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Friday, September 17, 2010

Restoration Hardware,Ohh Nooo!!!

Over a decade ago I set foot in the first Restoration Hardware Store in the Washington, D.C. area. It was located on King Street in Old Town, Alexandria, Va.  At the time I had an office close by and I was meeting a friend and colleague for lunch. It was one of those odd moments I've remembered for whatever reason. My cell phone rang and the conversation, best I can recall, went like this:

Friend:: "Where are you?"
Me: "I am in the most amazing store.
Friend: "You're shopping?!"
Me: "No, I am falling in love with a hardware store."
Friend: "You're joking?
Me: "In highschool, I hated home economics and loved shop class."
Friend: "Really...a hardware store?
Me: It's much more than that.
Friend: Should I order for you?"
Me: No, get sandwiches to-go and meet me here."
Friend: "Are you serious?"
Me: "Yes, or you will have to eat alone."

My friend, Marc,  fell in love too.  It was probably more than an hour later that we sat outside eating those sandwiches talking endlessly about all the fantastic things we had just seen, both saying how we couldn't wait to bring our spouses to the store.

I lost contact with Marc years ago when I left the corporate world, but the love affair with RH continued. I have purchased  many items over the years for myself and in more recent times for clients.  I fell in love with a concept that was rooted in early 20th century designs that had both a modern and vintage vibe.  It had an industrial edge, but was also classic and traditional. Men loved this store. I never had to convince my husband to stop in. We even shopped every year for stockings stuffers. Fun retro stuff. It became a tradition.

Mr. Bill knows that without a Belgian linen suit & European vacation, his time at RH is over!

But, the relationship has changed. Someone decided to get a complete overhaul.  Not even a reinvention of sorts. To quote, in part, RH Chairman and Co-CEO Gary Friedman "We've destroyed the previous iteration of ourselves". Why get a facelift when Botex gray paint is all the help needed with the parts that are causing you to lose market share? Why does RH want to be only European? The entire catalogue is slathered in references to Belgian, French and Italian designs to describe the style of a particular reproduction piece. What's wrong with American design mixed with European influences? I know I would like and relate to that version. Just a slightly tweaked version of RH or at least one that I would recognize and could continue to embrace. Actually, I'd settle for a mere trace of it's original American roots aka Eureka, California.

For some reason, it reminds me how football star Tom Brady is sporting the teen boy hair style these days. Tom Brady is already handsome. So why is trying to look like Justin Bieber? Isn't the addition of Gisele Bundchen and baby Benjamin enough of an enhancement to maintain interest?

Imagine my surprised when I saw a near identical version of my pair of Aiden Gray long wall sconces that I purchased from one of my favorite local shops, almost 2 years ago, show up in the latest RH catalogue? Some of you may recall my issues earlier  this year.
Illuminating a comfortable chair 

Aiden Gray

Ohh nooo!!! Yes, Mr. Bill it  happened again this past spring. RH rolled out their version of these zinc spheres that came from my friend's shop. It seems they also have a new found interest in antlers!

A&A library Christmas 2009

 It seems RH, you are pulling a Brady and trying to be a Bieber. Trying to imitate what you may perceive is the desirable "hot" thing! Are you, readers,  able to look at many of their newest items and identify the inspiration copied source too?

Certainly, it can be a bit disappointing that things I thought were unique and interesting are now going to be greatly imitated and mass produced. But, I succumb to this possibility every time I make a purchase of something that is not hand made or antique.  But, more importantly,  it saddens me that shop owners, some of whom are friends, will now have to compete with you over merchandise they had the talent to spot and insight to fill their shops with long before you put out your game changing mission statement. Stephen Gordon, your original mission was good.  

Knock on limed-oak wood some of the enhancements, although not original in thought, are beautiful and interesting.  And, there are still a few things on the web that are from the good ol' days.  But, I'd be lying if I didn't admit to having concerns over your midlife crisis makeover RH. What if this "look" doesn't work out? What happens when interest wanes? Who will you try to be next?

Images via Restoration Hardware web site, Aiden Gray, Getty images, Whyfame and A&A


  1. I am sick about the changes at RH, too! HATE the all gray/brown paint in the ONE left in Dallas! But, I am still eyeing the whiskey barrel chandeliers when the Friends and Family starts!

