Caption This: Storytelling vs. Scrolling

Sometimes it feels like 90% of writing about home design is posting a photo of your own or someone else’s work and saying, “I wouldn’t mind drinking coffee/reading a book/eating/sleeping here.” So many photos on Instagram are captioned with something similar—and hey, it might be true! I’m sure I’ve done that myself on this blog.

It seems a little lazy, though, especially when promoting one’s own work. I’d much rather learn a unique fact about the project! Tell me something meaningful about a piece included in the photograph or an interesting tidbit about the client. And that doesn’t mean telling the audience that the space was designed for “a young couple with children who needed lots of space for x, y, z” or “empty nesters interested in living closer to restaurant and entertainment options downtown.” Those circumstances are extremely common—lots of people are expanding their families or becoming empty nesters or living alone and looking for ways to do that in a home that’s functional and beautiful. Needing living space for a certain number of people is not the only reason why a client chooses a certain type of dwelling, and it’s not the only driving factor in decorating choices. What led them to choose that town, that neighborhood, that block, that building, that unit? What significance is there to the furnishings they’ve chosen—are they heirlooms, antiques, or collected works of art?

There can be limitations in revealing this information, of course. A client’s privacy is of the utmost importance, and sometimes a space has been decorated to simply be a pretty spot in someone’s home without maximizing function. And Instagram favors short captions for scroll-happy attention spans! But I still think it’s worth telling the story instead of opting for the fluffy caption.

One of my favorite places to get the story—to read about the why—is the “You Make the Call” features in the New York Times real estate section. And I know, I know! We’re talking about long-form writing instead of snappy social media posts. It’s a little apples-to-oranges, but not a total stretch. The point of these articles is to try to guess which property a home buyer has chosen based on a fairly in-depth profile, which often includes information about their jobs and commutes, marital status and family size, pet ownership, and entertainment preferences.

After getting all the details, you’re presented with three real estate listings that fit the “must-have” list to some degree, and you’re asked to pick which listing you would choose for yourself and which one the buyer chose. When you make your selections, the buyer’s actual choice is revealed along with the percentage of readers who voted for each unit, both for themselves and for the buyer. I love guessing which property appeals most to the readers because sometimes it’s a no-brainer and other times it’s a total surprise. It can be tough to guess the buyer’s choice, too! Sometimes I think the decisions are based on information you’d only get by being familiar with the area instead of only trying to interpret the facts provided in the article. The best part is that you’re also given the backstory on why the buyer made their decision along with photos of the home after the buyer has moved in, so you get to see how they’ve personalized it.

In “You Make the Call,” decorating is (usually) less a part of the story than the preference for building type, architectural style, and neighborhood, but I like that you learn a lot about the buyer’s decision-making process.

The content in these articles serves a different purpose than Instagram posts. These articles aren’t meant to be a designer’s marketing tool or mini portfolio. Some of the qualities are transferrable, though. Thoughtful captions, like thoughtful articles, take time to write. It’s obviously easier to type something short and simple like “weekend vibes” with a few emojis. I can’t help but see that as a missed opportunity to actually engage your readers and give them information that they can learn only from you.

What do you think? If you prefer to get more story, what house-related social media accounts or websites do you follow? Some of my other favorites include House Stories, The Front Door Project, Maine Home + Design, Houzz, and Los Angeles Times Home and Garden. I’m sure there are TONS of others, though. Tell me what your favorites are!

Click through photo for source and get the WHOLE story by clicking “Beacon on the Harbor” in green font.