How Chic Is Your Zoom Background? Room Rater Has Thoughts

Michelle Ruiz

Staring into famous people’s homes as they Zoom and Skype onto television has become a favorite pastime during the days of COVID-19. I have alternately marveled at the clean lines of CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s white kitchen as he gave a makeshift mask tutorial, and squinted at the Sopranos print in Pete Davidson’s mom’s Staten Island basement on Saturday Night Live at Home. But this casual voyeurism is becoming a semi-competitive sport with the rise of Room Rater, a new Twitter account with almost 100,000 followers that critiques the home-decor choices of celebrities and news anchors—from bookshelf design to lighting motifs and plant placement—and gives them a score out of 10.

Room Rater praised Andy Cohen’s colorful study in a CBS This Morning screenshot, adding of the Bravolebrity who beat coronavirus, “Keep up your fight! 7/10.” Seated before her piano in a sun-filled room, Alicia Keys was deemed “elegant and zen, with perfect lighting—9/10.” (Room Rater has declared itself a “sucker for a well-placed piano.”)

Julia Louis-Dreyfus got props for the Shepard Fairey print of President Obama framed behind her desk, as did Mandy Patinkin for his rustic setup in a remote interview—“Light. Beams. Depth. Buttercup approves. 9/10.” DJ Khaled’s bold artwork was a hit; so were Billie Jean King’s built-in shelves, thoughtfully stocked with sculptures and glassware. “Do you keep Bobby Riggs[’s] balls in a jar?” Room Rater quipped.

Yes, the breakout Twitter account has a healthy sense of humor, even giving Elmo’s fictional bedroom and the staged office of Brad Pitt as Dr. Anthony Fauci on SNL its own assessments.

“It was really just meant to be lighthearted quarantine content,” Room Rater creator Claude Taylor, a former travel photographer and Bill Clinton White House staffer, told Medium in an unmasking interview. (Taylor runs the account with girlfriend Jessie Bahrey.) Suddenly seeing inside political pundits and celebrities’ kitchens and living rooms, Taylor said, is “an unexpected intimacy”—and one that’s inviting plenty of analysis.

Room Rater conjures the colorful, sometimes-biting voice of a discerning HGTV decorator sweeping through your house. Bleak, blank walls, like those behind Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Joni Ernst, will get your spot dubbed a “hostage video.” Laundry piles and visible computer wires are no-no’s: “Houston, we have a problem,” Room Rater cringed at former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly’s cords, advising in another tweet, “Don’t make your printer the focal point.” Points are routinely deducted for thirstily displaying copies of one’s book, à la CBS’s Major Garrett, or other promotional attempts. “Like the depth,” Room Rater tweeted of CNN correspondent Tom Foreman’s study. “[Negative one point] for the CNN pillow.” Don’t get the account started on bad camera angles, which sank Prince William’s score.

As the creator of the anti-Trump Mad Dog PAC, Taylor openly, and hilariously, allows his political bias to influence his room reviews. Room Rater awarded Kamala Harris an 8/10 for soft lighting and the reflection of a statue in her mirror (“Looks like a vice-president”) and praised Representative Adam Schiff for “Brick. [Knick-knacks]. Some books. Democracy.” But a bearded Donald Trump Jr. appearing—where else?—on Fox before a dubious gold wall hanging drew fire: “Bad art and a weak chin is no way to go through life. 0/10.” Trump-pardoned former governor Rod Blagojevich’s “19th-century bordello look” did not go unnoticed, nor did Republican Senator and Trump ally Josh Hawley’s bookcase. “It’s where he stacks the conspiracy theories,” Room Rater joked.

For those featured, Room Rater has swiftly become a status symbol and a badge of honor—or, depending on your rating, a source of public shame. Notable names are regularly responding to the account, whether to bask in the glow or dispute their review. After Room Rater deemed what looks to be Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s home office as “warm and inviting,” singling out a piece of butterfly art, the New York senator replied that her son, Henry, drew it. Responding to his 7/10 rating (“Vaulted ceilings. Rustic-chic vibe. Add a plant”), Chasten Buttigieg said: “Considering how the attic looked before isolation, I’ll take it!” But New York Times reporter Jeremy Peters—who appeared before a lone print—protested his 3/10 score for “lack of effort”: “You try decorating a new apartment during a pandemic!” Peters tweeted back. “You think De Blasio considers CB2 an ‘essential’ business??”

ABC’s Terry Moran was skewered for “staged books, bad art, and a crooked lampshade,” but his wife, Johanna Moran, a China analyst for a defense contractor and mother of the couple’s three children, reminds that running an aesthetically pleasing remote studio is no easy task. “We have to set up and break down that shot multiple times a day, every day, because it’s right in the middle of our living room (aka my son’s PlayStation zone),” Moran told Vogue. Moran didn’t take the critique too seriously, but she notes that the on-air personalities alone cannot be blamed for the setups: “Ultimately, the details depend on the producers’ taste,” she said. “They tell him to add this, get rid of that, make the lampshade more or less prominent. So I share our shitty grade with them.”

In its rise to mid-pandemic prominence, Room Rater may even be influencing future design choices. After Room Rater noticed the plain white walls in Representative Eric Swalwell’s house “need livening up,” Swalwell tweeted a screenshot of a text message from his wife: “So can we do wallpaper now?????” One Room Rater follower on Twitter may have said it best, telling the account: “You’re birthing an interior-decorating renaissance.”

Originally Appeared on Vogue