This Twitter Account Leaves Hilarious Reviews of People's Homes in Zoom Backgrounds

Hadley Keller
Photo credit: Twitter
Photo credit: Twitter

From House Beautiful

Admit it: The first time you Zoom with someone, you're paying half as much attention to what they're saying as to what's in the background behind them—at least if you're anything like us. Granted, we're interiors junkies at House Beautiful, but there was something oddly voyeuristic about the first few weeks of lockdown-induced work-from-home, when we were granted exciting peeks into the homes of our coworkers, friends, and even journalists and politicians as the world began live streaming from home. And it turns out we're hardly alone: Since launching in mid-April of this year, the Twitter account Room Rater has garnered a quarter of a million followers for its cheeky judgments of Zoom, Skype, and live stream backdrops.

The account, started by Claude Taylor and his fiancée Jessie, grew out of conversations the two were having while quarantined apart from each other. "We were talking a lot about people's backgrounds," Taylor tells House Beautiful, "and we thought, 'why not make a rating system out of it?' We started the Twitter and were off the the races."

Posts are fairly simple in format, with a screenshot, a line or two about the setup, and a rating out of 10. Though the captions are often funny, they address legitimate design concerns (for example, a good depth of field, balance, cleanliness, and pops of color or greenery are all likely to earn you points).

Taylor, who runs the Mad Dog PAC, admits he is "a bit of a cable news junkie," so the account had good fodder from reporters in the early days of lockdown. Before long, they were also receiving submissions from followers for rooms belonging to politicians, pundits, celebrities, and TV personalities.

At the beginning, Taylor recalls, they saw a lot of pretty bad setups: "There's a look which we call the hostage video," he says. "And that's when the person basically appears before a blank wall, with the camera angle very close so they're shooting up. And you're seeing a whole bunch of nostrils that you don't want to see, and just a blank wall behind them."

"That's the worst type," he laughs. After a few months of working from home, though, Taylor notes he's seen a significant increase in the quality of Zoom backdrops. "There's definitely been a big improvement," he says. "Especially withe the pundits, which is sort of the core of what we do. We've found a lot of them have really stepped up their efforts; some of them started with very modest setups and have now really addressed all the really obvious concerns, and so now it's about fine tuning."

The outlet also gives Taylor a chance to reach a wider audience for a charitable endeavor through Mad Dog PAC: Providing PPE to organizations in need. The group recently hosted a fundraiser to send masks to Native American Groups, and raised enough for 175,000 reusable cloth masks—"one for every member of Navajo Nation," says Taylor (you can donate to the effort here).

So what, exactly, are the criteria for earning a perfect 10? "We look for several common elements to increase the score," says Taylor. "We look for the depth of a room—generally a flat background doesn't work as well. We look for color—that can be done with plants, that can be done with artwork, that can be done in various ways but there's got to be something, adding a little color to it. We look for some personality, something that makes it less look less generic. A lot of times people will have sort of very kind of stagey looking setups, and we think, you know, everyone's should try to stage it a little bit and try to clean up obvious mistakes, but it shouldn't look too staged."

Take note: Your next Zoom meeting may just have your coworkers impressed.

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