Filmed in the minimalist confessional video style popularized by beauty bloggers and BuzzFeed staffers, Refinery29’s “Sweet Diggs” series is pitched as a look “inside the homes—and lives—of modern millennials.” It is, in fact, mostly a look inside various expensive and small Manhattan apartments. The cheapest apartment—and with one exception, they’re all apartments—in the series cost $850 a month, and that fact alone makes it clear that the inhabitants of these sweet digs are anything but your average modern millennial. They are fashion editors and comedians and often Refinery29 employees—stylish and privileged enough to value location over size or price, these millennials would look at home in a Sex and the City reboot. One even admitted to never having turned her stove on during her tenure in her East Village “junior one-bedroom,” calling to mind the old adage about New Yorkers keeping sweaters in the oven.
I was captivated by the series, not least because of the idea of paying $1,895 a month for an apartment without a closet was a choice I couldn’t fathom. If I kept watching, maybe I’d eventually understand the lure of these tiny, expensive Manhattan apartments? I must confess I still don’t understand that—but in the second hour of watching “Sweet Digs,” I did begin to clock a design trend that might accurately be attributed to the famed “modern millennial.”
The elements are familiar to anyone who’s spent time in Ikea, Urban Outfitters, or Anthropologie. By the end of my viewing party, I had started to tally appearances of cowhide rugs, white fur, succulents, metallic clothes racks, Edison bulbs/fairy lights, and banana leaf print. And of course, the primary color was white: white walls, white cabinets, white duvets and pillows. There might be a bit of exposed brick or marble somewhere. The most expensive item in the apartment was typically a piece from West Elm that residents were sure to stress was their splurge item. One wall in the apartment was devoted to mementos, posters, and photos and knick-knacks arranged in an artfully offset style familiar to anyone who’s spent time on the decorating side of Pinterest. There are a few standouts that divert from this particular trend, including this London apartment and the $850 Los Angeles walk-up, but apart from those exceptions, décor was interchangeable for this particular subset of modern millennials.
The monotonous, off-the-rack interior décor typified in “Sweet Diggs” presents an odd contrast to the astronomical rent prices, which are theoretically paid because of the apartment’s location and character—in other words, it’s originality. Why pay so much for a place, when it will just end up looking like your friend’s much more affordable apartment in Kansas City? Of course, the aesthetic homogeneity comes naturally: By the time you put down a security deposit, first and last month’s rent, and shell out moving expenses, pretty much all you can afford is to spend big on is a large center piece, like a couch or a bed frame, and then head to Ikea or Bed, Bath and Beyond for everything else.
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with that—most, if not all, of my furniture is from Ikea, I have string lights up, and I’d have a succulent if I didn’t manage to kill them all. Owning expensive, one-of-a-kind furniture is inconvenient when you’re not likely to stay in an apartment for more than a few years. And if you don’t live close to family, shipping or driving that beautiful hand-me-down chair to your new place ends up costing more than buying a cheap version of it online. Ultimately, the kind of blah millennial minimalist pre-fab style represented on Sweet Diggs makes sense: It’s easy to imitate, relatively cheap, and also pretty hard to mess up. It’s a product of the transient, perma-renter lifestyle so many millennials are living, and that’s why this assembly-line aesthetic dominates, regardless of price range. It’s in that respect, and not real estate bracket, that the Sweet Diggers actually do represent the “modern millennial.”