The Crushing Weight of Restoration Hardware

I didn’t first see Restoration Hardware’s new 616-page fall catalog. I heard it. In the form of my 6-year-old, groaning as he tried to yank it out of our mailbox. It wasn’t cooperating. I had to pull it out for him, it was so heavy. And my God, I thought, what on Earth??

One can’t casually flip through this catalog. It takes a commitment. It sat on our kitchen counter for the weekend, goading me. I kept looking over my shoulder at it as I walked by. Because there’s no way I could ever live with any of this stuff as they have it styled.

It’s like the set of a music video, or Dr. Jekyl’s castle. It gives me the creeps.

This room gives me a "Clockwork Orange" feeling, like I'm about to be interrogated, or maybe worse.

I mean, besides the fact that I could never own any of it because it’s all too big for my 1939 colonial, and I don’t have 20-foot ceilings, and there’s no room in Arlington (or most near-DC neighborhoods) for a castle on a hill (cue the lightning).

And really, do I want a desk made from airplane wings?

Now, there is probably a place for this in some of the new two-story loft condos being built around here, but this all-metal-and-leather thing really leaves me cold.

But it does make sense, I guess, in the “Lunatic Fringe” context of Restoration Hardware’s CEO, Gary Friedman, whose opening letter is titled just that. He invokes Teddy Roosevelt, of all people, to sell furniture.

“Are we a part of the lunatic fringe?” he asks. “If it means, as President Roosevelt said … that ‘our place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat,’ then put us in that arena.”

And here we see Gary’s beauty shot, not as a Rough Rider going into battle, but as some sort of rebel figure standing in front of his wares.

And here is precisely where he’s got us. Even as most online commentary of this catalog has trended negative, none of that matters.  He had literally printed the textbook on why Restoration Hardware’s appallingly huge catalog of gray, beige and brown will be a hit, according to Creative Direct Marketing Group:

“Catalog marketing presents tremendous profit opportunities right now. Huge growth and new launches in both B2B and consumer catalog sectors are creating soaring profits for manufacturers, retailers and mail order marketers,” the group says.

The story goes on to cite Restoration Hardware’s winning strategy: “Restoration Hardware says direct sales through their multichannel catalog/internet strategy grew 59% last year.”

And as you read the catalog’s dreamy stories about the artisans who craft metalwork, reproduction antiques, rugs, and linen for the RH line, touted proudly as written “by independent journalists,” just know it’s all part of the plan:

“Describe your products in detail and draw your prospects into the product descriptions. Long copy will help you to create a mouthwatering desire for the product…whereas short copy just looks like a boring, uninvolving list of products,” the Creative Direct Marketing Group says. “A great strategy is to give your catalog added-value. Your catalog should be more than a laundry list of the products you offer. Use a theme and compelling copy to carry the reader through the catalog instead of random flipping.”

The company filed to go public on Friday, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, with a goal of raising up to $150 million. It hopes to reposition itself “from a niche brand into a leading home furnishings company, with plans to lure wealthy customers from designer showrooms and smaller, independent competitors,” the story says.

Hence, the Vogue-like catalog, and the six-page ad in the latest issue of Architectural Digest.

Can you even imagine the millions it’s paid for this direct mail effort? And a six-page ad in AD? Hmm, $50 grand might be on the low end if I were to take a guess, and you know that there will be more ads to come, so you can put a multiplier on that 50k.

And how do they pay for it? They have to build it into the price of their furniture, of course.

But as you heave this behemoth out of your mailbox, think of all the amazing independent furniture makers in our own area, who don’t advertise beyond word of mouth, where what you pay for is strictly in the quality and craftsmanship of the furniture, not some fancy marketing campaign.

Folks like Caleb Woodard, who built a chest for us and delivered it himself — and then took it back for a week because he had to make the finish more perfect. Or the artisans represented by Well Built on 14th Street, or the incredible Keith Fritz, who moved to Ohio for lower-priced real estate and labor but continues to drive to DC to deliver his award-winning pieces to clients. Or Art Woodstone Studio, where the husband-and-wife owners are also artists, or Modern Rust, which produces sustainable furniture from reclaimed wood. I could go on and on, and I’m missing dozens of talented artisans in the DC region from this paragraph, but you get my point.

“Depressing” and “sad” were frequent adjectives I’ve seen used online to describe the latest look at Restoration Hardware. But more depressing is just knowing that this big thing staring back at me from the kitchen counter is designed to turn me into their “prospect.”

But Gary, as sexy as you clearly are, I’m just not that into you.