  2. I think your last line is your best. Because I think they might be trying too hard, taking too many ideas, and the backlash isn't going to be pretty for this company. Personally I think they want to be Flamant in Paris with this latest take-off on design direction.

  3. I used to love to look in that store. The one here at the Mall of Georgia closed last year so I don't go anymore anyway. They are a bit pricey,too for me. Love the sconces you showed.

  4. I personally love the new look...I know I'm in the minority here but I find it comforting, somehow. It's still way over priced though and therefore, won't be on my shopping tour anytime soon.

  5. This is an interesting post. I was just at a relatively new RH a month or so ago and thought I had walked in to some sort of chic snooty showroom in a major city. The vibe was almost like you had walked into a place that required a design reservation and you weren't really supposed to be there unless you had lots of cash to spend and you were doing a "whole" house.

    I thought maybe it was just the area, so I didn't really give it much thought, but I did notice a distinct difference between the RH of old and it's latest incarnation.

    I can't really say, aside from the superiority factor, if I liked the new look or not. But I will say that I couldn't find one single piece of furniture that I thought was actually comfy. A couple of girls where looking at a drop dead gorgeous nailhead and linen sofa and I said...have you tried sitting on it? I could tell just by looking at it that short of a chateau with a giant, no one was going to be comfortable sitting on it. Sure enough we all sat down and even the 5'10" girl was uncomfortable...I felt like Edith Ann, that Lily Tomlin character with the huge chair!

    I understand them wanting to appeal to a mass market, and to keep up with design trends, but sometimes you have to stick with the classics and just sprinkle in a little bit of trendiness. Or just go all out and be the trendsetter, not the follower!

    Sorry I wrote a book!

    Kat :)

  6. TOTALLY agree. The consensus online seems to be that the new RH is great...but it's just so...gray. And all that rough linen. I feel like they're just chasing the Belgian trend that I'm already SO over. What's worse is that their RH Baby is ALSO having similar troubles...why on earth do I want an industrial, Belgian-style nursery? Bring back the gleaming dark wood and British Colonial-meets-American style!!!!

  7. I think that RH are becoming Pottery Barn albeit with a higher pricetag. when i first arrived in Canada I used to love this store, and now, well lets just say I walk on by.

  8. Here in Denver, one of our three RHs was just remodeled into the new "gallery" concept.

    It's weird. It was so empty, I thought they were going out of business.

  9. When I saw the magazine in the mail the other day I breezed through it in about 20 seconds, I was really disappointed, they had such classic clean lined designs. I felt as though they were little lemmings jumping off a cliff with their new "branding". Why turn something specialized into a commercial venture, BOO to the new RH. *Amy

  10. you touched on a hot spot with me. i am soooo angry with RH and thought it was just me. well maybe others aren't angry, but disappointed.

    like your friend, i too am a shop owner and chase around the country sourcing original vintage pieces with a great look, hopefully good price, and a one-of-a-kind, supplemented with great manufacturers like aiden gray.

    last year i went to the atlanta gift show and into my favorite manufacturer just to tell them how disappointed i was in them (name withheld)for selling out to RH and that i was no longer able to purchase from them. quietly i was told "we had no choice, they came in and said you work with us or we will knock you off"
    that is how the "big guys" play. retail is tough enough for us independents. shame on RH!

  11. yes, i was shocked with what they did with the Georgetown store. It's a furniture showroom! Where are the things you went to RH for, sheets, towels, lampshades, accessories and gifts with the OCCASIONAL furniture purchase? They really dug themselves into a whole. That said -how long can this Belgian phase last: to model one's entire store after it? I loved them so -and I'll be sad to see when they inevitably close in 6 months.

  12. Yes, RH has made big changes. Pottery Barn preceeded them with making changes of their own. Though I have enjoyed browsing through both of these stores over the years, I typically just go to get ideas. Then I shop vintage to find favorite and more originally designed pieces that, in the case of furniture, are more comfortable because they were built of normal sized people and homes, instead of being scaled for giants and newly constructed oversized mega mansions.

