The Kardashians Are in Their Modern Farmhouse Era

What does it mean when the future-savvy family embraces such a seemingly nostalgic style?

Soaring over the Pacific, then the hills of Southern California before descending over a backyard pool, a drone flies through musician Travis Barker’s legs and into a mansion in Calabasas. It’s the opening of Season 1 of The Kardashians, the Hulu version of the famous family’s flagship reality TV show. With slick editing, an airborne camera weaves in and out of Kourtney’s, Khloé’s, Kendall’s, Kris’s, Kylie’s, and Kim’s homes and offices, showing the stars going about their days and preparing to gather at Kim’s house for a barbecue. It’s a thrilling moment, not only because of the camerawork’s aerial gymnastics but because it promises that the new series will continue developing the seamless intimacy of their earlier show on E!, Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Since that show premiered in 2007, the Kardashians-Jenners have sold a form of companionship by welcoming audiences into their homes, and millions have shared in the family’s journey from their chaotic first-season house with the porch and the stripper pole to Kim and Kanye’s minimalist mausoleum and beyond. In the Hulu series, Kris and Khloé have taken the show’s vision of togetherness further, moving into neighboring homes so that family will always be just a few steps away.

But as I watched this development over the past year, something tripped me up: Kris and Khloé were moving into modern farmhouses. The style, though trendy, seems a puzzling choice. I associate modern farmhouses with HGTV, Chip and Joanna Gaines, shiplap and old books, decorative metal pitchers that look like Clara Barton might’ve used them to dress a gangrenous wound—nostalgia, not navigating what’s new, as the Kardashians-Jenners have historically done so well. Granted, the interiors of Kris’s and Khloé’s homes aren’t very rustic; Khloé’s is minimalist, monochrome, beige, its wide plank floors the only thing vaguely reminiscent of farm life, and Kris’s a bit more traditional with hints of reclaimed wooden furniture, but the interior, designed by Kathleen Clements, Tommy Clements, and Waldo Fernandez, is so large and sparsely decorated that it looks more like the presidential suite at a high-end resort than a folksy family retreat. Not an apron sink in sight in either. But on the outside of both, the farmhouse style is unmistakable: Piles of simple, low-slung forms covered in batten board and stone tile, a mix of materials that I suppose is meant to look old and like it was accumulated over decades. Looking at them, I wondered if the queens of the future might be winding down their reign and preparing to retreat, at least stylistically, into the past.

But that narrative might be too simple. Talking to Laura Barraclough, chair of the American Studies department at Yale and author of Making the San Fernando Valley, I learned that the idea of living in a modern farmhouse is nothing new—it has deep roots in the Valley, where the Kardashians live. "It fits with the history of that place," she tells me. "There’s a wider aesthetic that supports what they are doing." Time and again people in the United States and especially in Southern California have conjured a fantasy of homesteading to escape the dehumanizing effects of modern life, though the promise of personal freedom and prosperity often comes at some dramatic societal expense. 

A century ago, the writer Ralph Borsodi promoted the back to the land movement to urban professionals disenchanted with the grind of life in big cities, exacerbated by the 1920–1921 depression. He opens his 1933 book Flight from the City with a narrative that feels familiar even today. He and his family were living in New York City, where a housing shortage made rents "outrageously high," and his family was too caught up in trying to survive to savor the fruits of the metropolis. "How could we enjoy them when we were financially insecure and never knew when we would be without a job?" he wrote. Then, in 1920, the house they rented was sold and they had no place to live. Instead of sticking it out in the big city, they gave up and moved to a small plot on the outskirts, where they set up a homestead with a small farmhouse where they could grow and raise their own food. It’s a lot of work, but Borsodi says he discovers that homesteading can create a more economically secure and "expressive" way of life. 

Borsodi was optimistic about farmhouse living as a way to free people from their dependence on massive markets. He wasn’t wild about either capitalism or socialism. Both, he thought, made people dependent on forces far beyond them. "Insecurity is the price we pay for our dependence upon industrialism for the essentials of life," he wrote. Homesteading for him wasn’t just a nostalgic idealization of the past. It was a way to manifest a better destiny built on self-reliance, independence, and other ideals grounded in frontier living.

