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The Dark Side of Instagram’s Favorite Door

As long as we’ve known stories, we’ve known stories of magical doors: the wardrobe, the rabbit hole, the doors of Durin, “open, sesame.”

In the Coachella Valley, one door’s extraordinary power has made it a pilgrimage destination and an autonomous viral brand. But to experience its magic, one need not pass through. On the contrary, most people show up just to stand in front of it in a cute outfit.

Palm Springs’ pink door is a door on a house, unremarkable but for its raging internet celebrity. In late spring of 2014—before the phrase “millennial pink” was even a whisper on the lips of style writers—it earned its own hashtag: #thatpinkdoor. The stream of visitors was unrelenting. And some fans took it home with them: the door’s image materialized on Easter eggs, gingerbread houses, cookies, Halloween pumpkins, Halloween costumes, even at “Pink Door”-themed toddler birthday parties with “Pink Door” step-and-repeats. Not quite four years later, Brit+Co ranked it one of the “most Instagrammable destinations” of the year, unflinchingly listing it in the company of the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, Cappadocia, and Machu Picchu.

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“It’s insanity,” said Sean Rogers, the Palm Springs homeowner blessed and cursed with being the shepherd of the house with the blush portal in question. “It’s just a door. Seriously. It’s just a door.”

Since Rogers and his partner’s house became an influencer magnet, they’ve seen people kissing in front of their door, heel-clicking in front of their door, prancing with huge bouquets of balloons, cradling baby bumps in a bejeweled tulle ball gown, knocking on, pretending to open, or actually trying to open their door.

“It’s insanity. It’s just a door. Seriously. It’s just a door.”

All manner of dogs come to Rogers’ doorstep: corgis, yorkies, morkies, mutts, and more morkies.  People hold things up—wine glasses, sunglasses, pudgy red-faced screaming infants, tribute drawings or watercolors or pastels of the door—in front of the door. “Sometimes I’ll be unloading groceries with the door open and influencers will actually ask me if I could close the door so they can get the shot,” Rogers wrote to me in an email last summer. “I’ve had F-list celebs doing naked photoshoots, wedding announcements, baby announcements. It’s beyond crazy.”

It was fun at first, some five years ago, Rogers says. Now it’s just dark.

Twelve years ago, when they bought the door—affixed to its sprawling 5,300 square-foot, four-bedroom 1968 mid-century ranch with 75-foot swimming pool—Palm Springs was a different place. The launch of Instagram was two years out. The way people selected and interacted with tourism destinations was inherently different. “There were practically tumbleweeds rolling through town,” Rogers says. But, the door was already pink.

From 2004 to 2008, New York interior designer Moises Esquenazi owned the home, and when he arrived, the door looked like a chocolate bar, a lackluster dark brown. But his then-partner’s mother, a part-owner, loved pink, Esquenazi told the Desert Sun in 2015. She used it elsewhere in the decor, including the waterline tile in the courtyard pool. He thought the unexpected pops of color gave the home “that extra bit of je ne sais quoi.”

A Neutrogena-sponsored tour bus full of influencers en route to Coachella showed up.

Rogers and his partner are based in Los Angeles and for almost a decade, starting with their purchase of the house in 2008, the house became their private vacation home. But in 2014, things began to change. Paul Smith’s Los Angeles #thatpinkwall went up on Melrose in 2013—#thatpinkdoor was pegged to the Palm Springs house in a post by an L.A. photographer not long after. Perhaps because it was pink, or perhaps because it is quintessential mid-century modern, or some irresistible combination of the two, but as with most viral internet obsessions, no quest for logic yields more than meandering speculation.

Whatever scientific explanation there might be for the door’s draw, its celebrity became a nuisance to its owners and their neighbors. Indian Canyons felt tucked away, mellow and quiet, and it had long been that way. Now, cars carelessly blocked driveways. Women in swimsuits ran up and down the street. A Neutrogena-sponsored tour bus full of influencers en route to Coachella showed up without permission. “They were crawling around on our trees like they were jungle gyms,” Rogers recalls. On a later occasion, neighbors caught people jumping the gate into the home’s driveway. When one neighbor approached the trespassers threatening to call the police, they were indignant: they were “just trying to see the backyard.”

Ten years into homeownership and four years into this new chapter of mayhem, in hopes of buying themselves some peace and maybe even salvaging their relationship with their neighbors, Rogers and his partner resorted to posting signs flanking the water feature on their front walkway: No Photography. In the lone post on the door’s official Instagram account, the owners wrote: “We understand that many people love #thatpinkdoor, but invasive bloggers, influences, and some unethical companies have turned this into a nuisance for us. Please respect our wishes, and the privacy of our home, our dear neighbors and beautiful neighborhood.”

Guess how well that worked.

The signage made Palm Springs’ 11 o’clock news and local papers. The Desert Sun snarked about the attention that is “apparently no longer wanted.” Outside Palm Springs, some influencers grieved the end of an era.

Some didn’t give a hoot.

“I don’t need to see one more girl without her clothes on changing in their car in front of my house.”

Photographers of all stripes continued to use the house for their own purposes, bragging about the antics they pulled to shoot in front of it and cropping the signs out of their photos. One sold her pink sunglasses via affiliate link (“$15 off, link in bio!”). Another promoted her artwork. (“There are a lot of signs around this famous door about no photography and there was a big black car parked in the front…but how could I resist?”) A brand that makes gaudy wine glasses advertised a Mother’s Day sale on their special pink edition.

So, the homeowners tried something else: Also in early 2018, they began listing the home as a short-term vacation rental. Palm Springs’ Natural Retreats property manages #thatpinkdoor alongside other luxury properties like the Sinatra estate. Groups of as many as eight can shell out to enjoy the architecture responsibly at $1,750 per night ($350/couple at capacity). A second contract for “commercial use” (shoots, etc.) costs measurably more.

