Steve Jobs’s quest for perfection was pursued down to the smallest details. It made him the father of some of the greatest products and interfaces in computer history.
As Walter Isaacson’s new biography on Steve Jobs makes clear, though, it could also sometimes make him nightmarish to live with… the sort of obsessive who could make even the most mundane seemingly household decisions into maddening, endless debates.
For most of his life, Steve Jobs lived a spartan lifestyle, and his home was never furnished with more than the barest essentials: a chest of drawers and a mattress in his bedroom, a card table and some folding chairs in his dining room for when guests came over.
But when Steve Jobs wed Laurene Powell and found himself soon to be a father, Jobs had to make some accommodations for married life.
Choosing simple furniture, however, turned out to be a miserable task, thanks to Steve’s obsession with details. For example, when it came time to decorate their living room, Steve and Laurene couldn’t agree upon a sofa.
“We spoke about furniture in theory for eight years,” said Powell. “We spent a lot of time asking ourselves, ‘What is the purpose of a sofa?’”
Jobs’s obsession with perfection also extended to household appliances. According to a 1996 article by Wired, Steve and Laurene spent more time discussing what country to buy their washing machine from than most married couples spend discussing the name of their first born child.
“We didn’t have a very good one so we spent a little time looking at them,” he told Wired contributing editor Gary Isaac Wolf. “It turns out that the Americans make washers and dryers all wrong. The Europeans make them much better – but they take twice as long to do clothes! It turns out that they wash them with about a quarter as much water and your clothes end up with a lot less detergent on them. Most important, they don’t trash your clothes. They use a lot less soap, a lot less water, but they come out much cleaner, much softer, and they last a lot longer.”
“We spent some time in our family talking about what’s the trade-off we want to make,” Steve continued. “We ended up talking a lot about design, but also about the values of our family. Did we care most about getting our wash done in an hour versus an hour and a half? Or did we care most about our clothes feeling really soft and lasting longer? Did we care about using a quarter of the water? We spent about two weeks talking about this every night at the dinner table. We’d get around to that old washer-dryer discussion. And the talk was about design.”
Powell seems to have been a pretty eager and willing party for these discussions, but I think it’s safe to say that as much as most of us love Steve, and as great of a boon as his quest for perfection has been for the world at large, few of us would have liked to live with him.