  13. Looks like by all the previous comments that we're all in agreement - RH had to go and commercialize what in Paris, Brussels and Florence are small, elegant touches - and knocking off those who came before along the way. We were just in the RH store in Westport and couldn't see an inkling of the former fabulous shop - it looked like it had gone under a drastic surgical knife a la Heidi Montag Pratt!

  14. Out here in the western 'burgs of Chicago I have been feeling a bit blue and alone. Misery loves company, though I would gladly give up the company if Restoration Hardware, as I once knew, it were to suddenly emerge. Oak Brook is the RH store I always loved and, like you, knew I could find stocking stuffer or present - or something fun for myself. I, too, purchased items for our home and it was the one store I could bring my husband to and we were both happy to be there. Oh well. You opened up a hornet's nest - thanks.

  15. Nothing more to say... You said it so well for us all!

  16. My heart is beating because you have all struck a chord with me. We search long and hard to bring the special, unique pieces to our clients. That mass merchandisers like Restoration hardware, Pottery barn,and Ballard Designs are all knocking this stuff off is very disappointing. Unfortunately most people do not recognize the difference in authentic finishes and quality. They are only looking at price, and in the case of Restoration Hardware it's not really that good. I hate trends! Who wants what everyone else has? What happened to expressing personal style, collecting over time and saving for those really special unique pieces? For the most part, we're all buying reproductions, because who can really afford a true period piece? But there is certainly a difference in buying from artisans or reproductions that truly do have some age than things that were mass produced to sell everywhere from Restoration Hardware to hobby Lobby. Will they try to reproduce antique textiles next? What is left?

  17. It is a weird dilemma as they are copying this found vintage trend but it is slow to roll out because it is a massive chain and everything needs to be gutted and redone for the Belgian roll out. But then it seems old somehow. I was in there the other day and thought "This is SO in, it's out".

    I will say I do still love several of their things, but it does feel ripped off and I thought the exact "what's next?" thought. I still like some of their bedding and drapery. It is the furniture that is somehow too on-trend.

    ANd I'm sorry, but what's with those giant sofas with 42" seat depth?

    It is the height of trend for the masses. I love them, I hate them. I already feel so "over" Belgian...

    And you are right, 12 years ago when I entered my first store in Toronto after it finally came to Canada I was so smitten with all the CLASSIC stuff. They have gone too far.

    But I don't think the antiquarians and great little antique stores need to worry - they will always be able to create their own looks and showcase new finds so much faster and easier than a huge company. All they have to do is re-do a shop window!

    And no one who knows anything mistakes RH for real vintage.
    xo Terri

  18. The thing is, it isn't really trend for the "masses" (and I mean no disrespect). Those folks can't afford it and those who can want something original. The so-called "French" side chairs are made in China. I hate to say I want a business to fail and put people out of work, but the arrogance of the leadership is just staggering.

  19. There are a lot of designers who have made a fortune on "rough luxe". Frankly, it has no refinement and I am happy to read that the trend is spinning out. There will be several blogs that will no doubt have to do a complete makeover because it has been their staple for the past several years. Too bad that companies often refuse to enjoy and nurture their own uniqueness.

  20. Call this stuff "Belgian" if you want, but all that dried-out wood & rough, ashen fabric reminds me less of European heirlooms than it does the worn-out furniture in Dorothea Lange's photos of dustbowl shacks, the only difference being that those folks had no choice.

    I'm sure the concept was dreamed up before the economy tanked & small stores started closing up all over town, but the rollout of their new look couldn't have come at a worse time. The whole things smacks of Marie Antoinette & her pals playing at peasants in their faux hovel while desperate people were massing just outside the palace gates. I give RH a year or so.

  21. Agreed! What happened? It looks like and Ogre should live in the store! Everything is HUGE. Is that to fit our obese population??

  22. I SOOO agree! I tossed their last catalog. So momochromatic and dull. It almost looked like it was printed in sepia! I too am over this faux belgian style. Pity.

  23. I have always loved shopping at RH. Not anymore. It's not my style, price point or attitude at all.
    I will miss it.

  24. Just found your terrific blog and almost didn't post because I totally agree with what almost everyone else has said. But I just want to add what a wonderfully written and clever post this is. And I can't tell you how many times I have the "Ooh Nooo" Mr. Bill moment - in fact I bought a Mr. Bill for my sister's Christmas stocking a few years back. So glad I landed here.

