Excess is the New Dreary: Restoration Hardware’s Fall 2012 “Source Book”

"Restoration Hardware catalog", "Restoration Hardware Fall 2012 Source Book"
Pretentious much?

Last Friday afternoon, I opened my front door to collect my mail and discovered that the postman had left one piece of mail on the ledge next to our mailbox. The piece was so large it did not fit in the mailbox.

“What the hell?” I said (I talk to myself a lot when I’m home alone), and stepped outside to collect it.

Of course. Only Restoration Hardware would have the arrogance to send a mailing so large it doesn’t fit inside a standard mailbox.

Encased in plastic and containing multiple pieces, it was by far the largest piece of unsolicited mail I have ever received.

I wrestled the thing inside and put it on my kitchen scale. It weighed almost four pounds.

"Restoration Hardware mailing"
Four pounds of junk mail

I tore apart the plastic wrap to find three pieces: a 690-page “Source Book”; a 154-page supplemental catalog called “Big Style, Small Spaces” that purports to showcase their products in seven tony apartments around the world; and a coated card-stock insert that reads, amazingly and without irony, “GREEN IS THE NEW BLACK,” touting the company’s commitment to the environment.

Green is the new black? As my thirteen-year-old says anytime I say something absurd, which is apparently pretty often: “Are you kidding me?”

I promptly went to Facebook to inveigh against this preposterous and hypocritical abuse of the mails and heard back from friends near and far that the mailing had landed on them as well. My friend Rae quite aptly called it “mail order terrorism.” Many people wondered how they ended up on RH’s mailing list as they’d never bought anything from them before. The four pounds of paper had already gone unlooked-at into nearly everyone’s recycling bins.

I decided to sit down and actually examine the contents of this “mailer.”

"Restoration Hardware"
Furniture that could crush you

First, there’s the behemoth they call their “Source Book.” In our Facebook rants about this, Rae described the catalog as “bougie furn porn,” which is about right, although porn is supposed to titillate or entertain or something, whereas this thing….I think I’ve seen catalogs for mortuary supplies that were more cheerful than this grim inventory of ponderous, overpriced stuff in its fifty shades of neutral.

The eye searches in vain through these pages for any spot of color—a houseplant or vase of daffodils or accent pillow. Or really any evidence at all that human beings might occupy these rooms, sit on these Belgian linen sofas, read under these outsized chandeliers. Even the spaces in the “Big Style, Small Spaces” supplement, which supposedly shows the products in “real” apartments, are notable only for their impersonal, monochromatic interchangeability.

"Restoration Hardware", "Collection of Epic Proportions"
I’m not sure that word means what you think it means

I’m not a critic of design or architecture or really, of anything visual. But what strikes me about this “Collection of Epic Proportions” (seriously: epic?) is that it’s about selling the veneer of tradition and authenticity. Everything is aged, antiqued, antiquarian, distressed, reclaimed, replicated, reproduction, salvaged, vintage, weathered. It’s all neoclassical this and Louis XVI that (hey, RH: you guys do remember what happened to that guy, right?) and every period in the last six centuries is invoked in everything from 15th-c. dual baluster oak consoles to 1950s Copenhagen chairs.

So what’s wrong with that, you ask? Nothing, maybe. Except that it deserves to be mocked and skewered.

"Restoration Hardware Antler Chair", "Black Forest Antler Chair"
For that man-versus-nature look in your house

The names alone are over-the-top. We have the historically off-kilter: 19th-c. Rococo. 1890 English Baroque. And the obnoxious though unsurprising gentrification of labor: Machinist’s lighting (from $149). Baker’s rack (from $795). Steel pharmacy cabinet ($995 and up). Railroad tie dining table (starts at $2495). Dutch shipyard shelving ($2795 and up). And the ones that simply beggar belief: Gun barrel salvaged wood dining table. Architect’s canoe maquette. Black Forest antler chair (see left). Sputnik filament chandelier.