The historical connection to the Kardashians-Jenners gets clearer when I talk to Tomer Fridman, Kris and Khloé’s real estate agent. He echoes Barraclough and tells me that modern farmhouses make a lot of sense in the strange city where the two live: Hidden Hills. Incorporated in 1961, it is a guard-gated city, one of the few in the United States, Fridman says, and it’s an equestrian community, meaning that it has zoning laws requiring space for barns or stables on properties, and the city maintains public bridle paths. "If you go there, you feel like you’re on a ranch," Fridman tells me. "You see kids riding their horses to school or parents taking their kids on horseback. Granted, it could be, like, Leann Rimes, but it’s still horseback."

A welcome sign in Hidden Hills

A welcome sign in Hidden Hills

Fridman impresses upon me that Hidden Hills is not Calabasas, which is something that has always confused me, as the Kardashians-Jenners seem to refer to them interchangeably on the show. The twin cities sit across from each other on opposite sides of the 101 freeway at the western end of the San Fernando Valley. Kim, Khloé, Kris, Kylie, and Rob are in Hidden Hills; Kourtney is the only one now in Calabasas. "Hidden Hills was always what I would call old money," Fridman says. Calabasas is newer, incorporated in 1991, and larger, with about 22,000 people compared with Hidden Hills’ 1,700. Calabasas is not a gated city, just full of gated communities. "In Calabasas, you don’t have the contemporary farmhouse [style]. Hidden Hills is a traditional community. It looks more like the Palisades or the Hamptons. Calabasas looks like Beverly Park. It has a grander feel.… Calabasas looks like Newport Coast, like Orange County."

Crucially, however, they are both independent from the city of Los Angeles. Like other wealthy enclaves in the L.A. area, such as Beverly Hills, they offer rich people a way to be close to the city without sharing its financial burdens. And life behind the gates offers the promise of security or at least privacy from tourists and paparazzi.

According to Fridman, the first modern farmhouse in Hidden Hills appeared around 2013. It was a renovation of an old Cape Cod–style home recently vacated by a family looking for more room—coincidentally, the Kardashians-Jenners. This was the house Kris and Caitlyn lived in on their first three seasons on TV, and after they sold it, the new owners renovated it into the first of a new style, at least in the area. "I’d never seen anything like it," Fridman says. "Not in the city, not in the Valley, not in the Hills, not anywhere. It was done by an architect named George De La Nuez, and he’s ended up completely transforming Hidden Hills since that house."

Ranch style homes had traditionally dominated the city, but the new style was sweeping in. "I would see my house copied everywhere," De La Nuez tells me. (De La Nuez did not design Kris’s and Khloé’s new homes; Kris’s was designed by Brian Lerman according to De La Nuez, and Khloé’s by Ryan Levis.) "I think a part of it is that it’s almost the first style that hit during the Instagram and social media phase. Everything gets spread to everybody so quickly." But De La Nuez says, "The best examples are certainly in Hidden Hills," where height limitations intended to maintain a rural feel, along with prohibitions against flat roofs, mean that developers trying to maximize the allowable built square footage on lots have to break up homes into rambling accumulations of smaller volumes. (Were any portion of a home’s footprint ever to reach the grand dimensions of, say, a pseudo French château, there would be no way a pitched roof could cover it and stay below the 30-foot ridge height limit.) "I think it’s popular also because it’s easy to build," De La Nuez says. "There’s not much articulation to it. It’s simple, it’s materials like batten board siding or James Hardie plank siding, so you have the wood siding. You have stone accents that basically anybody can execute." 

There’s a relative humility to the style, too, though I emphasize the word relative, as the modern farmhouses in Hidden Hills are regularly selling for upward of $5 million. "There’s not a lot of grand approaches," De La Nuez says. "You don’t have the monumental gates and the pilasters and the big ass light fixtures. It’s not a screaming, look-at-me kind of house. They still have their Bentleys in the driveway, but Hidden Hills is a community that does not celebrate pompousness. There’s people on horseback riding around, looking into your backyard. You’re out on your front porch. You can say hi to neighbors walking by."

