Mindbender: New Restoration Hardware catalog shakes me to my core

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I’ve practically built a career badmouthing Restoration Hardware, a company that hit a low point when it offered a $100 coupon celebrating its unanimous approval of last fall’s bank bailout that somehow managed to come across as simultaneously clueless, condescending and pandering.  But I can overlook virtually any character flaw when there’s some kind of redeeming quality; unfortunately, Restoration Hardware’s offering has long felt staid and boring.

A caveat, I think they’ve always done a bang-up job with the bath stuff, especially the lighting and internally lit brushed nickel medicine cabinets.  They make me feel pretty.  And the folks who worked at Chicago’s North Avenue store have always been very friendly.

But something happened when I looked through the new catalog, a certain spark.  It looked different, fresher, the gorgeous photography imparting a sexy glow upon the many vintage-industrial inspired products .  As I paged through one “new” product after the next, I began quivering with excitement (practically). And containing myself proved particularly difficult when I laid eyes on the Buckle chair, which they describe as “equestrian inspired.”  Frankly the aptly dubbed chair makes me feel like a jockey, and I’m itching to ride it.  So to speak.  Finally, their new lighting is so industrial, so hulking; it’s vintage except it’s shiny and new.  By the time I finished the catalog, even the steamer trunk furniture looked good.

Continued after a peek at my trusty steed . . .

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The equestrian-inspired Buckle chair

Of course I felt guilty as soon as I’d finished my post-catalog cigarette.  As somebody who’s long advocated for people to incorporate vintage items into home decor, how could I live with myself after spending so much time reading that cursed, glossy Restoration Hardware catalog?  I’ve always suspected that when large chain stores start offering products first developed or made popular by smaller businesses, the outcome reveals the David vs. Goliath story for what it is, a fairytale.

But maybe I’m wrong!!  Maybe it’s OK to buy those rustic looking stools from Restoration Hardware instead of checking out Andersonville’s Roost first?  Maybe buying from the big boys helps everybody and the benefits, like, trickle down or something?  The answer boils down to what such an introduction does to the overall size of the potential market and how it impacts demand, exemplified by the old Starbucks question: Did the Seattle coffee behemoth’s explosive growth really hurt independent shops?  Or did the corporate giant just hurt the weaker shops while creating awareness that expanded the overall pie for everybody?  Only a paid journalist spends time determining if there exists a consensus among experts based on the available data.

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Oh who am I kidding?  While I’m concerned about our nation’s vintage, antique and salvage dealers, my true concern about these slick shiny “salvaged” finds springs from a far more selfish place.  Because when particularly trendy products hits the chains, it means the clock is a-tickin’ on their coolness factor, and I hate having that awkward conversation.  You know the one?  Where you try to convince new friends that you’ve always loved using vintage stoplights as floor lamps and in fact, did NOT buy them at Bed, Bath and Beyond.

So don’t do what I did.  Be strong.  While it’s entirely possible you’ll never find that perfect vintage industrial pendant to hang in your dining room, you’ll enjoy the hunt (assuming you’re Buddhist).  Resist the urge to make your place instantly gorgeous by ordering brand new “vintage” lighting and furniture from the big cats.  Instead surrender to the chase, to the thrilling weekends scouring antique shops in the middle of nowhere. Thrill to the possibility of spending cold rainy November afternoons at country auctions.  Relish the moment you find that vintage bus depot sign, only to see the tag says SOLD.

It’s ironic, but worth it.  Because if you really want that special vintage piece; if you really put it out there and share your intentions with the universe, you’ll find it (maybe).  And you deserve to be unique and distinct and special, unshackled from the chains that bind us with their uniformity.  We all do, I think.

But damn it if that’s not one hot catalog.