There’s also a distinctly grabby, I-looted-this-from-a-war-zone-or-fallen-civilization vibe to some of it. How else to account for the Hand-carved Corinthian column floor lamps? Or the 5-Foot French tower clock? Or the sheer quantity of oak “salvaged” from “decades-old buildings in Russia”? Decades-old buildings in Russia: Don’t you mean Soviet?

"Restoration Hardware", "Corinthian column floor lamp"
Nothing says “classy” like faux antiquities

I don’t know whether to cry or laugh imagining people out there who want to give the impression that they’ve gone to Greece or Rome, picked up some spare columns, and turned them into floor lamps. Or—click to enlarge the photo to the right and look at the background—people who would buy a reproduction (fake!) Roman bust and then feel compelled to protect it under a (fake!) 1920s French glass cloche.

"Iron scissor lift table", "restoration hardware"
Torture device or coffee table?

One could go on identifying absurdities in this publication: The books wrapped in white or brown paper—you know, so you can ignore books as containers of ideas and just treat them as props. Or the Deconstructed Collection, the post-modern name given to furniture they forgot to finish making. Or the Industrial Scissor Lift Table (left), a medieval torture device masquerading as a coffee table.

But here’s the thing: Fully half of this tome is devoted to the “Resource Guide,” a pretty straightforward listing of every sofa, table, chair, shelf, light fixture, curtain, and comforter RH offers. I can see how a retailer might want to send out a slick print piece showing off their wares arranged to advantage. But how, how, how, in the Internet Age can anyone justify the resource expenditure involved in printing and mailing a 300+-page list?

"Green is the new black."
Say what?

Which brings me to Restoration Hardware’s utterly disingenuous “GREEN IS THE NEW BLACK” insert. Their claim to be “green” is based on their use of “PEFC-certified paper,” their restraint in mailing the “Source Book” just twice a year rather than monthly (thank God for small favors!), and their willingness to remove you from their mailing list if you don’t want to be on it.

What is PEFC-certified paper, I wondered. Well, it’s a real thing. PEFC stands for “Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification,” and according to Wikipedia, it’s the largest such system in the world. But a little Internet sleuthing got me to a pretty thorough 2011 Greenpeace study of on-the-ground PEFC pratices, which basically charges the program with engaging in large-scale “greenwashing.”

So there’s that.

But who cares? Would even the soundest forestry and paper-making practices justify the printing of unsolicited mailings of this size?

And now it only remains for me to take RH up on its offer to remove me from their mailing list. They actually make it pretty easy: You go to restorationhardware.com, scroll down to “Customer Service” at the bottom of the page, click on “Cancel Catalog Delivery” on the left-hand navigation bar, then fill in your address and click “Submit.”

And then this message pops up on your screen: “You will now be removed from our catalog mailing list. Our catalogs are printed in advance so you may receive 3-4 catalogs before the cancellation takes full effect.”

Three to four catalogs before the cancellation takes full effect?

Are you kidding me?

Your giant card-stock insert says you drop these catalogs only twice a year. So “three to four catalogs” is one-and-a-half to two years’ worth of catalogs. No self-respecting mail-order business uses fulfillment services that slow. If I were to request a catalog, would it take that long before I got one? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Screw you, Restoration Hardware.

And now excuse me while I haul all three pieces of this regrettable mailing to the recycling bin.

21 thoughts on “Excess is the New Dreary: Restoration Hardware’s Fall 2012 “Source Book”

  1. Hi Naomi – I for one am glad they sent you this monstrosity, because I’ve had a great time laughing at RH with you.

    Just one thing – is it wrong of me to love the antler chair and the dual purpose coffee table? Hey, there are plenty of people I’ve wanted to torture in the comfort of my living room. And I’ve always been a big fan of dead animal parts close by.


  2. I received three sets of this! Two at my office addressed differently and one at my home! The “Green is Black” insert says “let us iknow and we’ll remove you from our mailing list” but there is absolutely no link or phone number provided on that sheet. I don’t think that’s making it easy.