Aerial view of Calabasas

Aerial view of Calabasas

This fantasy of rural-suburban living goes back locally even further than the incorporation of Hidden Hills in the 1960s. "The fascination with the idea of a family farm gets going across the Valley in the 1920s," Barraclough tells me, the same time when Borsodi was promoting the back to the land movement outside New York. Los Angeles leaders were eager to market their city as an alternative to the polluted, congested cities of the Midwest and East Coast, which were attracting many emigrants from southern and eastern Europe and turning into hotbeds of working-class discontent. L.A. leaders touted their city as the "white spot," the reward for Anglos for crossing and conquering the continent, and they set out plans for a decentralized city where the working population would be dispersed and less likely to congregate and organize for labor rights.

Developers also targeted affluent whites with dreams of starting over on impractically small farms, some as little as an acre, that would offer an escape from urban hustle, bustle, and ethnic mixing. Journalist William Smythe organized what he called Little Landers colonies across Southern California, some in the Valley, and recruited white urban professionals to move onto small lots, raise chickens, and grow crops. It was an attractive fantasy, never mind that Japanese-American, Chinese-American, and Mexican-American laborers were often the ones making the area’s many farms succeed and were barred from buying into these projects. 

Barraclough tells me that interest in homesteading in the San Fernando Valley generally and the Calabasas area specifically resurged in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. Community groups organized events "where everybody was encouraged to dress up in bonnets and calico skirts.… These were people who were urban professionals, lawyers, bankers, real estate developers. These were wealthy people dressing up as pioneers and frontiers people." The activity correlated with a period when tract homes were sprawling across the Valley, destroying the remains of the older, larger-lot homes. "It’s also the moment when fair housing legislation is being passed and a lot of that new housing legally becomes available to people of color for the first time," Barraclough says. "There was a lot of fear and anxiety about how the suburbs of Los Angeles were changing. One of the responses from people in suburban Los Angeles and the Valley in particular was this nostalgia for a frontier or a pioneer or a homesteading past."

Early ads for Hidden Hills homes promised "Your Own Rancho" and featured prop wagons. Fridman remembers that in the early ’90s there was a stagecoach on display in Old Town Calabasas. "It was like the Wild West," he says.

So maybe Kris and Khloé just happen to live in a style of home that’s very popular in their area—an idea I have trouble accepting, given that the Kardashians-Jenners are no strangers to renovations—but why do they live in Hidden Hills, anyway?

When Kris first visited Hidden Hills, she "saw horses, llamas, and cows, and people walking their dogs and riding their horses," she writes in her 2012 memoir, Kris Jenner…and All Things Kardashian. "It was heaven."

As she writes it, Kris went to Hidden Hills to start over. It was 1996. She had divorced her first husband, celebrity lawyer Robert Kardashian, and had married the former Olympian whom we now know as Caitlyn Jenner. Kris’s life with Caitlyn was markedly different: Robert was wealthy, and Caitlyn, an athlete whose endorsement deals and acting gigs were drying up, less so. Kris and Caitlyn were struggling to support their large family, and Kris was beginning the career pivot that would change the nature of celebrity as we know it. But first, they needed a place to live.

Hidden Hills gave Kris a launchpad. Throughout the ’90s, Kris revived Caitlyn’s job prospects, guiding the former athlete to speaking gigs, infomercials, and more. It was in this pseudorural city that Kris honed the craft of parlaying someone’s name recognition into a monetizable career, and her urgency to work only increased in 2003, when her ex-husband, father of four of her children, died.

"It’s a profound moment when your children lose a parent and you are the only parent left. It was up to me then to help them make something of their lives," she writes. "I had realized my lifelong dream of having six kids, and now I was done with the birthing and ready for the work. It was time to stop screwing around. It was time to get off my ass and get to work."

A few years later, after her second-eldest daughter, Kim, achieved name recognition thanks to her friendship with Paris Hilton and eventual notoriety, Kris made the most of the moment and pitched her family as a reality show to Ryan Seacrest and producers at the cable network E! They said yes, Keeping Up with the Kardashians began, and Kris’s life as a "momager" took off.