Unfortunately, trying to create a formal infrastructure in which Rogers could benefit from the inevitable exploitation of his house seemed to only embolden those who felt entitled to leverage #thatpinkdoor for themselves. “This house belongs to someone in L.A. As this is a vacation home, the owner doesn’t mind people coming to his property and taking pictures,” one influencer explained when I asked for the backstory of the photo she’d posted of herself illegally trespassing and seated on one of the home’s architectural features, taken a couple weeks ago.

Another poster I reached out to—an “ethical” bikini line from Canada—came to Palm Springs to shoot their Spring 2018 catalog on a shoestring. In an email, one of the company’s founders, Monica, offered to share what she called “a pretty hilarious story” about their creative process: “Over the two days of shooting we were told by a security guard that we couldn’t photograph on a public road and were yelled at through an intercom not to touch someone’s car, so when we got to #thatpinkdoor for our final session we were not surprised to see bougie little gold plated signs stating that photographs were not allowed and that it was private property,” Monica wrote.

Her team parked across the street and a block away from Rogers’ house and “sprinted” to the home’s entrance for a series of four costume changes, using the car as the changing room, capturing the images that would define their spring look. “These poor people don’t even want their super cute door to be famous!”

“I don’t need to see one more girl without her clothes on changing in their car in front of my house,” Rogers told me on the phone last week. “Even with the signs, people still think they have some sort of right to take over my property for their commercial gain. Someone needs to come up with a better code of conduct,” he says.

You may be thinking: Why should Sean Rogers have the perfect house, the perfect door, in the perfect neighborhood in the perfect Coachella Valley town, and refuse to let anyone else (with their bikini catalog photographer or engagement portrait photographer in tow) enjoy it? What kind of monster is he?

If this sounds like you, reader, an exercise: Imagine you get a dog. You’re a person who absolutely loves dogs and one day, you find your dream dog. Now imagine that you take that dog for a walk in the park, let him frolic in your yard, and gradually, with perhaps some graciousness at first but no great effort on your part, thousands and thousands of people (mainly women in their 20s and 30s) fall head over heels in love with your dog.

Flattering! At least at first. And maybe, you think, there could even be some opportunity here, some way for you to cover the cost of dog food, or buy your dog a nice new collar and leash set, on account of his newfound fame. But you soon come to learn, not only is there no particular benefit to you in this decentralized, parasitic iteration of fame, there are dozens of strangers per afternoon (Rogers quotes “hundreds” per weekend) showing up at your home to admire your dog, on your lawn, outside your kitchen window, coming to pet him, to hold their irate screaming baby up next to him, to pose with him in a professional shoot for a national print ad campaign for the clothing brand Marine Layer, and you can’t say a darn thing about it. They don’t thank you, but they do get a little snippy when you ask them to give you a little space. At some point, you put up signs: Please, please don’t. And people not only ignore you, they throw a few insults. Why did you get such a cute dog if you don’t want anyone else to enjoy it?

What kind of monster are you?

Rogers first reached out to me a year ago, after Curbed published an essay I wrote about an influencer who once trolled my now-husband’s mom, who was then in a losing battle with cancer. The woman felt a sense of entitlement to the home as a backdrop for her work; she didn’t really stop to think about how the person who bought, owned, kept up, and lived in the house felt.

According to copyright law, no one owns the rights to the appearance of a home’s façade. If taken from the sidewalk or the street—so, without trespassing—capturing and even selling the images of Rogers’ and his partner’s door is legally within our rights as passers-by. To obey the signs posted is really just a gesture of respect. The question I asked in Curbed and the question Rogers wishes there were an answer is: Where do visitors, travelers, influencers, aesthetes, admirers of the pink door draw the line between being respectful and getting what they want? Whose happiness is more important: The person who just traveled all this way because she loves the door so so much (it is so cute!), or the person behind it?

Whose happiness is more important: The person who just traveled all this way because she loves the door…or the person behind it?

“A few years back, a ‘door tour’ started based off our house,” Rogers says. “It was fine the first few years. Now, I can’t escape it. I have to commit just so they staff a monitor to stand at the curb. If I said no, people would still stop even though it wasn’t on the tour, and without a monitor, trust me, people would be crawling everywhere. I’m basically hostage to a door. You just can’t make this shit up.”

The day I go make my own pilgrimage to witness the absurd phenomenon of #thatpinkdoor, Valentine’s weekend, it’s this magical day: Door Tour day. A docent in a blue t-shirt to match the cloudless blue sky stands outside beside the perfect green lawn and beneath the spindly stories-tall palms, fielding questions from Door Tourers on foot and bike (sometimes pastel tandem bikes—when I later Googled out of curiosity to see if the local bike rentals offered them in pink, lo, there they are in a designed graphic with the company’s logo featuring an illustration of #thatpinkdoor).

There is constant turnover, but a crowd of eight or so is consistently gathered on the sidewalk and street in front of Rogers’ house: a woman in a leopard print wrap and a fun hat with a baby carriage, a woman in pink capris and her photographer boyfriend, a couple on a tandem bike, two guys on foot (one in a perfectly pink-door pink shirt). People are taking turns approaching the door and getting their portrait in front of it. “Soak it up while you can,” the docent amicably cheers them on.

The door rattles a little. In a floor-to-ceiling window off to the side, two adolescent girls in hoodies and cut-offs appear between the glass and the white drapes, watching the mayhem as if from inside an aquarium. Occasionally they disappear and rattle or open and close the door again, when tourists get too close. This is their house (and presumably their parents’), at least for the weekend, after all.