Domestic Debate: Carpets or Nah?

In these divisive times, it’s important to remember that Americans disagree about far more than just politics. We also disagree about floor coverings.

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In these divisive times, it’s important to remember that Americans disagree about far more than just politics. For instance, some people think carpets are great while other people think carpets are bullshit. This contentious issue came to the fore during a recent Fatherly staff meeting that devolved rapidly into yelling. In the interest of resolving internal conflicts, the two editors most invested in the carpet conflict volunteered to have an open debate on the issue. Dave Baldwin argued in favor of carpet while Andrew Burmon argued against. Each gratuitously insulted the other during the poorly moderated event that followed. Below is a transcript of that exchange.

Moderator: We are here today to talk about carpets and, in particular, whether they are good for the American home. Each of you has taken a side. Please keep you arguments short and limited to the topic at hand, which is this: Carpets or nah?

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Andrew Burmon, Anti-Carpet Activist: First of all, we should be clear about what the topic of this conversation actually is. We’re not talking generally about carpeting, which takes myriad forms, but about the type of carpeting common to American homes. That would be synthetic fiber carpet, which is produced largely in northwest Georgia and boomed in popularity after DuPont developed bulked continuous filament nylon in the 1950s. Between 1951 and 1968, the amount of that BCF carpet sold in the U.S. went from 6 million square yards annually to 400 million square yards annually. And it’s important to focus in on the historical context of that boom. The industry exploded with the growth of the suburbs. Carpets were installed in new homes in new neighborhoods by people buying into a version of the American dream that congealed, like so much jello salad, on the first generation of color televisions.

The first generation of people raised on carpets, grew up to overdose on self importance at Woodstock and rally behind the Barry Goldwater, blow-it-all-to-hell wing of the Republican Party. Is carpet directly responsible for the cultural schism currently tearing this country apart? Not entirely, but the people responsible for it still have burns on their knees. This is why being comfortable with carpet—finding it reassuring or comforting—is tantamount to being comfortable living in a culture so denatured that children must flee to forage for moral sustenance. Carpeting is the bellwether of future political conflict. Carpeting is how culture wars start.

Also, wall-to-wall carpeting looks like absolute shit and does not, despite seeming very much like it would, facilitate alluringly hasty sexual encounters.

Dave Baldwin, Carpet Advocate: Two things make a house a home, and two things only: art on the walls and carpet on the floor. Otherwise, you might as well be living in a high-school cafeteria. Your house is … sterile. Like most of us raised in the 70s/80s, I grew up in a home gloriously covered with carpet. Coincidentally, that home was in Georgia, where most of the country’s carpet was produced. I knew this fact growing up, but it has little to do with my affinity (so, no, I’m not just being a floor-covering homer). Hardwoods weren’t popular and every room save the kitchen and baths were covered with shag, or some variation thereof. Your home was warm, your feet cushioned, and when you wanted to watch a movie on TBS, you could grab a pillow off the couch and sprawl out comfortably on the family room floor. It was a kinder, gentler time.

Then I went to college. And I spent the next twenty years bouncing from city apartment to city apartment, forced to cover cold tile and beat-up hardwoods with cheap IKEA rugs, all the while listening to neighbors clomp around above me and longing to someday be free of brushing grit off my feet off before sliding them into bed. Fully aware, though, that home design trends were shifting right under my feet ⏤ carpet was out, hardwood was chic. Then again, I was the guy listening to a Walkman when everybody moved on to CDs ⏤ I didn’t much care then, and I still don’t.

Now look, I’m not arguing that every room in your house needs to be carpeted or that you should run out and lay shag in your kitchen ⏤ that’s crazy, especially if you have kids. Nobody wants to scrub orange juice out of beige Berber every morning. I own my house now, and I’m still not all-in on carpet; we have some hardwoods. But am arguing that carpets equal coziness and a few rooms should be mandatory. And if the question is what makes a house a home, the answer is always sound-softening fiber cushioning your feet.

hardwood floor vs carpet

AB: There’s an adage attributed to Confucius that I think applies to you and your specious argument: “The superior man thinks always of virtue; the common man thinks of comfort.”

If you believe that what makes a house a home is the cushion that it offers, it’s time for you to reconsider. There’s nothing wrong with a nice bit of textile here or there, but comfort becomes an affliction in the absence of elevation. Home is where Americans go to recharge. Our homes should embolden us. They should reflect our hopes and dreams. It seems to me that carpeted homes reflect a faintly Oedipal desire to crawl furtively back into the womb.

It’s wonderful that you have fond, tactile memories of your childhood, but you should remember that shag carpeting was in vogue when you were young. Carpeting is not a style statement in 2017. Whereas you grew up in a house designed for adults, you’re asking your child to grow up in a house designed for a fetus.

DB: I find it ironic that you’re quick to strike down an emotional argument somewhat predicated on fond childhood nostalgia while basing your condemnation of carpet on its mere association to the suburban sprawl of … 60 years ago! A cultural shift that has long since reversed itself. Carpet is just as much to blame for the mass exodus of American cities as hardwood is for the current flood of wealthy suburbanites back to them. The same people you belittle for embracing carpet in the 60s are the exact ones who wouldn’t dare think of living in a house or high-rise today that didn’t have maplewood sprawled throughout.