Kris’s and Khloé’s new Hidden Hills homes

Kris’s and Khloé’s new Hidden Hills homes

Suddenly, the activity within Kris’s home, recorded and distributed to a global audience, became the source of the family’s income. As on a homestead, home life was "work" life. Hidden Hills aligned with that fantasy in a way that areas like Beverly Hills or the Hollywood Hills, domestic retreats from urban office life, would not have. Kris was on her way to helping develop a new type of domestic life for the new millennium with an accompanying architecture. And as the style of the homes of the Kardashians-Jenners evolved, so did their strange definition of what it means to work.

The early seasons of KUWTK play up the idea of the overworked housewife/manager/mother with storylines involving a lot of improbable, presumably staged scenarios that leave the stars struggling to accomplish some task: Kris, feeling like an empty nester, gets a monkey as a surrogate child and has to take care of it; Kris accidentally distributes a racy calendar Kim made for her boyfriend, and Kim has to run around town to get all the calendars out of stores. The show has an I Love Lucy vibe, with Kris as the Lucille Ball character, constantly trying to break into showbiz by trying and failing to do odd jobs while also performing the unpaid work of being a housewife and mother. As the seasons progress, the zany antics ebb and bigger dramas—divorces, childbirth, extramarital affairs—swell, but the side plots endure and get even less purposeful. In Season 14, Kris hires a scribe to follow her around and record every word she says. Later that season, the kids handcuff Kris to a mime, Pierre, and she has to go about her day with him.

"Zaniness is as much about desperate laboring as playful fun," cultural theorist Sianne Ngai writes in her book Our Aesthetic Categories. Zaniness is an aesthetic of what Ngai calls "on-demand post-Fordism," where people are juggling gigs and side hustles, families and Zoom calls, professional Instagrams and personal brand building. Though zany comedy is funny for the audience, it’s not much fun for the zany character, who is overworking to the point of failure. 

Modern farmhouses aren’t particularly zany, and screwball work is definitely not what gentleman farmers had in mind when they imagined living off the land, but in the first few seasons of the show, the Kardashians-Jenners weren’t living in a modern farmhouse. They were living in an "adorable, Cape Cod, all-American dream," as Kris puts it in her memoir. The Cape Cod style, De La Nuez says, was popular in Hidden Hills at the time, and it has its own associations with work ethic—it was the style of Levittown, redolent of economy, modesty, hardscrabble Puritans focused on God and self-reliance and freedom from the state—and the first house lent itself to the show’s original style. Compared with the mammoth dimensions of their later homes, the spaces in this initial home are small, cluttered with furniture, kitschy bric-a-brac, and people. Camera shots feel chaotic and haphazardly composed, some weird painting is always in the background, everything claustrophobic.

The Cape Cod style’s postwar suburban associations aligned with Kris’s vision of the family as a "modern-day Brady Bunch," a blend of Kris’s kids with Robert Kardashian and those with Caitlyn Jenner. A more recent model for the show was The Osbournes, which was a hit in the early 2000s and represented a kind of devolution of the Brady Bunch trajectory: the once-cheery children now grown and rebellious, the father bumbling, addled by years of hard living, comically unprepared for the wild new millennium he’s forced to deal with and domineered by a sharper, more savvy wife. 

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"This was a house dying for an audience," Kris writes, and in the first few seasons, that real-life audience was often older men. Joe Francis calls from jail to get the older sisters in a Girls Gone Wild swimsuit ad; Hugh Hefner compels Kim to take off her clothes in a shoot for Playboy; Robin Antin of the Pussycat Dolls teaches the daughters to pole dance on the first episode. It’s a parade of what Ariel Levy calls raunch culture in her 2005 book Female Chauvinist Pigs, and the shaky, uncomfortably close handheld shots in harshly lit suburban interiors recall the look of Y2K porn. In this sense, the house was of its time, a post-9/11 sexualized suburban fantasy. American flag pillows on the porch outside, stripper pole in the bedroom.

