In 2015, when I was a bébé magazine editor in New York, I did something I instantly regretted (and no, I didn't get bangs). I painted the primary bedroom of our apartment a deep, Ivy League hunter green. Ralph Lauren's Polo Bar had just opened on East 55th Street, and—thanks to the Instagram posts I'd seen ad nauseum of the space—I'd had visions of retiring each night with a dram of Ardbeg whisky and a book of something so highbrow it was practically illegible.
Turns out DIY sometimes means "Don't! It's yech." Even after multiple coats, the eco paint I purchased went on like Jell-O in uneven globs, resulting in a bedroom that felt like being on the inside of an undersea kelp forest. Thanks to the light reflecting off our new wall color, my pale Irish skin was no longer a dewy porcelain but sickly and pallid. I looked like I had cholera. Sexy!
We lived with it for way too long, and then, to distract myself on Election Day in 2016, I made my world pretty again—well, that one room at least—by painting it a gentle (and quite flattering, I might add) peach. I'd learned my Instagram lesson. Just because something looks fabulous on the small screen doesn't mean it's ready for prime time in your home—or that you should attempt to do it yourself.
It's a lesson I imagine hits home (pun intended) for many of us given how important Instagram is in the design community. Does it fuel creativity or stifle it with the same paint colors and furniture? For design lovers, is using Instagram for inspiration like taking a photo of your favorite celebrity with you to get a haircut—that is, inevitably disappointing? I shared my thoughts with six pros in different parts of the country to get their take.
"I truly believe that Instagram is both a powerful tool and an endless fountain of information," says Houston designer Paloma Contreras, whose new book coming out in October, The New Classic Home (Abrams), is a font of inspo. "The key, however, lies in our ability to discern information and maintain our own point of view and perspective through the barrage of imagery that we are presented with each day."
In short: Did I even like a deep green space, or Chinoiserie ginger jars, or botanical prints—or had I simply been fed a steady diet of them so frequently that I'd developed a taste for them?
"It's just this almost turnstyle thing that you see over and over and over, and to me there are a lot of accounts—even by some people who are leaders of the design industry—that are turning out this mediocrity," says Charleston designer Jacob Laws. "It's frankly insulting to clients, I would think, because it's saying, 'Here's this boring design I've already done 27 times, and you're boring, so here you go.'"
Still, Laws and every other designer I reached out to for this piece said Instagram isn't ruining design—far from it. You just have to know how to use the app to your advantage.
"On Instagram, you can either produce original content or duplicate it," says Newark, New Jersey–based designer KD Reid. "For designers, Instagram has been a crucial tool for sharing, sparking, and reaching new audiences…. As a designer, I strive to produce novel, innovative, and fresh ideas that inspire."
Charlottesville, Virginia–based designer J.P. Horton finds it to be a treasure trove of information and inspiration. "If anything it has been a great tool for me to network with my peers, discover new vendors, and become exposed to others' design work, past and present, that I may not have had access to off of the platform."
You also have to remember that Instagram is heavily filtered—even if it's labeled #nofilter. Even so, "overall, I think Instagram is more inspirational than soul crushing," says Washington, D.C.–based designer Annie Elliott. "Feeds are dominated by intensely styled rooms, precise vignettes, and candid-but-not-candid lifestyle photos, for sure, but I think there's an understanding that Instagram isn't real life."
Case in point: I never once posted a photo of my green bedroom.