‘A handheld grater will make guests want to have sex with you’: the anatomy of a grown-up apartment


Show caption Bountiful plants and a wooden table are both vital to looking like an adult. (All images for this article were sourced by searching for ‘millennial apartments’ on stock image websites.) Photograph: 10’000 Hours/Getty Images ‘A handheld grater will make guests want to have sex with you’: the anatomy of a grown-up apartment Sinéad Stubbins In an excerpt from her new book, Sinéad Stubbins offers a guide to decor that tells a lie – you have this whole thing figured out Tue 25 May 2021 02.00 BST Share on Facebook

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The thing they don’t tell you is that parties change when you get older. You have this idea that once you graduate from sticky floors and vodka in plastic cups you’ll suddenly get invited to sophisticated dinner parties every weekend. Parties where everyone is drinking tempranillo and saying thought-provoking things, where the apartment is scented like linen and figs and is washed in a warm orange light.

Big wooden bowls of pasta materialise from nowhere and there are delicate salads of shaved pear. Somehow there is never a mess to clean up. Everyone is wearing white trousers.

But there are a few things you need to get for your apartment before you can entertain.

A plant

“Plants! I need plants! I’m worried about my plants! I need to water my plants! Please stay at my house this weekend and water my plants!”

Plants are the apartment status symbols of the 21st century. It is not enough to be able to keep yourself alive, you must prove that you can also keep something constantly growing and needing in your home.

You should have a few plants in your living room, with leaves the size of hands, but having some in your bathroom is also advised – it increases the life-and-death drama of what is already the most dramatic room in the house. Hanging plants are the best because they make it seem as if you have defied gravity; that’s how in control of your house you are.

Your plants should be the kind that can survive bitter winters and scorching summers. But maybe even we humans won’t survive what the future will bring! Haha.

A hand-held grater to shave delicate slices of parmesan

The secret to instant attraction. Photograph: Ben Gold/Getty Images/Cultura RF

Grab a great hunk of parmesan and hold it over a bowl of pasta, then grate delicate little shavings of parmesan on top of the pasta, rhythmically moving the hunk back and forth so the cheese falls, romantically, like snow on a mountain-top. It’s a scientific fact that if you do this in front of a guest of any sexual orientation, they will fall in love immediately and want to have sex with you. I don’t know why. It just happens.

(No vegans.)

A candle

Open flames make guests feel relaxed, and candles make them feel extra relaxed because the nice ones often cost a lot of money and people genuinely feel safer when they’re in proximity to money.

‘The best candle types are the ones that sound like they could be biblical villains: Santal, Baies, Bibliothèque, etc.’ Photograph: Moyo Studio/Getty Images

The best thing to do is to burn a candle 15 minutes before your guests arrive, and then when they arrive at the designated time, still have that faux, slightly surprised, ‘Oh, you’re here!’ thing, even though you all agreed on the time and the candle is already burning.

The best candle types are the ones that sound like they could be biblical villains: Santal, Baies, Bibliothèque, etc.

An artisanal ceramic plate

You need to have a handmade ceramic plate that is meant for keys but seems too nice for keys, so you just put hair ties and spare buttons on there, which is certainly not what the artist intended.

A drink cart

It’s important for others to think that you’re the kind of person who comes home after work and mixes themselves a single Negroni or Aperol sour or another drink that makes your tongue want to curl back into your throat. This is what successful people do.

Successful people drink exactly one drink a night. They do this while watching the nightly news or sitting in an armchair and looking wistfully out the window. Maybe they’re thinking of what their life might have been. Maybe they’re thinking of that girl they liked in first-year uni and should have married. Maybe they’re thinking about how on Christmas Eve last year they Facebook messaged the girl like, ‘Hey … hope you’re well!’ and the girl saw the message and said nothing, so they messaged back a few days later, ‘Sorry! That wasn’t for you. Hope you’re well anyway!’ and the girl saw it again and didn’t reply, and then they deleted their Facebook and deleted their Instagram and deleted their Twitter and told everyone at work that they were doing a “digital detox”, which was met with many congratulations.