    1. Sally, I agree that they could make it easier. That insert is big enough to include a postage-paid tear-out postcard to send back. I’m so sorry you got so many copies. What a waste! Thanks for reading.

  3. I’m amazed how you can turn something so everday as an unsolicited piece of mail (albeit a very large one) into such an interesting post. I continually run out of things to blog about. You prove there’s no excuse.

  4. .. Competition for the Yellow pages…. !! Hah! ( and that’s not even funny!!)
    I love your rant!!!! You so beat me to it….This totally open a can of worms for me! My little blog is about simple sustainable style and I try to recommend as many sustainable manufacturers as I possibly can… the real deal that is! http://lovedesigngreen.wordpress.com/resources/

    I’ve been pondering how the heck to attack this one being I am in the field of design and do specify Restoration hardware often for clients… domestically and abroad. Many clients (especially the Chinese) want the American lifestyle.. Except little do they know that (almost) all the American lifestyle stuff is Made in China – Or PROC as many companies now label their goods… the not so educated average American consumer might not know what PROC actually stands for…(Peoples Republic of China… .. )RH has revamped itself and has an insane amount of stores.. Spread all over the US. http://lovedesigngreen.wordpress.com/2011/06/18/china-goes-green/
    Nothing wrong with being big (… except you put all the smaller manufactures out of business….) but the “Green is the new black….. What a load of garbage! There is nothing worse than walking the walk… but not talking the talk.



    PS:.. Love the Birdcage Chandeliers….. I could totally design a room around that one…. : ).. don’t strangle me either…

    1. Thanks for stopping by! Interesting (& flattering!) to hear the perspective of someone in the design business. I’m afraid I almost added those birdcage chandeliers to my list of ideas that “beggar belief.” Wouldn’t they cast the most bizarre shadows around a room? I started thinking of writing a parody to go with them called “I Know Why the Caged Lightbulb Shines.” But hey–to each her own. We’re agreed on the monstrosity of the catalog itself! Thanks for reading.

  5. This catalogue was absolutely disgusting. I’m a forester and while trees are a renewable resource, there is NO EXCUSE for this corporate excess. Done with you, Restoration Hardware.

  6. I googled’ Restoration Hardware grim’ because I am always struck with that word when I see their ads and this article came up.I used to splurge on their sales a few years ago, but that was before they went all drear. And the catalogs – lord, you are so right on! glad I’m not the only one that thinks so!

    1. Thanks for reading, Jane! Yes–“dreary” & “grim.” And such a waste. A friend of mine in NYC sent me a photo the other day of bins from her apartment building *filled* with discarded RH catalogs — they hadn’t even been removed from the plastic wrap!

  7. So, I work in an American Embassy in sub-Saharan Africa, we get our mail through the military postal system and my RH obscenity arrived yesterday. I was so struck by it, I decided to google to see what the interwebs were saying and thus I found your blog. It is ridiculous. Thanks for the info on how to get off their mailing list. Sad to say, there is no recycling here, my monstrosity will go into the trash…

    1. Hi, Evan. Wow–So thrilled (not!) to hear that my hard-earned taxpayer money is being spent to schlep this tome to the far-flung places of the Earth! But I am extremely excited that someone in Africa has found their way to my blog. Thanks for commenting.

  8. Naomi, why don’t you post some photos of your own home so that we can all see an example of that which does not deserve to be mocked and skewered. What better explanation point to end this piece with.

    1. I think I do have at least one photo from my home somewhere on this blog, but I’d never pretend to have a home that’s worth looking at. Book reviewers don’t need to prove they’ve written good books themselves; likewise movie reviewers & films; ditto social critics & politics.

  9. I have purchased items from Restoration Hardware before. Unfortunately some of it was real (expensive) junk. I have asked them numerous times to remove me from their mailing list, but we kept receiving these huge catalogs. Now, I would not even purchase from them if they had something I really liked.

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