March 13, 2011

The Living Room Scale

I was reading a blog (sorry, I lost the link), and saw this very funny and no doubt, controversial scale of “class” in America, via our living room contents. It’s from the book “Class” by Paul Fussell. Class-Fussell-PaulIn Class, Fussell explodes the sacred American myth of social equality with eagle-eyed irreverence and iconoclastic wit. This bestselling, superbly researched, exquisitely observed guide to the signs, symbols, and customs of the American class system is always outrageously on the mark as Fussell shows us how our status is revealed by everything we do, say, and own. He describes the houses, objects, artifacts, speech, clothing styles, and intellectual proclivities of American classes from the top to the bottom and everybody -- you'll surely recognize yourself -- in between. In the book, Fussell boldly admits "You can outrage people today simply by mentioning social class." (Amazon)

The Living Room Scale. Begin with a base score of 100 and then add or subtract in accordance with what you have or don’t have.

Hardwood floor, add 4

Parquet floor, add 8

Stone floor, add 4

Vinyl floor, subtract 6

Wall-to-wall-carpet, add 2

Working fireplace, add 4

New oriental rug or carpet, subtract 2 (each)

Worn oriental rug or carpet, add 5 (each)

Threadbare rug or carpet, add 8 (each)

Ceiling ten feet high, or higher, add 6

Original paintings by internationally recognized practitioners, add 8 (each)

Original drawings, prints, or lithographs by internationally recognized practitioners, add 5 (each)

Reproductions of any Picasso painting, print or anything, subtract 2 (each)

Original paintings, drawings, or prints by family members, subtract 4 (each)

Windows curtained, rods, and draw cords, add 5

Windows curtained, no rods or draw cord, add 2

Genuine Tiffany lamp, add 3

Reproduction Tiffany lamp, subtract 4

Any work of art depicting cowboys, subtract 3

Transparent plastic covers on furniture, subtract 6

Furniture upholstered with any metallic threads, subtract 3

Cellophane on any lampshade, subtract 4

No ashtrays, subtract 2

Refrigerator, washing machine, or clothes dryer in living room, subtract 6

Motorcycle kept in living room, subtract 10

Periodicals visible, laid out flat:

National Enquirer, subtract 6

Popular Mechanics, subtract 5

Reader’s Digest, subtract 3

National geographic, subtract 2

Smithsonian, subtract 1

Scientific American, subtract 1

New Yorker, add 1

Town and Country, add 2

New York Review of Books add 5

Times Literary Supplement (London), add 5

Paris Match, add 6

Hudson Review, add 8

Each family photograph (black-and-white), subtract 2

Each family photograph (color), subtract 3

Each family photograph (black-and-white or color) in sterling-silver frame, add 3

Potted citrus tree with midget fruit growing, add 8

Potted palm tree, add 5

Bowling-ball-carrier, subtract 6

Fishbowl or aquarium, subtract 4

Fringe on any upholstered furniture, subtract 4

Identifiable Naugahyde aping anything customarily made of leather, subtract 3

Any item exhibiting words in an ancient or modern foreign language, add 7

Wooden venetian blinds, subtract 2

Tabletop obelisk of marble, glass, etc., add 9

No periodicals visible, subtract 5

Fewer than five pictures on walls, subtract 5

Each piece of furniture over 50 years old, add 2

Bookcase(s) full of books, add 7

Any leather bindings more than 75 years old, add 6

Bookcases(s) partially full of books, add 5

Overflow books stacked on floor, chairs, etc., add 6

Hutch bookcase ("wall system") displaying plates, pots, porcelain figurines, etc., but no books, subtract 4

Wall unit with built-in TV, stereo, etc., subtract 4

On coffee table, container of matchbooks from funny or anomalous places, add 1

Works of sculpture (original, and not made by householder or any family member), add 4 (each)

Works of sculpture made by householder or any family member, subtract 5 (each)

Each framed certificate, diploma, or testimonial, subtract 2

Each "laminated" ditto, subtract 3

Each item with a ‘tortoiseshell’ finish, if only made of Formica, add 1

Each “Eames chair”, subtract 2

Anything displaying the name or initials of anyone in the household, subtract 4

Curved moldings visible anywhere in the room, add 5


245 and above: upper class

185 to 245: upper middle class

100 to 185: middle class

50 to 100: higher proletariat

Below 50: lower proletariat

Damn… it was the motorcycle in my living room that killed my score!