Just get a lot of tall bottles of red liquid is what I’m saying.

‘All of your art should make your guests feel compelled to ask if you’re OK.’ Photograph: FollowTheFlow/Getty Images/iStockphoto

A cream-coloured rug with boobs drawn on it

Prove that you’re fun!

A piece of art that is sort of mocking you

Having art in your house is the easiest way to communicate that you are a grown-up who has figured this whole thing out, without showing guests payslips to prove that you make regular super payments.

There are two kinds of art that will make your guests feel comfortable, as they will undoubtedly have similar in their own homes. These types are a) pastel splodges and b) art that seems to be making fun of you and all of your possessions. This art could be a black-and-white sketch that includes a caption like, ‘My home is crap!’ or maybe a pop-art face crying, with a speech bubble that says, ‘Is this it?’ or a collage of a dog in space with I AM TRYING MY BEST, THAT IS ALL I CAN DO written in cursive.

This art will make you look self-deprecating and humble about how nice your house is. All of your art should make your guests feel compelled to ask if you’re OK.


Books! People need to see that you have books! It doesn’t matter what you actually read and, to be honest, it’s almost better not to put those books on display. Who wants to talk to people about something they’re reading? Who wants to pretend to care about other people’s opinions? Exactly.

People need to see that you have books – and a cashmere throw. Photograph: 10’000 Hours/Getty Images

Here are a list of books you should stack in your bookshelf without fear that one of your guests will ask you about them, because they haven’t read them either: A Moveable Feast, War and Peace, An Inconvenient Truth, Crime and Punishment, Freedom (I actually have read that one, but forgot what happened even when I was actually reading it), The Happiness Trap, anything by Philip Roth, The Road.

A cashmere throw

Fancy soap and hanging plants prove you’re in control of your home. Photograph: Carlina Teteris/Getty Images

All the houses worth visiting have a cashmere throw lying on the couch. The throw should be draped on the couch in such a way that it as though like the wind carried it there. This cashmere throw will have cost far too much to plop on your lap while eating spaghetti, or to let a dog sit on. You should always wash your hands before touching it. You shouldn’t shout in its presence. During thunderstorms you should pat it comfortingly to let it know that it has found safety here. You should stop in the doorway and ask its permission whenever you want to enter the living room.

A wooden dining table

“This will be great for when we have people over!” you’ll say, before never inviting people over to your house and eating all your meals over the coffee table.

Soap made with Australian native plants

If you have any soap in your house that is French vanilla- or linen-scented, your guests will probably vomit at the first sniff of it and leave, because those soap flavours aren’t chic any more. The only soap flavours that you are allowed to have are soaps that smell like camping.

If your soap doesn’t smell like tea tree or eucalyptus or lemon myrtle or wattle or gum nuts, then you are a Luddite and a fraud and probably don’t even use soap. You probably slop in the mud like a common swine. You probably lick your hands clean like a street cat. You probably condition your hair with handfuls of lard.

The only soap that matters is the kind that might give you a rash.

A record player

Now that CDs are dead it’s more difficult to display your identity and taste in an incidental-looking but deeply deliberate way. This is where a record player comes in. A record player is eccentric. A record player is considered. A record player is so impressive and yet useless that its main value will lie in people approaching it and saying, ‘Oh, a record player!’ and you will say, ‘Yes,’ and that’s where the conversation will end.

Records are very expensive, so just cut some black cardboard circles and put them into record sleeves. No one will ask to listen to them anyway.

A spare room

A place for the old Christmas cards and the clothes horse and your exercise bike and the bread maker and the desk you don’t use, the old typewriter you don’t use and your hopes and dreams and broken phones.

This is an edited extract from In My Defence, I Have No Defence by Sinéad Stubbins, available now through Affirm Press