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?

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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”?

The kitchen renovation: Part One

By Caitlin Kelly

When you’ve waited 25 years for something, it’s easy to get just a little obsessed.

The roasting spit in this European medieval ki...
The roasting spit in this European medieval kitchen was driven automatically by a propeller the black cloverleaf-like structure in the upper left. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We start our kitchen renovation soon, and the next four to six weeks will be a crazy time. The fridge will be in the entrance hall, for a while, (called a foyer here, pronounced foy-ur). We’ll make toast and coffee and juice in the dining room and, hopefully, grill or eat cold food on our balcony.

As we get ready, packing up all our cookware and tableware, we’re giving away a lot of stuff we haven’t been using or are sick of, so it’s a fresh start in other ways as well.

The galley kitchen is small — eight feet long with a 39-inch wide floor between counters.

Our sexy new Italian stove, a 30-inch gas Bertazzoni, comes with a free microwave, an item I have never owned or wished to own, so maybe we’ll use that as well.

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If you’re thinking of tiling a large space, photograph the tiles, then make enough color copies  — preferably to scale (i.e. their actual size) — to fill that space so you can visualize it.

Deciding to renovate is scary! It means making a big leap of faith — that Jose will keep his job, that we’ll be alive and healthy enough to enjoy it, that we’ll realize some of that investment if/when we sell the apartment.

It also means making a shitload of spend-y and permanent decisions: tile, counters, sink, faucet, flooring, walls, lighting, appliances. No wonder so many people freak out or hire a designer or just choose all-white as the safest default.

We’ve chosen, (yes, I’ll post lots of photos), a light green granite for the counters, a copper sink and oiled bronze faucet, these Restoration Hardware sconces and two sorts of tile, cream and an accent that is pale green, rust and cream.

The granite will be honed, which gives it a matte finish. I hate the glare and reflection when working on polished stone in a kitchen; we love it in our bathroom.

We’re skipping upper cabinets in favor of open shelves, also from Restoration Hardware. They’re about one third the cost and I just don’t like the hemmed-in feeling of cabinets.

Here’s the Farrow & Ball colors — cream for the walls, green for the cabinets.

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The floor will be oak, either laid diagonally, (which visually expands the room) or herringbone, which I really prefer.

We’ve bought a Bosch dishwasher, super-quiet — I work a few feet from the kitchen and will be happy not to hear its noise.

In the mid 1990s I studied at the New York School of Interior Design, (and got an A in our color class, from our terrifyingly demanding Swiss teacher.) I did well and learned a great deal, so feel a little more confident than the average bear.

I know, for example, that red and green are complementary colors (think Christmas, but different) so the tones of red/rust and green will work together harmoniously. The cream will be variegated in tone and rough-edged but a neutral. We’ll choose the wall and cabinet colors after everything is installed and I can see how it all relates; we’re doing that work ourselves to save money.

But still…

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A few things that have brought us this far:

— Reading shelter books — aka home design and renovation magazines — for years and creating a highly detailed file of photos for reference, everything from styles of electrical outlets to possible color schemes. When it came time to buy, I didn’t necessarily buy the exact items but I had a visual vocabulary and a coherent scheme. The look I wanted is English country kitchen but a bit rough-edged.

— Reading a wide array of design/home/cookware catalogs for inspiration and ideas.

My Farrow & Ball color chart. We already have F & B colors in our living room/hallway (Gervase Yellow) and bathroom (mustard yellow.)

— Carefully examining others’ kitchens and talking to friends who recently renovated about what they chose and why. Learn from others’ mistakes!

— Knowing our $25,000 budget would be blown before we began, by about $6,000. Fuck it. I’m happy chasing more assignments when I see the results in front of me every day.

— Knowing, liking and trusting our contractor and his workmen, who did our bathroom renovation about four years ago. They were friendly, meticulous and did a great job. We’re happy to see them again.

— Once you start choosing your elements, keep a file folder of photos of all of it for reference.

— If you are adding three-dimensional elements, (like our sconces which are each 10″ wide and 10″ deep), make a mockup and attach it to the wall so you can see it in 3D, and how it fits with everything else before you buy. We made a color photocopy and stuck in onto a 10″ deep piece of foamcore (reinforced paper available at office supply stores) or cardboard.

— Reading blogs like Apartment Therapy, which features everyday renovations almost daily, with the backstory and a list of sources.

— Checking out Houzz for all sorts of design inspiration; they have 362,770 images of kitchens!

— Reading British, French and Canadian design magazines — whose editorial choices are often very different (and to my mind much more interesting) from that of American magazines. Europeans, especially, often live in much smaller spaces and so is ours. The monster American kitchen reno’s typically featured have no relevance for our needs. Nor their huge budgets!