RH (AKA Restoration Hardware) opened its new flagship this fall in an architecturally spectacular space in NYC’s Meat Market across from the Gansevoort Hotel around the corner from Soho House. RH left its old flagship location in Broadway and 22th Street to move to hipster central. The space has a huge atrium, glass elevators, a roof top bar and restaurant and the best trance music on the internal sound system I’ve ever heard. The bar was packed on an early Sunday afternoon with tourists and visiting groups from the National Retail Foundation annual gathering that opened that day. I hit my head twice on chandeliers and I promise that has nothing to my POV.
Is this a furniture museum or a store? If it’s job as a flagship is to inspire, does it understand cultural context? Almost two years ago Pirch closed its Soho location selling upscale kitchens and bathrooms – almost nothing in the store had anything to do with urban life. Yes, there are palatial lofts to fit palatial furnishings, but most affluent New Yorkers live in apartments. Appliances that fit into Malibu beach houses and what fits in an Upper West Side apartment are not the same thing. How many busy New Yorkers aspire to a steam oven, much less the broader concept of a playpen kitchen? No question that kitchens and bathrooms are key to modern living, but our choices are driven by lifestage and lifestyle. Silent toilets, revolutionary showers and small elegant stoves, relevant to apartment living, were not in the mix.
Out of Context
RH is making the same mistake. The store features huge living rooms, formal dining rooms and cool-factor bedrooms. There are no home offices, media rooms and exercise rooms. The only place at RH with a sense of humor was in the children’s bedrooms – which was my favorite part of the store. At least one curator has some whimsy. I also noted that the only mounted screen the in store was in the teenagers’ bedroom and the screen was playing classic black and white Beatles clips not Wizrd. It is more their grandfather’s taste then Gen Z’s.
The Family Home in Transition
The irony is that almost right across the street the Samsung Center exhibits is the interconnected home. There are appliances that talk to you and help you read a recipe. Televisions that look like paintings when they are not in use and smart screens that let you cook and monitor your kid’s bedroom at the same time.
The way we live is in transition. The living room has returned to its early 20th century role as a parlor. It’s a formal room used for formal occasions. Family dining is also a very limited occasion. We tend to gather in our kitchens and for many, at-home meals are catch as catch can. There are 10 times the number of fingerprints on the refrigerator as there are on the stove. As for bedrooms, while we continue to sleep there, almost everyone I know checks their email and plays their last round of Candy Crush in supine position on their beds right before they turn out the lights.
An ongoing mantra is that living and retail are intertwined. The global home is in transition and we need to pay attention to the trends. The monster of consumption is firmly in place, but the face of the beast is in question. On the one hand, are you interested in visiting RH’s reinvention of late 20th century luxury living movie sets as inspiration for how want your home to look? Or do you recognize that an empowered modern home has an ongoing soundtrack in the background and a multi-screen experience in front of every family member. For many, the movie set interior has become more VR and AR than conventional furnishings. IoT is game changing on every level: in that respect RH looks like a relic of the past.