Besides, carpet diffuses sounds, holds in warmth, and rarely creaks when you’re walking around the house late at night? None of which are undesirable attributes. I mean, it’s nice that you derive energy from cold antiseptic surroundings — let me guess, you also appreciate vaulted ceilings and framed Ansel Adams prints — but some of us recharge better in an environment where you can kick your shoes off and relax. In a room where your socks don’t get filthy and you can drop a glass without it shattering. Call it a womb if you must, but man it’s nice in here.

Also, what are you doing sit ups on in the morning, a yoga mat?

AB: I don’t do sit ups. My physical decay runs parallel to your moral and aesthetic atrophy. Still, I’m strong enough to wrestle a straw man to the ground.

This idea that your affinity for carpet—or willingness to buck modern trends—is somehow punk or counterculture is sweetly adorable; you are the Sid Vicious of trying to hide wine stains under floor lamps. But there’s no rebellion here. There is only resignation. And I know this because I’ve seen a fucking rug before.

Rugs can be colorful, even beautiful, works of art. They have all the niceties of a carpet but also a punch of expression. They can be layered. They can be switched out seasonally. The only things that rugs can’t offer that carpets can is the opportunity to take a completely passive approach to interior design. Putting down a rug requires some thought.

On some level, I think the thing that offends me most about carpets is the laziness of the thing. Keep your warmth. I want expressiveness and joy.

DB: Haha, rugs? You mean the loincloth of floor coverings? You may as well drape your precious tile with a handkerchief. Area rugs are little more than sad carpet scraps, a scrawny Chester to Saxony’s Spike, begging for any bit of attention with ridiculous patterns and blaring colors. Carpet is strong where rugs are weak. And your fanciful mat is like a lonely life raft adrift in the frigid sea that is your cold, cold ocean of an apartment. Or maybe it’s an oasis. I don’t know. Either way, it’s too damn small. And the only thought that pops into one’s head when they put one down is, “Why the hell didn’t I get something big enough to cover the whole space?” Especially when the corners keep getting sucked up in the vacuum or you’re shaking it out on the deck like a modern-day Laura Ingalls. Then again, I’m sure it really does tie that room together.

I’d say let’s talk next about the futility of pushing dirt back and forth for an hour with a broom, but I’m guessing you want to extol the virtues of the runner in your foyer? Or maybe we should just get back to blaming carpet for the rise of ISIS and the Brangelina breakup — assuming you don’t have to do some Swiffering?

AB: I’m happy you bring up filth. You’ve given me an opportunity to double back and address your point about the joy of vacuuming, which may be the only reasonable thing you’ve said thus far.

Vacuuming is fun and it damn well should be because it’s something you do for entertainment. How do I know that? Scientists have found that only the tops of carpet fibres ever get cleaned by vacuums. What happens to the rest of the particulate matter, all those mite legs and all that sloughed off skin? You push it around like a zamboni offroading on a beach. You take filth and you move it. I don’t know why you think that’s somehow better than sweeping or mopping, both of which actually accomplish something, but I should compliment you regardless: You’ve done a great job arranging the contaminants in your home into rows. Way to go Dave!

DB: We carpet people know the secret’s a steam vacuum. I mean, if you thought the fading sound of grit being sucked into your Hoover after a few passes was gratifying, try watching soapy water run dirty to clean. And in satisfyingly symmetrical lines. Inspiring. Consider the light green for grabbing that pillow off the couch, pulling up House of Cards on Netflix, and sprawling right out.
AB: Lie on a couch like an adult. Honestly, it’s like you’ve never even been to a therapist. We non-carpet people (read: adults) own furniture.

DB: I’m sure you have an expensive couch and/or a chiropractor on speed dial.

AB: Chiropractic medicine is a hoax, but you’re not wrong. I have an expensive couch. It gets a bit dirty sometimes because I flop down with my shoes on after work, but that’s a small price to pay for not having to treat my whole home like a clean room lest I leave behind footprints.

DB: I wouldn’t have thought you cared about dirt considering how much of it you’re tracking into bed and rolling around in at night. Why don’t I just pull back this comforter and dump in a bowl of fingernail clippings, rock salt, and chip crumbs. Who’s ready for a nap? You may as well just bed down on the sidewalk.

AB: Let me be real. I think that we’re talking about dirt because we don’t want to admit that we’re from different places and that, perhaps, our feelings about carpet represent a true cultural schism. You like being comfortable because you are comfortable. You’re a sweet, happy dude with a handsome smile. You like to lie on the floor. You like your little toesies to feel fluffed.

In short, you like the world as it is.

I envy you that, but I must decline your invitation to get comfortable. I think we have to do better. We must demand wall-to-wall beauty and wall-to-wall honesty. I don’t cover my floors or the ugly truth that this doesn’t feel like enough.

DB: Suit yourself, Nietzsche. I don’t know what your parents did to you as as kid, but you can’t say I didn’t try. You are right about one thing, though, I do have a handsome smile.

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