  25. I agree. I have noticed a distinct difference in the store now. I've walked through but did not look twice at anything. To me, it just seems to be going the same way as the magazines...downhill. I think the person above who made the Pottery Barn comparison hit the nail on the head. Hopefully they will replace the person who is making the decisions for the direction of this once wonderful store.

  26. Great thought provoking post! I recently ordered a light fixture through my designer for the kitchen thru the d and d bdlg...imagine my surprise seeing a knock off of it in the RH most recent catalogue before the light has even arrived here...ugh...that was a big bummer, and I miss the old RH as well, including the retro stocking stuffers! Is William Sonoma home the old Restoration?

  27. Restorative powers may be needed at the rescue.

    (As kids the person who had to change the record was always ridiculed if the needle made one of those loud popping scratches....and I sort of felt that same emotion when I recently visited that shop. I think it takes guts to make a shift, or a new sound. I miss Smith and Hawken and I miss stores that I thought had it but in this economy I guess one never can know what makes something work or not?)

  28. I think my reaction has been one of benign neglect. When I walk by and see the knock offs, I just think...that trend is now over. And, though flattery is the highest form of flattery, it can often diminish the original.

  29. Brilliant post! So thoughtful and yes, its amazing the complete change to RH. I remember getting their catalogue and having to look at the cover again because there was simply nothing left of the old RH. Your Tom Brady comment was so timely and true--watching the game last night with my son and said "What's up with his hair?" my son replied must be Ghiselle! Have a fantastic week-

  30. Thank you so much for this post! I've been lamenting the demise of RH for a while now and could never find another similar thought about it out there...but I see, thank heavens, that many are lamenting it's loss also. I miss the old PB, BD, Exposures Home, Smith & Hawkins sad. Why couldn't RH just have opened up a *SECOND STORE* and left the wonderful original alone?!?

    I went into the redone mausoleum styled store last week and was bored to tears...the excitement you mentioned that one would get upon going there has left the building! I do like some of the tables and casegood pieces they offer...but not enough to warrant losing the old, dearly loved, FUN (where's the fun?) and quirky store, sad.

  31. Rebecca, it's spookily
    like you read my mind....
    I just pitched the latest
    RH catalog into the recycling
    bin TODAY, without even
    looking at it. They are
    now so over the top in
    price and not exactly sure
    who there audience is any
    more ~ NOT me, of the "American
    with a hint of British and
    other Euro cousins style."
    YES, totally Tom Brady {which
    is another saaad story}!
    xx Suzanne

  32. I thought the same thing about Tom Brady when I saw him during the Jets game yesterday. What is with that hair?

  33. I wrote about this last week because i think that they're doing a look until it's done to death. for those of us with smaller houses, it's impossible to have anything from their line because it's just so MASSIVE!!!

  34. I have kept my fave RH catalog, the Holiday 2005. I love it, but a lot of people would say it is dated. I dunno, I didn't like new Coke either.

  35. Whew!!!RH..They can be a weee bit pricey and I don't simply adore it!Love the sconces you showed anyway. Great post, I enjoyed reading your Blog.thanks :)

  36. Great post on RH. It will be interesting to see how long they stick with this look. As an on-line retailer myself I can say if the merchandise isn't in the warehouse by now it's too late to capture the fall/holiday buying. Maybe we will see a new look for spring/summer?

  37. My husband and I call it Restoration Furniture and expensive furniture at that.

  38. authenticity always beats contrived. Thanks for the visit and the nice comments of our post!

  39. OMgosh, great minds think alike I have a post scheduled for tomorrow on this very subject. I am in total agreement and I say Ditto to everything you have said. I eluded to this on my post on moldings that I have up today. What the heck were they thinking. The look has already been around long enough to be on its way out so why would they emerse their New look in something that is no longer going to be the trend any way. I agree the small boutique and specialty stores that had this look before, during and after were known for that and they will survive , hopefully and in my mind they are the true "unique" one's. RH missed the boat on this one. Hope you come by tomorrow and let me know what you think about my post!!

  40. Bottom line is Restoration Hardware is super expensive!!! And it's now only ONE look. That's it.
    I love you bring in Tom Brady's haircut---funny!! It's NOT flattering!!