But this vibe doesn’t last long. Season 4 gets some breathing room as Kris gets a new house, "a sprawling cream-colored Mediterranean-style house with a huge green front lawn—yet another dream house come true," she writes. (For security reasons, the exterior of the home shown on the show is not the actual exterior of the house.) The Laura Ashley vibes are replaced with a kind of Z Gallerie gone wild take on Hollywood Regency, fit for the new queens of media. Kris renovates with the help of designer Jeff Andrews and turns nearly everything black and white, which creates high contrast graphic pops on camera. By Season 6, Kris puts down her famous checkerboard floor. By the 12th season, the women’s outfits are largely black and white, too.

The black and white world gets gray with the arrival of Kim’s husband, Kanye West. The rapper and designer was a fan of minimalism before he married Kim (Claudio Silvestrin designed his spartan New York apartment), and Kim and Ye hired Axel Vervoordt along with Silvestrin, Vincent Van Duysen, and Family New York for their new Hidden Hills home. They keep the bones of an existing house, creating a weird, now infamous McMansion wrapped in off-white plaster but set in a traditional, suburban, mowed grass lawn. It’s surreal, awkward, impractical. Pieces by the likes of Jean Royère, Pierre Jeanneret, and Gerrit Rietveld populate the interior, and after Kanye removes every ounce of color, glamour, and glitter from his wife’s closet, Kim’s outfits become athleisure and sweats in shades of beige.

The house becomes the family’s new center of gravity, and its influence spreads: During one of Kris’s seemingly unending renovations, Scott remarks about how modernism is uncomfortably creeping into Kris’s glossy Regency home. "I’m almost allergic to how many different styles you have in this house," Kourtney’s longtime boyfriend, Scott Disick, tells Kris in Season 12.

In this minimal greige era, the camera pulls back a bit more to create wider shots, facilitated by the fact that the homes are bigger, minimally furnished with oversize furniture like the sparsely decorated stage sets they are, leaving lots of open space for sight lines. The scope widens conceptually as well, and in the to-camera "confessionals," the audience gets to see hair, makeup, and camera setup, a loose acknowledgement of the fourth wall. Instead of the cameras shakily intruding gonzo style on the womens’ lives, the show reveals more of its artifice, the women now in control, no longer objects of attention but subjects sharing their home videos. They have their own brands now. Kendall is a Vogue cover model. Kim is one of the most famous people in the world. Their homes—especially their kitchens—are no longer just less busy, they are almost unbelievably organized. Khloé’s perfectly organized glass cookie jars and pantry become something of a trademark. And the show’s frenetic energy is largely gone, replaced by an uncanny calm. Kim declares in the last season of KUWTK, "Calmness is my superpower."

That serenity extends to those watching. When high-stakes events unfold—break-ins, breakups—the audience already knows what’s going to happen. The Kardashian-Jenner lives have already been reported in tabloids, but on the show we get to see them more intimately and from their perspective. There’s no uncertainty. A real world marriage proposal is exciting but also scary—someone could say no—but when Ye proposes to Kim on the show, the audience knows that Kim will say yes. My friend Regina Bediako, a podcast producer, tells me that she sees the format as similar to unboxing videos or makeup tutorials on YouTube. As in those, the audience knows what the outcome will be, so the allure is not watching a drama reach an unforeseen conclusion but safely sharing someone’s intimate emotional journey.

By now, the Kardashians-Jenners are far from zany. They are not shattered by overwork; they are powerful. Work is proof of their might. "I have the best advice for women in business," Kim controversially told Variety last year, "Get your fucking ass up and work." But architectural details aren’t the only details erased in Kim’s minimal era: The details of the actual work done to maintain these homes is gone, too. 

"Every day, Latino people help create the illusion of the effortlessness of pampered whiteness," Héctor Tobar writes in the Los Angeles Times about the way service staff is kept out of sight across wealthy Southern California neighborhoods. The gardeners and housekeepers maintaining the Kardashians-Jenners’ massive estates almost never appear on the shows, a rare exception being for a short clip in Season 8 when Caitlyn enlists a housekeeper, Cruz, to play Ping-Pong. There’s an uncanny sense that at the end of the day, everything is under control and effortlessly so. 