 

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Comments

  1. Two quotes come to mind:

    Cada loco su tema. (Every crazy has his theme.) Spanish proverb.

    There’s a sucker born every minute. P.T. Barnum

  2. totally agree. looking for a well-made rug and i keep bumping into restoration hardware.

  3. Ladies and gentlemen, please calm down and take a seat! (A nice, over-scaled, neutral linen, down and feather filled, anyone?) I, as some others here, think the negativity focused on RH is a little over the top. They definitely have a “look”, but what label doesn’t? The catalog and store staging is to get attention, which it obviously has. I am a professional designer and I have several of their pieces in my own downtown loft. (And NO, not The Aviator Chair! HA!) And NO, it isn’t a million square feet with 100 foot ceiling heights! I find most RH pieces blend seamlessly with antiques AND modern pieces; including art. I also have Holly Hunt, Formations, Baker, Niermann Weeks and Marston Luce pieces, and I wouldn’t want a room furnished exclusively from these (High-end/professional) sources, either! I happen to like large scale “statement” pieces, so, I have no problem with that. I just don’t have or use a million pieces in one room.

    Furthermore, I find RH pieces very high quality, overall. I am surprised to hear others say they are not. I do know a few years ago some of their lighting fixtures were flimsy but that has changed.

    What I find amusing are the various color forecasters in this industry telling us this year orange is “in” and then next year purple is “in”. Who refurnishes their house every year? I would take the greige/beige/gray room for the long haul over an orange living room, any day of the week. I think I will save the orange and purple palette for clothing and accessories that I can toss or donate every year.

    Just to keep this “real”, I did find the catalog very wasteful and silly, particularly in these “green” times. The mailroom of my condo was stuffed to the gills with these, and, of course, the trash chute the next day…

  4. BRAVO!!!! And the comment before mine is written by a Restoration Hardware employee! Other companies are NOT copying them…They {RH} are the ones mass producing in China knocking-off real designers and antique dealers. Gary Friedman’s ego will sink them and he won’t go down with the ship because he and his design {aka knock-off team} has no ethics.—–just my opinion

    P.S. That aviator chair will be as beautiful as a lava lamp in 4 years.

  5. I’m shaking my head at the number of negative comments about RH. I understand that independent furniture makers can be great, but they are often ridiculously overpriced (something you claim is a fault of RH). For the price that you pay a designer and buy custom furniture, you can likely buy a lot more from RH. I admit I’m biased; I have a fair amount of RH furniture. It is all very well-built, and I have no issues with any of it. Customer service has been great. And I don’t mind the wait times for some of the custom pieces. I find it ridiculous that so many people incessantly whine about how long it takes to get some of the furniture. I swear, some people just love to complain about anything!

    I agree that RH has a lot of neutral colors (an understatement). But this is one thing that I like about RH — I can decorate with color using other elements. RH does have some pretty cool pieces, and yes, they miss the mark on some others. A great example is the aviator chair. I never thought I would love a chair so much. Everyone who ever comes into my house thinks it’s the coolest chair they’ve ever seen.

    So I just think that many of you are going overboard about RH. Yes, the look isn’t for everyone, but it is a great furniture company, and if it wasn’t, then there wouldn’t be some many other companies constantly copying them. I just think the criticism is a little over the top — just my opinion.

  6. Don, thanks for the comment — love your final quote! — Jennifer

  7. I’ve been living abroad for some time now and stumbled into a Restoration Hardware on a recent visit, which led to a website visit which led to reading the catalog. It is an insane thing and I can’t imagine the time, money and staff required to pull it off.

    But for all of it’s perfection and polish, they couldn’t manage to give me a simple fabric sample when I was in their store. And pointed questions about the construction of some items as well as where the materials were from sourced from came back with blank stares.

    Contract furniture prices with a fast food attention to detail.

  8. agreed!! 😀

  9. Elizabeth, at the end of the day the most important thing is filling your home with pieces that make you smile when you walk through the door. Who cares where they came from?? I do agree, RH does have some nice stuff, but they need to get over themselves!

  10. so many typos, sorry!!

  11. I LOVED the article but hate it at the same time. So well written and much of it very true. The marketing, the glamour shot of Gary and the oversized pieces. I’ve done so much research for new furniture for our 1700 sq ft split and found some great pieces which are constructed the way good, long lasting furniture should be.

