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What Our Homes Say About Us

by Stephen Becker 8 Mar 2010 5:13 AM

How does the way you decorate your home influence the way people think about you? A photography exhibit at Richland College merges sociology and art to try and answer that question. KERA’s Stephen Becker reports:


How does the way you decorate your home influence the way people think about you? A photography exhibit at Richland College merges sociology and art to try and answer that question. KERA’s Stephen Becker reports:

  • KERA radio report:
    • Online version:

    Admit it: the second you walk into someone’s home for the first time you begin making judgments about them based on what you see. “He must get paid pretty well to afford those hardwood floors.” Or “That leopard print couch is kinda tacky, don’t ya think?”

    Photographer Piotr Chizinski’s new exhibit at Richland College tries to quantify those judgments. Chizinski photographed the living rooms of homes in Lubbock. He then superimposed markers onto each photo that point out the positives and negatives of the space. And he attached a chart to each photo that shows how much those positives and negatives are worth. (Click here to see the chart.)

    Hardwood floors earn four points. Shag carpet deducts four. And so on. Each room starts out with 100 points – considered middle class – and from there they are slotted into a class system that ranks from low proletariat to upper class.

    Chizinski says the whole setup of his show, called “Inhabitants,” should provoke discussion about the social value we attach to objects.

    CHIZINSKI: “It really kind of starts the idea and then lets people argue out the nuances.”

    Chizinski discovered the scoring system while researching class in America. It was created in the 1930s by sociologist Frances Stuart Chapin, who was interested in quantifying social classes. A few updates have been made to reflect shifts in attitudes. But for the most part, we appreciate and disparage the same things today as we did 75 years ago.

    For example, the living room of someone who sifts through trash bins to make ends meet earned the lowest score: six points.

    PiotrChizinski_Livingroom series-Ward of the state_30x40lightjetprint

    On the other end of the spectrum is a 90-year-old philanthropist’s living room, which scored a whopping 330 points and landed her in the rarified “upper class” strata.

    CHIZINSKI: “You can see here all the artwork and the carpets and the fact that the carpet is threadbare in places, but it’s an enormous Oriental carpet, so it’s a huge plus. And then fireplaces, and this philanthropist was obviously interested in original works of art, antique furniture – all those things obviously played a part.

    Still, even Ms. Moneybags had a few points deducted.

    CHIZINSKI: “The family pictures were not in sterling silver frames. That’s the only way to turn a family photograph into a positive score. But they get good points for window treatments and all sorts of curved moldings.”

    PiotrChizinski_Livingroom series-Philanthropist_30x40lightjetprint

    Chizinski did his best to be fair with the project. To that end, he made sure to light each room the same. And he even shot his own living room, which scored him as “high proletariat.”

    CHIZINSKI: “Which I feel was accurate. One of the things that hurt me, too, was my own art in the house.”

    After all, original art work by family members or the householder earns a negative eight for each infraction.

    CHIZINSKI: “After that, I didn’t leave so much of it around, especially by the front door.”

    After looking at the exhibit and its rating system, visitors may start to rethink their own living rooms.

    Should I replace those fake flowers with real ones? That’s an eight point swing! And why should I get docked a point for my upright piano when a baby grand earns plus four?

    CHIZINSKI: “It’s just something odd to take away from looking at an art piece in a gallery – having it immediately affect your life and you’re actively making a decision based on what you’ve seen.”

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to track down some back issues of The New York Review of Books for my coffee table. Those babies are worth five points a piece.

    • Anonymous


    • Actually, I just clicked on it and it worked. It’s a big download, nearly 6 MB, perhaps that’s the problem?

    • Angela

      Can the writer post a larger chart. It is impossible to read, even if zoomed.

    • Stephen Becker

      @Angela – I wish I had a larger version, but that’s the only electronic one they had available. And you’re right – once you start to zoom, the letters get a little fuzzy.

    • Leslie

      Frustrating that you can’t read the pictures and see the details.