When you enter the RH (formerly Restoration Hardware) megastore in New York City’s Meatpacking District, you might think it’s a place to buy furniture. Technically it is, with tens of thousands of square feet filled with dining-room sets and king-size beds and couches, upholstered in shades of gray and beige and beiger, and accessorized with plush rugs and metal-armed lamps. Or maybe you’ll mistake it for a hotel lobby, with its high ceilings, ample seating, and smiling concierge.
But on either side of the store’s broad central path, you’ll see its true spiritual, if not practical, purpose: as a temple to the high-end furniture chain’s infamous “source books.” On twin circular tables large enough for an extended family’s Thanksgiving dinner (yours for $7,995 each), eight different editions sit in neat stacks and offer inspiration tailored to ski chalets, beach getaways, or nurseries for rich babies, depending on the tome. Bathed in golden light from enormous $12,000 chandeliers, the gods of direct-mail marketing beckon enticingly from their “carbonized split bamboo” altars.
The biggest of RH’s 2019 catalogs was 730 glossy pages—from a few feet away, you might think it’s the September issue of Vogue. The company would not reveal how much it spends on the lavish compendiums, but in 2012, an industry expert estimated that they would require a multimillion-dollar budget, with each individual book costing as much as $3 to print and ship—a figure that doesn’t include the tab for photography or page design. RH’s catalogs, and its price points, were similar to Pottery Barn’s and Crate & Barrel’s until the late aughts, when the source books and opulently appointed stores began to be introduced. Both are part of what longtime Chairman and CEO Gary Friedman has described as a strategy to project abundance and turn the heads of wealthy customers; apparently, it’s worked. In 2001, the company was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. While there have been bumps along the way, RH’s sales since then have increased dramatically, and in December its stock price hit an all-time high.