    The pieces we’ve decided on for our rooms which are drowned with natural light are:
    http://www.restorationhardware.com/catalog/product/product.jsp?productId=prod1679322&cm_ps=modal_add_to_cart-_-none-_-other_items_you_may_like&categoryId=search#

    http://www.restorationhardware.com/catalog/product/product.jsp?productId=prod1161993&cm_ps=modal_add_to_cart-_-none-_-other_items_you_may_like&categoryId=search

    http://www.restorationhardware.com/catalog/product/product.jsp?productId=prod2140076

    http://www.restorationhardware.com/catalog/product/product.jsp?productId=prod2110536&cm_ps=modal_add_to_cart-_-none-_-other_items_you_may_like&categoryId=search

    http://www.restorationhardware.com/catalog/product/product.jsp?productId=prod1700118&cm_ps=modal_add_to_cart-_-none-_-other_items_you_may_like&categoryId=cat1590023

    http://www.restorationhardware.com/catalog/product/product.jsp?productId=prod690918&cm_ps=modal_add_to_cart-_-none-_-other_items_you_may_like&categoryId=cat150001

    The prices are outrageous and we are far from wealthy. However I love so many of RH’s pieces and was pleased to find things that are not so terrible priced. I’ve looked everywhere, macys, bloomies, lord & taylor, ETSY for hand-crafted artisan pieces, crate & barrel, pottery barn, west elm, home decorators, overstock and MORE and the prices are really all not that different. Especially with the 20% off that they are offering this week, which by the way is not to get rid of stuff that isn’t selling. It’s that time of year and most companies do this. I think that RH pays so much attention to detail and quality.

    However, yes there are some ridiculous pieces like the HUUUUUGE tufted daybed and the scissor lift tables and the aviator collection.

    My husband and I love the store and their things and plan to add color through pillows and rugs and accessories.

    I like the neutral look and their style simply for its timelessness. I purposely are looking for things that will not go out of style.

    Though, now am feeling discouraged from placing the order and really sad 🙁

  12. Great post! I just got the 20 lbs of Resto catalogs and almost fell over at the sheer heft of them! I immediately called the company and asked them to NEVER mail me anything again. I think it’s gross and wasteful to kill so many trees.

    While I think Resto makes beautiful drapes for the price, I think their furniture is just strange – the scale is way too large, the Belgian linen look will be outdated before the white glove delivery service arrives at the door, and the blatant knockoffs of genius designs like the Egg Chair show a lack of imagination. The Gary Friedman photos and letter are pretentious. His Tom-Ford-sexy-gaze meets Ralph-Lifshitz (his real name)-Lauren-faux-rugged-wardrobe seem more appropriate for a fashion spread, but don’t inspire me to buy the furniture at all.

    The whole thing rings especially hollow since Gary Friedman had to resign due to allegations of an inappropriate relationship with one of his employees.

    RH is in need of a major brand renovation by someone with a true design sensibility and an appreciation of authentic creativity. Hope this Bay Area company can rise to the challenge! I wish them well!

  13. Overpriced, however, Restoration Hardware furniture is beautiful. You either fall in love or just hate.

  14. Once again, I yawn at the expanse of grey, brown, and beige.

  15. Julie Janis says:

    Got the hunk of book again today. Ridiculous!!!!! Not even sure how I got on their list. Called to have our name removed only to get through all the sets of directions and find the person’s mailbox too full to take more messages. Wonder why? They must be bombarded with requests.

  16. Jennifer says:

    Ray, thanks for the great comment. For the record, however, I have NEVER purchased an IKEA dresser for the reasons you state. Never will, either!

  17. Why all the negative vibes. Gary Friedman does not/did not work for BOBO he simply loves their designs and buys from them. RH has decided to go after the niche market/markets where there is money and they are having great success with their concept. I find their quality to be extremely high and I love all the airplane metal being RE-used for interior functions. Anything in this day and age being reused is always a good thing. It was simply just better made and higher quality and therefore merits re-use. Do you think they will re-use that Ikea dresser you just bought. We have become a disposable society and the only pockets those items are lining are off shore. I would much rather have a 20 year old Mercedes than a new Chevy. What RHN is doing took a lot of courage and smarts and money and should be rewarded not condemned.

  18. They just opened a new RH at my mall in Plano. It has to be the ugliest store I have ever seen. There is no lighting, all the furniture is oversized and ugly. There are crazy accessories, etc. I know for sure no one in Plano will buy a stick of furniture from that dungeon. I looked at some rating web sites, every single comment from anyone who purchased anything from RH complained about poor quality and extremely poor service. Who loaned these people money to burn on stores that are so bad they are laughable? Reading above, I am not alone in my opinions.

