What To Read: Ariel Norling tells us about houses

We’re starting a new weekly series called What To Read, where we uncover some of the most interesting independent writers on Substack. This week, we interviewed Ariel Norling, a designer with a love of architecture who writes I Know a Spot, where she shares her favorite homes for sale.

What's your Substack about in one sentence?

I Know a Spot is a newsletter about homes for sale that have interesting architecture and the escapist fantasies we project onto them.

Why did you start writing about it?

I struggle with anxiety, and as much as my therapist probably hates it– I find solace in looking at houses and imagining different lives for myself. A couple of years ago when I started house hunting, I began sharing the interesting houses I was finding with friends and co-workers. I realized I had a knack for finding unique houses and talking about them in a way that resonates with other people, and it brings me a lot of joy to do so. Writing about real estate in this way has allowed me to work through these feelings and connect with people who share these escapist tendencies or just like cute houses.

How did you get your first set of readers?

I started sharing interesting homes on Twitter and after a few posts took off, several of my friends (and some very kind strangers) encouraged me to start a newsletter so that they wouldn’t miss any of the houses I shared. I set up my newsletter, shared it with them, and linked it in the Twitter thread. The rest is history.

What's an architectural style that you think is underappreciated?

For residential architecture, I think that Art Moderne is really underappreciated. A lot of people like certain features of modern architecture like big windows and clean lines, but hate how boxy and bland modern architecture can be. Art Moderne has those features but is a bit more playful. It’s more Art Deco than Bauhaus. It often features curved lines, round windows, and glass blocks. Unfortunately, this style is pretty rare to begin with because it was born of the Great Depression and now a lot of people see these features and think “‘80s, gross” and renovate that character away.

What do you think about the migration we're seeing in some cities, with urban residents looking to move to more rural places?

I have mixed feelings about it, honestly. On the one hand, I love seeing people be more intentional about the way they want to live their lives and how and where that happens. I also love that it’s an opportunity for people to be more engaged with their community as a region. There’s more to life than the downtowns of cities and this has opened a lot of people’s eyes to the possibilities of the region they live in. You can experience so much variety in lifestyles and homes within an hour drive of any major city.

On the other hand, I worry about what happens to communities, people, and the planet. Yes, there were neighborhoods and communities before the latest wave of people lived there, but I worry about the ripple effects after people start leaving. What happens to the schools, grocery stores, mom-and-pop stores, bus lines? These things are vital economic and social touchpoints whose disappearance can decimate a community.

I also worry about what we lose socially and emotionally when we move outside of cities. Are you going to know people in your new community? If you don’t, are you going to be able to meet new people? Are you going to become involved in your community? These are things that are harder to accomplish outside of the city, especially if you don’t have kids or existing connections. It’s too easy to sequester yourself in your house and not engage. It’s also worse for you and the planet to move to places where you can’t walk or go to a park or take public transportation.

This is all to say that every place has its pros and cons, and you might be surprised to find that cities are exactly what you need on the other side of this. I hope this is an opportunity for us to reimagine what city and suburban life can be.

As a Redfin power user, do you have any tips for others to find great listings or keep their favorites organized?

Start reading the descriptions of the listings that you’re most excited by and take note of the wording. Real estate agents tend to use the same adjectives or phrases to describe similar houses. They will often include the particular architect, style, and interesting features of the home. I find most of the listings for my newsletter by using a combination of particular search parameters and keywords gleaned from listings. But just a warning: “architectural gem” almost never means what you hope it means.

There are so many factors to keep track of when looking for homes, I highly recommend relying on tools outside of real estate sites to stay organized. I’m a big Airtable fan in general, but it’s been the most helpful tool in particular for me to organize house listings. When I was house-hunting with my partner, we used Redfin together to have a shared list of houses we were interested in. I took that list and made a shared Airtable where we kept track of things that are harder to compare or keep track of in apps like Redfin. Ours looked at estimated commutes, our level of interest in the house, when offers were due, whether the neighborhood was walkable or close to public transportation, whether the house needed work, and a list of the features on our wishlist. We didn’t decide which house to buy based on a spreadsheet, but it did help us figure out what was most important to us in a way that just browsing and saving listings didn’t.

Subscribe to Ariel’s newsletter, I Know a Spot, or find her on Twitter (@ariel_n) or her website.