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Typical offerings on Interiors of Northland.
Typical offerings on Interiors of Northland.

SocietyJanuary 15, 2024

There was a time before greige, as seen on Interiors of Northland

Typical offerings on Interiors of Northland.
Typical offerings on Interiors of Northland.

Before people’s homes were a sea of grey and beige, there was colour, customisation and aesthetic extravagance. What do we make of that today?

All in one glance, there’s a bathroom with a glass ceiling, a kitchen with lime green cabinetry, and a bedroom with a vivid red wall. This is Interiors of Northland, an Instagram account cataloguing the unique homes in the hot and happening tip of our country. Its bio is three simple words (“Interiors to Inspire”) and it’s a million miles away from the bland interiors fashionable in urban centres.  

The more time you spend looking through the images, the more you’re tugged between horror, fascination and awe. We have all been trained to think of some design choices as ‘good’ and others as ‘ugly’, but high culture is fickle, changing with time, your socio-economic status, cultural alliances, where you are, who you are, and who you pretend to be. As a millennial in Auckland, I’ve been awash in a sea of greige. From this vantage point, Interiors of Northland is either a thorn or the rose it grows on.

‘Yes’ reads the caption for this kitchen. Posted January 2018 on Interiors of Northland.

On some posts, there are comments like “Ghastly!” and “spew,” and on others, commenters note, with apparent surprise, that they “actually” or “genuinely” like what they see. The man behind the account never reveals his own preferences. “I don’t think it’s up to me to criticise it,” he says, although he is the one who takes screenshots of the online real estate listings and posts them to a cult following of a few thousand people. He does not share images of his own home and prefers to stay anonymous, worried that the account might violate copyright laws. For the purposes of tidy sentences and grammar, we will call him Josh.

It’s tempting to view the account as a humiliation of sorts. There are the mean comments mentioned above, and many of the followers are creative older millennials: photographers, architects, fashion designers and graphic designers; aesthetically-driven people who consider their own taste to be impeccable – and quite different to what’s pictured on Interiors of Northland. They likely live in urban centres (Auckland, I reckon), where it’s common for residents to look down on the culture of the regions, and up at places like New York, London and Berlin (wow, so edgy). 

The appeal of the account then could be a sort of ironic parody; a cynical mocking of what they consider bad taste. 

‘Chat to Grandma’s ashes while brushing your teeth’ reads the caption posted January 2020 on Interiors of Northland.

Josh is aware of this possible reception, though it isn’t one that he welcomes. “People take it the wrong way,” he says of the snobs. Sometimes Instagram users “gang up” against people’s homes, he adds, noting that certain aesthetic choices are “trashed” and “policed”. These commenters “don’t get it”, in Josh’s opinion. The account is intended as a tongue-in-cheek celebration of the unique homes, and though not every paint colour or custom fixture is to Josh’s taste, “I love that someone loves that,” he says.

If you look closely, you can see the care he has taken to discourage the semi-ironic mocking and judgement. The photographs have been carefully curated and cropped, then given captions like “Prada or clipart”, “Minimalism is dead” and “Floored”. Instead of presenting the interiors as a parody or stereotype of ‘bad taste’, there’s a sincerity and an appreciation. He is earnestly trying to show different types of beauty, at the same time as he knows they might not fit the contemporary mould of what beautiful is.

‘We need to bring back florals’ read the caption on 21 September 2023.

Josh started Interiors of Northland in 2018, when he was looking for a home in Whangarei. He was used to living in rentals in Auckland, usually weatherboard character homes, with the original interiors stripped out and layers of white, grey or beige paint plastered over everything. In Whangarei, he instead found zesty lime paint, black and red leather couches, and floral wallpaper, and was rather struck. Much of the decor remained intact from eras like the 60s or 70s, and he was amazed it had escaped renovations. “It just enthralled me,” he says. 

Once he became a long-time purveyor of Northland’s real estate, he started to notice something “really sad”. Houses originally listed in all their character and patterned-carpet glamour would reappear on the market months later. All their unique details had been removed, a coat of grey or beige paint slapped on, and “shitty quality” new fixtures replaced vintage lights and cabinetry. Josh felt some unease, since he’s a millennial in the creative class, like many of the account’s fans, he knew these renovations were being made to appease tastes like his own. “I felt like I was part of the system of sanitising spaces,” he says. 

While the account’s reception has been mixed, the very existence of Interiors of Northland suggests people have had enough of interiors their eyes glide over, totally unoffended by any stray colour or character. While the account’s followers may have once looked down their noses at the quirky interiors, they’ve quietly carved out room for them in their hearts. There was a time before greige, as Interiors of Northland proves. There will be a time after greige, too. 

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