Americans have mythologized the frontier as "a liminal space that represents the shifting boundary demarcating spaces of reason, virtue, and civility from spaces of savagery, irrationality, and anticivilization," Barraclough writes. After 15 years on TV, the women have conquered the frontier of media and settled in. If the cluttered Cape Cod represented a desperate striving; the Hollywood Regency era announced the arriviste media queens; and the greige minimalism an otherworldly, superhero superstardom, then the modern farmhouse telegraphs a sort of naturalism in the American landscape.

In the 1990s, after decades of deindustrialization in Southern California, Barraclough tells me, the region experienced what some called the New White Flight. "We see this exodus from Los Angeles of modestly educated, lower middle class white people who had been able to sustain themselves economically and maybe had even bought a small home or something like that. But then they start getting afraid because they’ve lost their jobs and there’s no real future for them, and they see the city transforming around them, with much larger numbers of immigrants.… The response that some lower middle class and working class white people have in Los Angeles in that period is they just leave." People migrated from rural areas across the country in an attempt to find a version of America where poverty, immigrants, and people of color didn’t exist.

Wealthier whites didn’t leave in the same numbers, though they also had access to rural fantasies closer to home in gated communities like Hidden Hills. Kris moved her family behind the gates in 1996, and the idea that threatening forces lurk outside has been constant since the Kardashian-Jenner shows began.

Some of the threats shown on the show are physical and very scary: Kylie is stalked in Seasons 10 and 12, and a group of armed men tie up Kim and rob her in Paris in Season 13. But these real and dangerous intrusions are blurred with the much less tangible threats that the family sees coming from a critical audience. After Kim’s robbery, she talks about how people outside the family wondered if she faked the incident. Corey Gamble, Kris’s boyfriend, tells Kim, "Anything you do somebody will bring negativity and doubt to it.… This family’s gonna have to deal with that forever." In the next episode, Kim talks about people making light of the robbery online. "It just really sucks when you’re getting judged by the whole world," she says.

And though people moved into gated communities like Hidden Hills with the notion that these places would be safer than the denser, more diverse areas just down the freeway, Barraclough points out, "most crime occurs within communities.… But it’s always easier to imagine that the threat is outside, that it’s a stranger. It’s much harder to grapple with the reality that most violence and threats come from within our families and our social circles."

This is borne out in one of the central traumas that casts a long shadow over the show: Someone sells to the porn company Vivid a sex tape featuring Kim and her ex-boyfriend Ray J, she says, without her consent. But over the course of their shows, as the threats become more present, so does the stars’ strength. Compare Kim’s reaction to her sex tape leaking in Season 1 of the E! show with someone threatening to release extra footage from that tape in the first season of the Hulu show, 15 years later. In 2007, Kim, in a pussy bow blouse, quietly explains to the camera that her privacy was violated and an intimate moment was publicly shared without her agreement. She seems to make herself small, her voice breathy and in an upper register, like a plaintiff pleading innocent on the stand. But in 2022, she responds full throatedly by telling lawyer Marty Singer, "I’m not going to go through this again.… I have all the time, all the money, and all the resources to burn them all to the fucking ground."

The Kardashians-Jenners have become pioneer women ready to take care of anyone who threatens their persons or properties. Responses to threats become opportunities for shows of force, and there’s a certain pleasure in being able to show force, presumably both for people showing it and for the third-party audience. And the more threats, the more opportunities to respond, creating a sort of feedback loop. With every retaliatory salvo, the Kardashians-Jenners declare that they are no longer precarious, catering to the sexual desires of older men. At the same time, their show and its frontier mentality play into the country’s pleasurable paranoia, obsessed with self-defense and standing one’s ground, an America ready to blast a stranger just for knocking on its door.

The modern farmhouse represents a sort of optimism about self-reliance and stability. It’s the frontier promise that things can be better if I go it alone, or at least with only my most trusted family. That optimism is contagious, and that, I think, is what makes it dangerous. When our family isn’t to be found, our surrogates on TV will have to do, always with us on our screens, giving us a shallow comfort while the depths of despair yawn beneath us. While the American pioneer dream may be working out okay for the Kardashians-Jenners, retreating for comfort into a fantasy of hard-working competitive isolation doesn’t seem that great for the rest of us.