  41. Great topic to bring up as I feel like this happens to me more frequently than not where I see a knocked off authentic design. Loved reading all the comments too.

  42. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  43. Well, I have to agree with most of you. I HATE the new show rooms. They are so dark and oppressive. Their merchandizing of their hardware and paint and smalls is terrible. In fact you can't even look at the hardware because they have it at the check out desk, under glass. If they are ringing anyone up you can't get close to it. Who thought of this stupid idea. It take people awhile to look at the different styles and everyone is in everyones way.

    I also agree that they are ripping off other designs and mass marketing them. Although some of these designs are actually manufactured for RH by the original designers. Just at a more mass produced look and price.

  44. Just tossed the catalog into our recycle bin - Nothing in it, large or small, that appeals to my senses whatsoever. I get my old pieces at flea markets & small antique stores, or in alleys where they have been abandoned. I used to get accessories, linens, gifts, many other things at RH, those days are clearly over!

    Did no one learn a thing from what happened to Smith & Hawken when they converted from being an interesting gardening based store into a big overpriced outdoor furnishings store? Hellloooo new CEO - start looking for your next job at another good company to ruin. This one will not last long......

  45. I said "oh no mr bill" the other day, and they must have been from another generation, because then just looked at me like I had a screw

    ..yes, copy cats indeed, funny to see the 1.5 years between what's shown at object's in Paris, and when RH grabs it.

    I have been guilty of the RH knock off purchase though...maybe convenince?


  46. Well it's not for everyone I suppose. but then again... it's not supposed to be. Same CEO different focus. There are forty posts here and 40,000 clients handing their money over to RH. I'm sure we can all agree that thank God they survived a near hostile take over from Sears! There just weren't enough people supporting the old RH. They were going bankrupt. It ain't over till it's over. This all reminds me of what was said about Apple back in the day. Nice to see all the holiday gifties and fun toys back in the store for the season.

  47. I agree with all the comments posted. Not only are the changes for the worse, but the attitude of the staff has changed as well. They are trying to attract a different buyer, but for the prices they charge I would rather buy real furniture, not things made in china. I buy Canadian made wood custom furniture for less than they charge for china made repros. It is the average income buyer that keeps these stores afloat. Why fix what wasn't broken? My love affair with RH is over. Maybe headoffice should read these comments. Yes, OH NO MR RH man.

  48. I was very offended by the forward on the new catalog by the CEO - it translates as "we know the economy sucks but we are going to ignore the middle class and kiss up to the snots with the big wallets." Very arrogant. Went to the store in Indy and you needed a flashlight to see anything. WTF were they thinking? If they keep this concept and attitude they're going down.

  49. I like the changes. From what I have seen of the old store, I wasn't impressed. I like that the CEO said that the products they will carry are what "he" likes and his style. I happen to like that style so we will see how much it varies in the future as they will obviously have to expand and change products.

    I like that you can get vintage looking reproduction furniture (albeit higher priced) but quality made and for a -fraction- of what an original would cost. The pricing scheme also makes it less mainstream so not everyone will have those items. I like the idea of furniture you don't have to worry about putting your feet up on or a table that you don't have to worry will chip and have to use a colored marker to repair.

    I suppose their style suits me. And although I can't afford all of it, I look forward to their catalogs and get ideas galore from them. At least they are bringing something new to the table rather than just a dying company with knick-knacks.

    By the way, they recently were having a sale for like 2 months and took it off because an employee told me they are doing so well its rediculous. I think they may be around for a while...

  50. It's been a few years since they "rebranded," and I still think their new style is terrible, drab, colorless, pretentious and cold, and looks like something from the set of "Beetlejuice." I miss the old store terribly--the warm and inviting feel, the interesting items, vintage-inspired pieces and trends---As a college student back when, I would dream of what I'd do with my home one day and save up for various items. I read that they're trying to be more "upscale," but I think that actually translates to "people with a lot of money, a lot of pretense, and no taste." By the way, the CEO looks like a major jerk in his leather jacket, stupid "midlife crisis wannabe young guy" haircut, and spouting off about how he's doing more than making furniture, he's inspiring people to live their best lives---NO. You used to sell nice things, now you sell over-priced, colorless, drab junk.


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