  1. coincidently, I read this book about a month ago. Unfortunately, it was published too early. Mr. F would have had a field day with the 90's and early 00's.

  2. Saved from chavdom by my slovenly ways with books and the dwarf lemon tree. But only just.

  3. How odd. There was no mention of Royal Dalton with hand-painted periwinkles. Surely that alone would place me alongside members of the aristocracy. Not to mention my pearl white slim line telephone with last number redial...

  4. My thought on this was similar to Toad's. An analysis of the last two decades would be interesting.

    Also, now that we all have Kindles, what's to become of those stacks of books?

    1. Nothing changes. The books were always impractical. Gadgets are vulgar.

  5. That's why you are so Baltimore KLASSY dear Meg. Connor alone should be worth 200 pts!

  6. The subtraction for wooden blinds and fringe on furniture might be reconsidered if there were ever a revised edition. But as a non-smoker, my university era collection of funny matchbooks is best left lost in storage and the nineteenth century Paris porcelain saucers set out for ashtrays are only there if HRH Elizabeth pops in unexpectedly.

  7. hmm - so my 2 eames chairs put me into the middle class. Oh well -good place to be!

  8. It would be fun to pick fights with this. What is wrong with motorcycle in the living room? Depends on the chopper I suspect, and whether it leaks oil or not. I'd question ceilings over 14 feet myself, and I too like Eames chairs, (and long chair fringe), but have a houseful of old hand-me-downs that apparently make me upper class despite snow in the chimney, holes in the ceiling, burnt formica counters, and general dinge. I also have graffiti "Sue loves Chopper" found under faux panelling. Perhaps we ought to write some new lists? The modernist's guide to class? The difference between class and poverty?

  9. In England there is a simpler and more succinct way of identifying those who are middle class or working class. One can just use the yardstick provided by the late Alan Clark MP: they are people "who have to buy their own furniture" [ie they did not inherit a family estate]. Mr Clark was of course the son of the esteemed Lord Clark, owner of Saltwood Castle [] and author of "Civilisation".

  10. Does a plastic Sterilite storage tote from the Dollar General store doubling as a (temporary) coffee table score me any points with the proletariats?

  11. Dang! I thought I had risen from my humble beginnings to middle class but apparently I was wrong. I'm still just simple farm girl me living the Southern beach wife facade.

  12. You find the most interesting topics. I am going to keep this's just great. Thanks.

  13. I don't care if this is dated. I think it's a scream. Potted citrus tree with midget fruit growing...I laughed out loud.

  14. I am more with Balsamfir on this one. It WOULD be easy to pick fights with the incessant need for seemingly intelligent adults to keep trying to fit into an order of things based on, well, things. I appreciate the difference between money and class. My most recent affirmation is a local woman in her mid 90s setting about getting her affairs in order and making incredible (millions) contributions to organizations that still tug at her heart...all the while living in an ancient farm house that requires pliers to open the front door and the owner's deep sorrow over a recent do it yourself home perm that went awry. On these tasteless lists this woman might well score below 50. But where it really counts, she is aristocracy.

  15. So Nancy Mitford. So "U" and "Non U."

    Baltimore "Hon" and Aristo "Hon."

  16. If your family name is Picasso would you lose the art points or gain the art points for having paintings and sculpture on display?

    They lost me at obelisk. If having a useless obelisk on display makes me "classy" I will stay classless, thanks.

  17. Somewhere in there it should say that if you take what this book says seriously, you are forever a middle-class pedant.
    Erenessi N.Charimag

  18. lol i did this test for my office and my living room and got middle class both times, with 121 and 135.


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