"A relation of cruel optimism exists when something you desire is actually an obstacle to your flourishing," cultural critic Lauren Berlant wrote in their 2011 book Cruel Optimism. For the Kardashian audience the cruelest optimism may not be people thinking that they too could be rich if they hustled harder, but that watching the show might do anything other than make people more docile and accepting of the country’s competitive colonial obsessions. 

A half century ago, during Southern California’s pioneer revival era, the writer and futurist Alvin Toffler promoted the idea that new communication technologies would move production back into homes from factories and offices. In 1980 he published the best-selling book The Third Wave, in which he wrote that modern audiences and markets had been shattered into innumerable subcultures, each wanting something slightly different, and companies had begun offloading finishing touches to the consumer. He predicted the rise of people who were both producers and consumers—prosumers. Prosumers, he said, were already present in the rise of the do-it-yourselfers in the 1970s, and they seem alive today in anyone who uses social media, creating and consuming content at the same time. 

"Once we recognize that much of our so-called leisure time is, in fact, spent producing goods and services for our own use—prosuming—then the old distinction between work and leisure falls apart," Toffler writes. "The question is not work versus leisure, but paid work…versus unpaid, self-directed, and self-monitored work."

In Toffler’s eyes, homes were once again becoming the sites of production, a return of sorts to preindustrial homesteading except now in "electronic cottages." Toffler seemed optimistic about the change. He saw it as a way past both communism and capitalism, which, like Borsodi, he saw as dependent on gargantuan industrial networks that dehumanized people and subsumed them in systems far beyond their control. The prosumer age promised to bring some agency back home, but it also, at least in the short term, seemed to benefit the owners of those large industrial systems because it had consumers take on production work for free. Prosumers are happy to do this because production is romanticized as expression, fun work akin to Borsodi raising his chickens.

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Today, the Kardashians-Jenners mostly seem happy in their electronic cottages—except for Kourtney. She’s periodically dissatisfied with being on the show, accusing her sisters of faking their relationships with each other just so they have interactions to record, and she’s tossed out the idea of quitting the show altogether. But she always stays, trapped in the machine that keeps her rich and famous. She’s unhappy, but we don’t see her rage at the machine she’s stuck in; she rages at her sisters for wanting to work with her. The machine doesn’t rage at Kourtney for not working; the sisters rage at her instead. The work of regulation and punishment is outsourced to the subjects of the system, a sort of prosumer fascism that promotes competition over cooperation. The Kardashians-Jenners are not freeing themselves in their electronic cottages. They are in control and the bosses of themselves only in the sense that their true boss is not a person but an economic system, the same system that everyone else in the country is beholden to, a system that stays resilient because it’s often invisible.

The modern farmhouse trend won’t last forever. It’s already on the decline in Hidden Hills, De La Nuez reports, a victim of its own popularity. "Every house now along Valley Vista has become a modern farmhouse," he says. "We don’t want to look like Valley Vista or Sherman Oaks or Encino." Kim is digging deeper into minimalism, breaking ground on a new house designed by Tadao Ando east of L.A. Kylie is building a house of a yet-to-be-determined style close to her mother and sister’s compound.

Another faux historical aesthetic may replace the modern farmhouse on HGTV, in Hidden Hills, and in Kris’s and Khloé’s lives, but there are alternatives to a paranoid prosumer future. In the 1960s, Borsodi developed his ideas about finding independence in land use with a new generation, including people like civil rights and peace activist Robert Swann, who helped create the first community land trust. That model shares land ownership across a cooperative community and has been gathering momentum slowly since. There are ways to deal with precarity that don’t involve retreating into your home and selling your goods, whether they be farm-fresh eggs, lip kits, or remote white collar jobs. The alternatives might not be as easy to achieve as the perfect modern farmhouse, but who’s afraid of a little work?

Top Image Courtesy Hulu

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Jack Balderrama Morley
Dwell Managing Editor
Jack Balderrama Morley is the managing editor of Dwell. Their book, Dream Facades, about reality TV and architecture, comes out in 2026. They have a graduate degree in architecture.


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