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8 Responses to “Mindbender: New Restoration Hardware catalog shakes me to my core”

  1. I totally agree – the new RH catalog was pretty awesone and induced a kind of “Want, want, want. Gimme, gimme, gimme. Mine, mine, mine.” But, I also agree that while it’s certainly easy to to buy this stuff online at 2am while wearing my pj’s, it’s definitely more fun to scrounge around flea markets and salvage places to find a truly unique piece.

  2. Unique – One of a Kind – “Never seen one like it” Something RH has coopted and made into a commodity available by the gross. Which has made it boring. A cheap decor date.

    It’s still DWR and Crate and Barrel for the over 35 crowd.

    I hear the quality of the faux vintage industrial lighting is quite good (low quality being a pet peeve of mine) but it lacks soul. Soul in objects can only be achieved through time and experience, it can’t be faked. And anyways, don’t most of us collect to have something that no one else has?

    One of our friends pointed out that what bothered him most is the new pieces are usually more expensive than the originals anyways.
    My vote is with “more fun to scrounge..”

  3. Decorator Dave 24. Aug, 2009 at 11:24 am

    As a self proclaimed ‘GOD OF STYLE’ I constantly feel like my personal style gets stolen and regenerated years later in a bland way for consumption by the style needy yuppies of the world. I was doing industrial shit stirring machines and dolly carts coffee tables way before RH gave their stamp of approval. I wonder if they will be doing the official RH taxidermy collection for winter?

  4. Agree that the styling of the new catalog looks better. My disappointment with their products in general stems from the lack of quality and authenticity. A few years back they stopped carrying their vast variety of unique and hard to find cleaning products and replaced them with their own knock-offs. Many of the Italian and domestic textiles they used to carry are also gone–– a lot of the bedding has the “made in China” label now. The same goes for much of their upholstered pieces, hardware, and lighting. They used to source it from smallish manufacturers in the US, but not much anymore. The quality has really diminished.

  5. Restoration Hardware seems to have embraced the ‘everything old is new again’ mentality with a twist. Using reclaimed woods, lighter toned, rustic finishes, classic design icons like wing chairs and balustrade accents. Different for them don’t you thing?

  6. Becky Elliott 06. Nov, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    Well, on a different note (not pertaining to the look of their catalog), I cannot seem to get a purchase from this store and have it turn out right. We ordered a leather ottoman in Dec. of 2007 and they sent the wrong size. After waiting 45 days for the first one to arrive, it took anoter 30 days to get the one we actually ordered. Before that, we ordered a queen polished nickel bed, and it took nearly 6 months to get it. Just this past week, I went into the store to purchase a lamp and shade, since they were having their lighting sale. Neither of the two items I wanted were in the store, so they placed an order to have it shipped to me. They sent the lamp, but no shade and charged me shipping, even though the store had told me there was no shipping and put no shippping on my copy of the order. Turns out they didn’t order the shade and by the time I went back into the store to resolve this, they were sold out (except for the dirty floor samples that had finger smears on them.) The sales assoc. then suggested another lamp shade, which were now not on sale. When I expressed my dissappointment in the price difference, she handed me a “friends and family” coupon for next week and suggested I wait to purchase it then. Now today I find out that the same assoc. decided to order this lamp shade for me and used my credit card number from my previous order placed in the store 2 weeks ago. Even though she says she’s given me the “discount”, I have no copy of the order, no comfirmation email, and based on the price that has been charged to my credit card, they have charged me shipping – all without my permission. Why can’t these idiots in one of the most expensive retail “chain” stores get anything right? Now I have to return this item back to the store to get a refund. This makes me want to NEVER shop at this store. (And don’t tell me it is because they only pay their employess $10/hour – that is no excuse!)

  7. Actually Becky, they only pay us $9/hour.

  8. I’ve been using old finds for years, my unfinished oak floors with wool rug thrown over…hope chest/entertainment stand…in an odd way, I felt their catalog validated my own opinion. Not that I should need validation, but its easy to get caught up in the everything should match and be shiny and new mentality.

    Now I don’t think I’ll be spending $2600 on reclaimed wood island, but it sure is fun to admire!