A brief meditation on the Restoration Hardware catalog

By Caitlin Kelly

And so it arrived — all 4.5 inches of it — and all seven editions:

Have you seen it?


For those of you living beyond the U.S., RH offers one-stop shopping for all manner of weathered, patinated objects, from enormous replicas of German lighting and railway clocks to a wall-hung glowing ampersand. (Do I really want to sleep beside a piece of punctuation?)

The tone is regal, imperial, seigneurial — and the scale of many of the objects and furniture designed for people who inhabit extremely large homes and estates. Their catalog named “small spaces” offers tableaux named for a Chelsea penthouse and Tribeca loft, each of whose entry point is about $2 million, in cash.

It’s exhaustingly aspirational, and references abound to “landed gentry” and “boarding school”, clearly meant to appeal to people who have experience of neither. (As Downton Abbey’s Lady Mary said, witheringly, to her self-made suitor, Sir Richard Carlisle: “Your lot buys things. Mine inherits them.”)

What to make of it all?

1) Fly into shopping frenzy, wanting allofitrightnow!

2) Read the descriptions in wonder and dismay:

“Crafted with Italian Berkshire leather…” — it’s an ice bucket, people. And it’s $199.

3) Sneer at the hopeless addiction to more stuff it inculcates and rewards

4) Dog-ear a few of the pages, however guiltily, because some of it — yes — is really gorgeous, like this bed, oddly featured in the baby and child catalog.

5) Wonder why our possessions are deemed “treasured” and whether or not they even should be; (see: Buddhist teachings and the ideal of non-attachment)

6) Consider attending an auction to watch the detritus of a hundred other lives, wondering when this stuff will end up there, too

7) Might children raised in these formal and fully-designed rooms, amid thousands of dollars worth of wood and linen and velvet, emerge into the real world of independence and employment with overly hopeful notions of pay and working conditions? Let alone college dorm facilities?

8) If a baby projectile vomits or poops or pees onto the immaculate washed linen and velvet beds, chairs and cribs shown here, how elegant will they really look (or smell)? Much as I love the idea of refined aesthetics (not pink or plastic everything), this seems a little…excessive.

9) I love their restrained neutral palette — pale gray, cream, brown, white, black — and their industrial designs for lighting. But if I were six or eight or 14? Maybe not so much. Your kids have decades ahead of them to stare at wire baskets and faux-Dickensian light fixtures.

10) Have you ever noticed the echt-WASP names included in these catalogs, as would-be monograms or examples of personalization? You won’t ever find a Graciela or Jose or Ahmed or Dasani here, my dears. Instead: Addison, Brady, Lucas, Mason, Ethan, Grace, Charlotte, Chloe, Sarah. Such a 19th-century white-bread version of “reality” ! Am I the only one who finds this pretentious, silly — and very outdated marketing? Many people of color have money to spend on these items as well. My husband’s name is Jose and he’s got great taste and good credit. Include him, dammit!

11) OK, OK. I admit it. I love this chair. After a long crappy day, even a putative adult might enjoy the soft and furry embrace of a stuffed elephant.

12) “Understated grandeur” and “Directoire-style daybed” — in a nursery?!

13) People put taxidermied animal heads on your walls to prove that: a) you  know how to shoot accurately; b) you own guns; c) you can afford to spend time in some foreign land on safari; d) you enjoy killing things; e) you have no shame showing this to others. Putting up faux images of wood, paper and metal like these ones seems a little beside the point.

14) Do you really want to eat your food with a replica of the cutlery used aboard the Titanic, and named for it? What’s next — the Hindenberg armchair?

15) As someone addicted to great fabric, I do think these linen tablecloths are both well-priced and hard to find. And their glass and metal bath accessories — dishes, canisters and jars — are handsome enough to use on your desk or in a kitchen.

16) Dimensions? It’s a total time-suck to have to go on-line to determine furniture sizes.

17) For $25, this is the chic-est beach towel you’ll see this season. (I bought one of theirs a few years ago and the quality is excellent.)

