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Culture

Panoramic views of apartments bring people closer to home

If you show me yours, I'll show you mine. That's the idea behind online "living" communities, in which people upload photos of their homes to draw comments from others about their tastes and ways of living.

A livingroom, seen on Solebich.de

Take a look; you know you're curious

Those involved in the online community project SoLebIch.de (This is How I Live) are finally getting together - live and in color. Meeting in a Cologne cafe, they've brought each other gifts of Christmas tree ornaments made of felt, hand-made stuffed bunnies and chocolate flavored with cinnamon. It's all a reflection of what they do online together: talk about fabric, color and designer furniture.

Though most of the 10 women have never met each other in person before, all of them are familiar with each other's apartments down to the last detail. The living room as the nucleus of one's private, intimate space is a thing of yesterday.

On the website SoLebIch.de, a kind of Facebook for living spaces, the women - who range from architects to dental assistants - not only comment on each other's apartments, they give each other tips about how to spiff them up.

A meeting of SoLebIch members in a Cologne cafe

Some members of SoLebIch finally wanted to meet face-to-face

'Everybody lives somewhere'

German magazine Neon recently dubbed this new trend of exposing one's home "sofa exhibitionism." But Nicole Maalouf, founder of SoLebIch.de, has a different view.

"People interested in design cavort with each other on our site. They're proud of their place and want to show it to others, or are looking for new ideas," she noted. "Besides, everybody lives somewhere, so our site aims to unite people."

Maalouf came up with the idea for SoLebIch.de with her husband, Daniel Eichhorn, in 2006. They were living in Paris at the time, and as they passed by the beautiful facades and windows of the city's buildings, they wondered what they looked like inside. So they created a website where people could exchange ideas about apartment and furniture design. The portal now receives some one million visitors a month, and boasts 20,000 members.

Other "living" communities have meanwhile sprouted up, such as Zimmerschau.de (Room View) and WieWohnstDu.de (How Do You Live). Together with design blogs, they've become a serious competitor to traditional home magazines. The latter often only show highly stylized settings of expensive designer furniture, while virtual "living" communities display everything from student apartments to New York-inspired lofts.

Member 'b51''s living room, seen on Solebich.de

Members love to show their living rooms, but also share criticism and tips

A real-life view

"Images in glossy magazines are sometimes demotivating because people don't always have the money or time to completely renovate their place," Maalouf said. "The pictures are often impersonal, but what readers really want are authentic views of real people's apartments and homes. That's why the communities are so important."

The pictures on the sites show designer sofas, but they also show red wine spots on carpets, too, Maalouf pointed out. Real life, in other words.

Swiss psychoanalyst Ingrid Feigl sees even more in the wish to view other people's living spaces. "It's quite natural," she said. "It's that childlike desire to peep through the keyhole - a basic human urge."

"We look through the keyhole and then compare our situation to that one, so there's an element of competition in there, too," said Feigl, who analyzes images of strangers' apartments in her column for the magazine NZZFolio. "We think then: 'Oh, that looks so nice. My place isn't as pretty.'"

While many of the SoLebIch.de members are curious about the people who display their homes on the site, they're more interested in exchanging ideas, members say. "It's like a little family. We get ideas from each other, put them to work at home and then upload photos of the results," said Nina, aka Goldmarie, her community name.

Home design as self-realization

But this family is composed primarily of women. "Lulu041283" has brought along her boyfriend to the meeting in Cologne. "It's all a bit of a girly thing," he quips, looking a little lost among the decorations the women have brought along.

Nicole Maalouf, founder of Solebich.de

Nicole Maalouf was inspired by peering through Parisian windows

Around 80 percent of SoLebIch.de's members are women, and that's no coincidence, said Feigl. "Building a nest, making sure the family has a nice, cozy home - that's still a woman's domain."

Whether for men or women, designing one's living space has another function: self-realization. People have the space and freedom to set up things the way they want - something often denied to them at work.

Maalouf certainly wants to help people to that end. She's just published a book - "So leb' ich: wohne, wie es dir gefällt (This is How I Live: Live They Way You Like) - intended to motivate people to create their own designs for living, without even an Internet hook-up. They can just kick back in their favorite easy chair and leaf through some of her ideas.

Author: Jan Bruck (als)

Editor: Kate Bowen

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