  19. After reading other comments, I realize that the lack of color is what makes my eyes glaze over with RH. The astronomical prices keep me from even a queen sized sheet for my bed.
    I do like a lot of their items individually, and wish we all lived in houses that are as huge as magazines seem to think we live in.
    Unless you live in a huge warehouse/loft or an enormous estate, you’re gonna
    have a bad time if you buy furniture from RH.
    As with all fashion/furniture/trendy magazines, ‘real life’ is just like the Real Housewives of New York…a place where everyone is fake, conceited, and they really believe they’re better than everyone else when they buy $500 bath towels.
    Even if I won the lottery, I wouldn’t buy into the RH lifestyle.

  20. I agree!!! plus…as they perceive you get no where…Its a uneducated BS making little money but giving the NAME for the company, but does Gary see it….well he is 4 ft tall so probably not, and has a tanning room in his house that is on vibrant celtic orange…

  21. Pam, love the “greige nation” term! Thanks for sharing.

  22. Resist the Greige Nation. I also call this “vampire decor.” Ridiculous and will be hideously dated in no time.

  23. Jersey Girl says:

    Was shocked by the new decor in their Short Hills store–the words “dark dungeon” kept playing over and over in my head. You really can’t shop for anything in there because you can’t see anything. I went in for some towels and found them eventually but it really wasn’t worth the effort and I walked out empty handed.

    I think the darkness is there to hide the crap quality of the furniture. It’s all Indonesian fakes, same or worse quality than Pier 1 and IKEA. I see this kind of stuff all the time at the NYC wholesale shows–and his prices are about 6x wholesale…that’s some markup!

    What a failure this is going to be…already they’re marking things down. I just received a 20% off everything offer in today’s mail. No thank you.

  24. The worst thing about all catalogs from RH are the glamor shots of their CEO. His ridiculous ego shots make me want to puke on his furniture, by not buy it.

  25. I love Restoration Hardware and especially love the new collection. In walking through their stores they look like an art gallery with the lighting on the featured products and the rest of the store dimly lit.

    The muted colours are reminiscent of old world colours. I call many pieces in this collection “Steampunk” which is hugely popular right now. Popped into a store here in Toronto today and I am purchasing the Lancaster Sofa” and the “French Library shelf”

    LOVE IT

  26. Jennifer,

    First time reader from Pittsburgh . . . I’m visiting my parents in NY this weekend, and they received this HUGE catalog today (complete with ripped cover, as it had to be crammed into their post office box) . . . my mother hasn’t been in a RH recently – – we used to visit the Alexandria store on visits to see my sister in D.C. – – and so she was shocked to see the major and unfortunate changes. I’m so glad to know that I’m not the only one who thinks the catalog’s styling is creepy. Over 600 pages and NO color! Truly, it defies logic.

    Well written article!

    Jennifer

  27. I haven’t seen the catalog yet. But, I like the style, just as we have feminine rooms filled with pink and flowers – this is so macho, almost like being in a factory.

    The first time in the show room is like being in a museum-(not sure about the quality for the price). And the oversize is too large for most. But, there are many creative artistic ideas to be had from just a walk through, and I would like to look through the phone book size catalog-there has got to be some interesting items in it.

    joyceg (on twitter)

  28. Tara Bradford says:

    P.S. The CEO quoting Roosevelt about his furniture line? Ridiculous and a bit insulting. It’s all too contrived. And who has the kind of space needed to house such oversize pieces??!!

  29. Tara Bradford says:

    Joe Currie, I thought the old Banana Republic catalogs were works of art! I had a Restoration Hardware sofa that went from San Francisco to Santa Fe to London to Paris (where I finally abandoned it, before moving to Amsterdam) and I always liked RH’s aesthetic/blend of modern and respect for vintage and tradition. But this look appears to be overstyled and lacks warmth and the appearance of comfort.

  30. FAB post Jennifer…thanks for giving us the real inside story. My sentiments exactly.

    Kate Smith (Sensational Color) and I happened upon their newly remodeled “brown” showroom in Alexandria this spring and our jaws dropped. A bold move for sure but I remarked to Kate, “This will be the end of them”.

    The palette, doesn’t bother me as much as the scale of their pieces. Was thinking the Mcmansion era was over.

    Thnx for having the courage to post..needless to say, I WILL NOT be buying any of THAT stock.

  31. Thanks Brooke — I missed that comment about antiques. Sheesh. Where does Gary think he gets his inspirations from?

  32. Nate, thank you! I’m a bit breathless about the AD rate — so much higher than I ever imagined!

  33. Great article. Just wanted to say a full page ad in Architectural Digest runs $124 thousand per page. Slight discounts are available for multiple ads. The RH spread is easily 1/2 million ad spend.
    http://www.condenastmediakit.com/ad/genrates.cfm

    I agree whole-heartedly with your assessment. These rooms are cold, flipping through this behemoth (instead of going to gym) and not once have I been stopped in my tracks. Sorry RH, but there’s no “oooh, I love that” happening in this pastiche.

