Shopping: Restoration Hardware

One of a few entries I posted elsewhere pre-October 2010, before I started The Roving Home blog.

I love the look in Restoration Hardware.  Leather, linen, reclaimed wood, cast iron and chrome – the finishes on their pieces are beautiful and timeless.  It’s just when you come to the not-so-small issue of scale that the furniture and lighting becomes a problem.  Everything in their line is massive.  The couches, the floor lamps, the beds, the chairs – all of it seemingly designed for people with the average bulk of an NFL player.  Maybe Americans have a problem with obesity because we are eating in order to fit into our furniture.  To walk through Restoration Hardware is a surreal experience, a throwback to childhood, when you were surrounded by a world that seemed enormous and furniture that seemed unscalable.

Flipping through the Restoration Hardware catalog cannot convey the overscaled look of everything in the store, as in the catalog all the pieces are depicted in relation to each other, and the reproduction 19th-century British marine light that looks like a chrome-plated alien, for instance, does not seem nearly so massive when placed next to its bloated couch counterpart.  You have to walk through the store to get the full effect.  With its acres of linen and faux burlap pillows stenciled with – apropos of nothing – “Paris”, Restoration Hardware’s entire line is like an unfortunate stereotype of an American: trying to emulate its classier European cousins but only managing to be the loudest person in the room.

And speaking of Americans, why are we so obsessed with making everything gigantic?   Of course this obsession isn’t new, and most of us have fallen victim to it, consciously or otherwise.  I myself have gleefully toted home a 32-roll package of toilet paper or even consumed what was most likely nearly a half-gallon of a disgusting carbonated drink in a keepsake plastic cup that I had to clutch with both hands.  But I thought Restoration Hardware, representing that happy place in American décor that was both aspirational for middle class folks and chic-ly downmarket for people of means, had a handle on what was appropriate for all of us.  But they’ve changed.  No longer cheerfully American – they’ve done away with all the retro games and nostalgic gadgets that represented the apex of mid-century life – the store instead aspires to be a place where expatriate Belgians can buy furniture after a few years spent expanding their waistlines gobbling up our trans-fat version of frites.  (But is there actually such a thing as an expatriate Belgian in the United States?)

I can hear what you’re thinking: Americans need giant furnishings to fill up their giant cathedral-ceilinged  suburban McMansions.  This may seem to be the case, but all you need to deflate this thought is a reminder that people have been capable of building giant houses, from mansions to villas to castles, for many a century, yet in these enormous homes you would be hard put to find a single 118” x 44” sofa.   Yes, that’s right.  I said 44 inches.  The couches in Restoration Hardware’s line are consistently nearly four feet deep.  The average height of an American woman is 5 feet, 4 inches.  You do the math.  Who wants a $4,000 kiln-dried, hand-tied sofa if your feet don’t even touch the floor when you sit in it?

This isn’t exactly a call to storm Restoration Hardware and demand a return to furnishings on a human scale.  This is just an expression of bewilderment at the state of mainstream American design as found at your local shopping mall.  And by the way, I definitely think adding an oversized piece –usually an accessory – to your décor can make a room come alive, throwing everything else in relief by adding a bit of imbalance to the symmetry.  But such a piece is made effective by the fact that it’s novel, that it does not subscribe to a normal sense of proportion.  But the Restoration Hardware school of decorating takes the idea of this novelty and assumes that, when a piece creates an effect, then a bigger version of this piece – broader, deeper, chrom-ier – creates a bigger effect.  Which, in a way, I suppose it does.  I need to sit down and ponder that for a moment.   But I’ll need someone to fetch me a 64-ounce diet soda while I do my thinking.   I can’t seem to get out of this couch.

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