Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Will Restoration Get It Right This Time?

The Boston Globe is reporting that Restoration Hardware has leased the so-called LouisBoston building at 234 Berkeley Street — formerly and more illustriously remembered as Bonwit Teller by us old people and as the Boston Museum of Natural History by dead people and history buffs.

People who know my shopping interests keep sending me links to the story, but I was never a huge fan of Restoration. I'm a huge fan of Rejuvenation, a lighting and hardware company based in Portland, Oregon, but that's another story.

The Globe article neglects to mention that Restoration Hardware has been here before. And failed. They had an airy, multi-level space at the corner of Boylston and Exeter for several years, before the current shoe and clothing store took it over.

Restoration was certainly an asset to the neighborhood; you could buy furniture, fixtures, linens — and even some hardware, tools, and paint. It was a great place to browse, especially at Christmas, when they offered a large selection of stocking stuffers to please hard-to-shop-for guys. And if you didn't find the furniture, lighting, or bedding you wanted at Restoration, you could check out Crate & Barrel up the street, and Pottery Barn on Newbury. Those were the days...

I have theory as to why we lost both Restoration and Pottery Barn. I suspect their sales in Back Bay suffered in comparison to their mall stores, which made it seem foolish to lease expensive urban retail space. But we city residents need stores that sell furniture and housewares; all we have now is Crate & Barrel, unless you consider Bed Bath & Beyond a great place to shop. (I do not, except for very basic items, like shower curtain liners.) So what went wrong? Well, for about half the year, each of these stores (and Crate & Barrel, too) are loaded with major patio furniture, grills, and other items for outdoor living. But except for the lucky few Bostonians who have expansive penthouse decks or backyard gardens, we city dwellers can't embrace the patio lifestyle no matter how much we'd like to. I need a patio umbrella like I need a pair of wrought-iron chaise longues, and I'm speaking for the vast majority of my neighbors. Most of us are lucky to have a postage-stamp garden out front, which is too public for lounging and dining al fresco.

So, Bostonians, how's your poolside patio? Yeah, I thought so...

I hope these large chains are wising up and realizing that city people have different summer needs than suburban people. In the summer we need.... um... headphones because we keep our windows open. Large fans. The occasional picnic basket, cooler, or beach towel. Actually, in summer we need the same stuff we need the rest of the year: indoor furniture, linens, kitchen items, and home accessories. In other words, these national chain stores need two different seasonal merchandising programs: one for the suburbs and one tailored for cities.

I will venture to suggest that if you show a typical city dweller a store window full of bright, summery patio furniture, she will feel so deprived and depressed at her own lack of outdoor space that she will avoid entering that store. Rather than wallow in things she can't enjoy, she will head elsewhere to buy cute sandals to console herself. I know this; I've done it.

Even if Restoration doesn't barrage us with barbecue tools and floating lounge chairs for our swimming pools, there's another issue they need to address. Over the years that I visited the Boylston Street store, I watched their furniture get bigger and bigger. They were moving into a sort of "luxury hotel" look for their furniture, bath fixtures, and linens that seemed weirdly anonymous to me, too. But worse, they seemed to be designing for Great Big Americans living in Great Big McMansions. I'd love to know the average size of an apartment in our various Boston neighborhoods, but I'm pretty sure most of us are living in 450 to 1,000 square feet — with our significant others, pets, maybe even a child or two. Many of us also cram at least one home office in our tiny spaces. So we need compact furniture and creative storage solutions. We don't need giant sofas and dining room chairs that make us feel like Edith Ann (geez, whatever happened to Lily?). Which is what you tend to get at Restoration.

Can you fit this sectional in your Boston living room?

Or do you have two massive sofas in your city apartment instead?

On the other hand, Pottery Barn recognizes the city dweller's needs. They sell special, apartment-sized sofas and smaller-scaled furniture for other rooms. Very smart. Phew, I'm glad someone's paying attention to us — not to mention the nationwide Not-So-Big House trend that's happening outside  cities. And how I wish Pottery Barn would reopen a store in Back Bay, too!

1 comment:

  1. Hello, RH closed it's Backbay location in 2007 as their lease was not renewed by the owner, The Tannery, the they wanted to open their own store in the space. The closing has nothing to do with sales infact the NY city location is the highest volume store for the company. Once the large new 'gallery' store opens in the Backbay along with RH Baby & Child inside they are closing the three NE mall locations in the area as the company is in the process of exiting all mall locations nationwide and opening one large 'Gallery' store per region where possible. As for Pottery Barn, the company has changed directions and has closed many 'city' stores nationwide including Boston, LA, NY, Chicago, etc and it concentrating on lower priced items and competing with suburban customers. Hope this explains a bit more about the their retailing concept.

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