The lifeless sameness of AI-generated home interiors

While home makeover TV shows turned many interior designers into celebrities and helped convince people of the importance of investing in inviting, livable homes, designers often lament that those same programs create unrealistic expectations. Whole home makeovers don’t happen over a weekend. Or a week. Or a month.

Could artificial intelligence add to the problem, teasing homeowners with faux designs that don’t work in real-life spaces? Or is there a bigger problem lurking in computer-generated images?

AI is everywhere

AI images can be found everywhere on social platforms, from Instagram to Pinterest to X. They’re becoming ubiquitous on online shopping sites, and AI-powered design sites let both amateurs and professionals create an endless parade of imaginary rooms. Sometimes AI-generated images on social media and shopping sites are identified as such; more often, they are not.

Unusual architectural features can sometimes give a photo or video away as computer-generated.
Unusual architectural features can sometimes give a photo or video away as computer-generated.

We occasionally use Adobe Stock images to illustrate articles. If you search “home interior” on the site today, you’ll find more than 7.7 million images — with a whopping 1.8 million of those generated by AI. That number will only grow. There’s a disturbing sameness to many AI-generated photos and videos of home interiors — lots of midcentury modern and contemporary designs, lots of luxury, lots of neutrals. That makes sense: Those have been key design trends in recent years, and AI learns to create images by scouring the internet. It’s also a troubling continuation of the tendency of home makeover TV shows to usher in inescapable megatrends (think ubiquitous subway tiles or gray walls).

Often, AI-generated images require a second look — and acknowledgement by the source that the interior design in the image came from a computer’s “imagination” and not the work of a design team. But many AI-generated images give off an artificial vibe, with oddly placed furnishings or proportions that are uncomfortably off. The weirdly addictive website This House Doesn’t Exist creates some highly improbable home designs.

‘Unliving’ rooms

I think there is indeed a risk of AI-generated images raising unrealistic expectations of what architects, builders and designers can accomplish in a home, but I worry more about the images’ lack of soul. There’s an unsettling lifelessness in such photos and videos, and that’s despite the ubiquity of houseplants and stunning (if fake) window-framed views of the outdoors.

Neutral contemporary and mid century modern designs dominate AI-generated home interior images on stock photo sources like Adobe Stock.
Neutral contemporary and mid century modern designs dominate AI-generated home interior images on stock photo sources like Adobe Stock.

Even when creating images of highly personalized dream homes, AI seems unable to infuse them with vitality and energy. The only people I can imagine living in many of the depicted spaces are AI-generated ones, with their weird ears and extra fingers.

‘Wiped of living things’

In a recent article for The New York Times, Amanda Hess ponders “How AI Is Remodeling the Fantasy Home.” Hess’ piece cites the work of Kyla Chayka, who writes in “Filterworld: How Algorithms Flattened Culture” of the “strangely frictionless geography created by digital platforms” and “the sense of vaporousness and unreality” that troubles me so much when I look at AI-generated images of homes.

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Even plants and glimpses of lush exteriors can’t always mitigate the lifeless feeling in many AI-generated images.

But it’s Hess’ conversation with architectural conceptual artist Ben Myhre that helps to explain what’s behind the unrealistic quality of such images. Hess discovered Myhre when she came across one of his images of a cozy, charming loch house. “Unlike some of the uncanny renderings that choke social media, Myhre’s bespoke images take many hours to build, with the help of his own photographs of buildings, the generative AI program Midjourney, the AI-powered photo enhancement program Topaz and Photoshop,” Hess writes.

Myhre frets and fusses over the details of his fantastical images but makes sure that his AI tools filter out two key elements: people and animals. No one lives in his houses.

“The fantasy is of spaces wiped of living things,” Hess writes. “… The houses feel urgently abandoned, a book cracked open on the armrest, a fire still glowing. When I ‘toured’ Myhre’s loch house, I was inspecting its shelf of corked jugs, wondering where the residents had stashed all their practical kitchen items, when I finally realized that there were no residents. Nothing needed to be cooked for nobody.”

Forgive me for the crass analogy, but I don’t think it will be good for people’s well-being to believe AI-generated images are what “home” should look and feel like, any more than they should expect real-life sex to mimic what’s depicted in the emotionally disconnected gymnastics of porn. People are idiosyncratic, with wildly different hopes, dreams, desires and needs. We need designs that celebrate people’s uniqueness, not an AI-generated world of lifeless sameness.

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