18) Did the designer or copywriter even snicker when including a $139 “industrial style” basket marked “Stuff”?

21 thoughts on “A brief meditation on the Restoration Hardware catalog

  1. Caitlin,
    Fascinating post! I love your thoughts on the staggering sums spent on items of faux history – and the upper-crust, lily-white names that seem from a time warp. Their idea of “small spaces” is hilarious – anything smaller than a manor home, apparently.

    1. Thanks, Jan. It’s a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. But I really find these non-ethnic names a serious turn-off and would even if my husband was not Hispanic — some of the wealthiest individuals now (i.e. their market?) have names from a much wider racial and ethnic world than you’ll ever see reflected in their pages. I just don’t get it at all.

      And given the growing popularity of “tiny homes”, I wonder how big the market can be…but probably for people with multiple homes. Whole ‘nother world..

  2. themodernidiot

    Haha nailed it! But they’re totally worth it. What a great way to blow a few lazy weekend hours. Same reason we flip through the fashion magazines, I suppose. Who actually wears those things without laughing?

    1. I really enjoy fashion magazines and can usually worm a few trendy things into my current wardrobe. But 90% of it is for size 00s with $$$$$$$$$ to blow.

      Today’s NYT business section has a story that should be a parody, about people warring for access to $20,000 Hermes handbags. FFS.

  3. I love this post! I do find things I like — I mean, those linen tablecloths are sublime! But with enough hunting, you can find better quality vintage linens online or at tag sales. I do like that their linens are clearly described, in terms of fabric, thread-count and weight, unlike so many other shops that overcharge us for 200-thread count percales!
    I’m more of a mason jar girl, myself, but admit the decorative lids on the glass canisters are lovely.
    Anyway, as I was sayin, I do like certain things in it, but the overall essence of the catalog is blah. Gray, tan, white, more gray, a little black, some taupe, more gray…
    Pages upon pages of the same colors, regardless of its “essence” leave me happy to live in a realer world, with more diversity, plenty of choices, and a broader color palette. (Not to mention the elitist names, as you’ve pointed out. I could roll my eyes for days, lol!)
    I appreciate a whitewashed piece, painted furniture, reclaimed wood, white walls, and wrought-iron as much as the next girl, but not an entire catalog/house of it!

    1. Thanks for weighing in…I wonder how many shoppers (?) take it too literally, and fill their homes with all of it at once. I like the mix of colors and finishes, but also prefer a less curated approach where everything matches.

      My favorite design sources are French, English and Canadian design magazines, which are often bolder. The French, especially, are really adept at tossing in a gorgeous eggplant purple or acid yellow lampshade or throw or rug to mix things up and leaven it — and mixing contemporary pieces in with antiques. Much wittier.

      1. Right? I love French country. I like homes that give you a feeeeeeeling of style, without screaming at you about it. Less curated is exactly the phrase.
        And last week, I read a piece about the power of aubergine, and yes, so much that.

      2. It’s a great color and a really interesting accent.

        I’m teaching a class next week in NYC to interior designers on “telling your story” — it will be fun and challenging to combine my two worlds!

  4. i am always a bit taken aback and fascinated/horrified when seeing this catalog. it’s almost so over the top that it could be satire ala the onion. i do like nice fabrics and muted colors, but i have more of a bohemian, colorful, and eclectic sense of taste.

  5. Ha! It’s all so true, which is why I chuckled all the way through this post. My iron bed is from there, and I’m currently ogling over a leather couch from RH, so I can’t say that I don’t admire some it, too. However, when a side-table the diameter of a small pizza is almost the same price as the leather couch, something is amiss! Mixing things up is much more aesthetically pleasing anyways. I don’t want my home to look like an overpriced catalogue — nothing unique or interesting about that!

    1. I love your RH bed! 🙂

      I really like some of their stuff but also find some of their prices absurd — there’s a “shaving mirror” for $500 in their catalog I found (19th century original) for $16 at Brimfield. I assume it is for people with a shit-ton of money and no time to spend it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s