    I also applaud your touting local designers and craftsmen. So many true artists struggling in this economy. Restoration Hardware manufacturers primarily in Asia. Where possible buy local!

    Maybe someone could make a desk or chair or something useful out of restoration hardware catalogs! Clearly there’s enough raw material none of us will be using.

    Thanks again for the great article.

  34. hi five
    rh lost me when i read in the catalogue that they felt antiques were irrelevant. really? where would they be without them? they have ripped off all of my favorites and created “dead around the eyes” copies. i think rh is nice place to visit, but i would want to live there

    xo
    brooke

  35. Jennifer, I can’t tell you have validated I feel after reading this. I posted my own entry about the catalog (http://www.smallchichome.com/2011/09/lets-talk-about-restoration-hardware.html ) and checked RH’s Facebook page to see what others were saying about the “sourcebook.” While there were a number of comments about the waste, super-size scale, and lack of color, most were wildly positive.

    Perhaps there are more people living in McMansions that I previously thought. Goodness knows most of that stuff wouldn’t even fit in the door of the 785 sq foot condo that is Maison Small & Chic.

  36. Annie, bossy color says:

    Jennifer – SING IT! They keep getting more and more ridiculous. Bossy color blog’s readers (and I, of course!) had a lot to say earlier this year, w/ the debut of the “Aviator Wing Desk.” Kills me.
    http://blog.bossycolor.com/2011/02/dear-restoration-hardware.html

    Thanks for the great post!

  37. Glad I’m not the only one thinking what you so eloquently write as do others.
    The heaviness in color (or lack thereof) and in bulk of these interior spaces is overbearing and just brings me down. “Clockwork Orange” couldn’t have said it better. I knew there was something that this reminded me of and you’re spot on in your description; although, the orange is sadly lacking… Bring back the color RH, please!

    Good running into you Jennifer, btw. Remind me about an upcoming Nate Berkus airing per your recent post. I may have news to share + more Mary Douglas Drysdale Signature Color photos. — Ashley

  38. Jennifer…
    (I am standing and applauding)

    Thank you for such a GREAT ARTICLE!!!
    It too scares me that the main stream of America have had a 616 book shoved down their throats and are being told “this is what you must buy”
    Is ridicules and sad!

    Just last month, I had a new client purchase 2 rooms from RH prior to me being hired as their designer. Once they asked my option and
    Saw my design plan I had for them on the rest of the home, they “somehow” talked RH to “pick it all up”….and now we start a real design plan for these two rooms!

    Again thank you for this article!!!!

    Cheers!

    david anthony chenault
    D2/ decorium design!

  39. Update: I just heard from a designer friend today that Gary Friedman used to be with Bobo Intriguing Objects (http://bobointriguingobjects.com/bobo_web/BoBo.html) which ironically is a company I’ve always admired. I guess he took all his design copyrights and — Yes, Suzanne! — supersized them into what RH is now. My friend and I agreed that Bobo’s lines are more pleasing because they mix warm antiques with the harder industrial edges, and I think also the scale is not so strange and huge.

  40. Gary Friedman has probably one of the biggest egos in the business…..I’ve been saying it for some time now, this is one big, disastrous markdown waiting to happen.

  41. Jennifer, I soooo agree with you!! I loved your “clockwork orange” description –you really nailed that one! I, personally, am so over the whole gray and beige thing….

  42. Ugh! I was looking at it with a friend and we both commented on the very small venn diagram of people who a) had a space big enough for this furniture, b)liked the furniture and c) could afford this furniture. It’s got to be a tiny number. And think of all of the customers that they’ve lost by moving to this style.

  43. Right on! I don’t even bother to look anymore. Not only is the supersizing ridiculous but the styling is so extreme that one would easily tire of it in a very short time. Thanks for calling it like it is.

  44. On the plus side, with phone books getting thinner, you can use the new RH catalog as a doorstop, booster, or just stand on it to reach those upper shelves

  45. Laura Jens Sisino says:

    Jennifer,
    Thanks for keeping it real and reminding us of the true fine craftsman that we are surrounded by by sharing some fabulous links. The service and quality you received from Caleb Woodard and other’s like him is not anything that would be experienced with a big box store like RH.

  46. You are so funny, what a great article. That’s exactly what I thought when I got my copy; oh lordy, how much did they pay for this? Reminds me of the old Banana Republic and J Peterman catalogs.