Architectural Digest is the (self proclaimed) International Magazine of Interior Design. It is the closest thing to high end "real estate porn" that I have ever seen. I do not subscribe to the magazine, though it is available for about $2 per issue. I receive a complementary copy every month (It is a monthly and I do not know if it is available at your local newsstand but tend to doubt it) probably because New York Psychoanalysts have traditionally had a wealthy clientele and Architectural Digest is directed at that audience. Occasionally I will fan through the pages to see how the rich and richer live but do not recall ever reading an article until this morning.
I bring home the magazine when I receive it because my wife enjoys looking at houses and occasionally finds an idea she can adapt at a lower order of magnitude financially. She noticed an article, "In with the New" about a New York Brownstone renovation which she immediately brought to my attention. It encapsulated so much of what is wrong with our culture that I had to blog about it. The article opens by describing a problem that is so serious that it brings a person into therapy:
Lauren V was seeing a therapist, but not for the usual reasons: "My only problem, really, was real estate," remembers the New York film producer, then a screenwriter. "My husband and I thought, naively, that we could buy an apartment with a view of Central Park with the money we had, but the only place we could afford was one with a tiny view through a bathroom window."
Her therapist helpfully told her of a brownstone that had just come on the market. V and her husband, Robert B, a communications executive, made an appointment to see it and found a turn-of-the-last-century town house on a neighborly Upper East Side street. The interior, however, had been so poorly remodeled that the couple would basically be buying the shell. V saw the potential, but her husband hesitated: "Can't you nag him into it?" asked a friend.
She did, and they succeeded in placing the winning offer. "Oh my God," said the therapist at the next session, "you outbid my other patients."
[Although the article uses full names, I am avoiding the last names of the people involved; if they want to cede their confidentiality, that is their business, but I do not want to be a part of what they are doing.]
So, where should I start?
A patient comes into a therapist's office, distressed because of how difficult it is to find what they want in the red hot New York real estate market. I understand that we all want to live in homes that we enjoy, but if we find ourselves with too little money for our desires and cannot modify our desires to find something more reasonable, there is a problem here that goes far beyond real estate. Becoming distressed enough to seek therapy because you can't find an apartment overlooking Central Park (which would include some of the most expensive real estate in the world) suggests such an instability of self esteem as to warrant concern.
I did wonder if the article was done somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but the tone throughout is quite serious. For example, the suggestion that V is in therapy because of real estate problems is recounted in the same tones as are used in discussing the types of wood used to finish various rooms, as if all the problems are of equal and equivalent import.
A therapist interested in truly helping his patient could have approached the situation quite differently; a more therapeutic approach would have been to explore the source of the patient's distress; was it based on a need to find a spectacular place to show their friends what they have accomplished? Was it based on envy of what other people have and thus a need to prove herself their equal? Would an apartment without a view of the Park mean they had failed in some way? There are many other exploratory approaches one could take therapeutically; acting as a real estate broker would not be one of them. I am not suggesting that finding the home of her dreams wouldn't make the patient happy, but to offer this as the goal of therapy is a lost opportunity. to say the least.
I will not comment much on the friend's suggestion of "nagging" her husband into a major life decision except to suggest it does not present the husband and wife as equals who are engaged in the joint enterprise of building a family and a home (which is much more than the physical space they inhabit.) Suffice to say this would not be the first marriage in which the woman keeps her maiden name in order to flaunt her independence, while acting like a little girl who has to nag her parent to get what she wants.
Finally, the therapist's first, spontaneous, reaction upon hearing the news that her patient was "cured" was not to congratulate her patient on the cure, but rather to breech confidentiality with her other patients. Here we see the narcissism of all involved. The patient is made to feel better by finding a wonderful thing that would make others envious, show off her good fortune, and make her feel special. The therapist reacts not by directing her thoughts toward her patient but toward how it affects what she is doing, her therapy with other patients.
The article describes the magnificent job of rehabilitating the apartment, and some of the pictures are quite nice; however, it also points out that the renovation took two years and that during that time, the family of V and B and their two young children waited it out in a small, rent-controlled apartment.
[This is a bonus; the article shows the vapidity of the New York City rent-control laws, with wealthy people living in a rent-controlled apartment while renovating a town house for two years. Anyone want to bet that this film producer and her executive husband are typical New York liberals?]
Luckily, there is a happy ending:
"Once we got the house, I didn't need my therapist anymore. And when it was finished, we invited her over, and she liked the renovation. She found it very beautiful. She approved."
I am speechless.