real estate crash of 2008, there’s truth to be found in both of them, especially for members of the cash-poor, dream-rich millennial generation.

Leslie McKellar; Max Burkhalter; Heidi’s Bridge

The bath bubble

By Magdalena Puniewska

Today, this variety of tub has become the desired bathroom basin for all types of home styles, from modern to farmhouse to minimalist, and the chances of coming across a freestanding tub, digitally or IRL, are high. If Architectural Digest posts a picture of a bathroom on its Instagram feed, there’s almost always a freestanding tub in the frame; recent callouts spotlight it in the homes of actors Jessica Alba and Russell Tovey, entrepreneur Chris Burch, stylist Mieke ten Have, and tennis pro Maria Sharapova. Architects brought up freestanding tubs so often in the comments section of the American Institute of Architects’ 2018 design survey that the AIA added them as a feature to track in its next one. A year later, 34 percent of respondents felt like freestanding tubs were increasing in popularity among homeowners. The shift is a clue to the evolving role of bathrooms in our home lives.

Send us your portfolio! In addition to our talented roster of authors, Curbed is always on the hunt for new artists to work with, especially those with unique cultures, backgrounds, and POVs. We gravitate toward illustration that is quirky, colorful and trend-forward. We love finding artists who are capable of visual problem-solving for abstract concepts and, of course, have an interest in lifestyle, design, and architecture.


How to Avert the Next Housing Crisis


The Neighbors Issue


Can a Neighborhood Become a Network?

View all stories in Longform