The Container Store's Surprising, Yet Palpable, Glamour

Container Store Elfa home officeTo kick off the New Year—and because the shelves lining the walls are completely full and the floor has become an obstacle course of piled-up books and magazines—I am reorganizing my home office and adding more bookshelves in the closet. So I've been spending a lot of time exposed to the surprising but palpable glamour of The Container Store.

For those unfortunates who haven't experienced it, The Container Store is, in the words of Bernard-Henri Levi on his Tocquevillian visit to Dallas, un magasin des boîtes: a big store devoted entirely to boxes (and folders, hangers, shelves, and other tools for wrangling your stuff). 

With its open shelves, aproned staff, and fluorescent lights, the Container Store will never be mistaken for a luxury boutique. It features no movie stars, no sunny beaches, no sparkles or perfumed air. Although aesthetically appealing, it is not what people think of when they hear the word glamour.

ElfaBillPayCenter  But it creates a similar seductive effect. Like a glamorous travel ad, it heightens customers' longing for escape and transformation—in this case, to a more orderly home and, with it, a more peaceful life—while suggesting that this ideal can, in fact, be achieved. The “inspirational spaces” on its website do more than demonstrate how you might apply its tools. They encourage you to project yourself into a new, more graceful and desirable life.

The Container Store’s glamour is particularly paradoxical, because, by deliberate strategy, the store lacks mystery, distance, and exclusivity. It is friendly and accessible and down-to-earth. Even its carefully styled photo vignettes tend toward the overt. (If I were advising the company, I’d suggest adding more dimension—doorways, windows, and other suggestions of a life outside the frame—while playing up the use of translucent materials.) How can it create the same feeling as more recognizably glamorous icons or environments?

There are two reasons, I think. The first is that the promise it offers is of something that always remains slightly out of reach: an escape from entropy. And the second, as we know from Monty Hall, is that you never can be sure what's in the box.