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The American dream is now on our doorstep; we took a design trip to see if Restoration Hardware lived up to the hype

/ The Design Journey / By

Furniture shopping is an art form. It requires tenacity and dedication to the cause. Most certainly not for the faint-hearted. The visit to a furniture showroom is usually an afternoon weekend excursion and is spent bed and sofa hopping in search of the perfect piece for our homes. In the day to day of designing homes for clients there are two main approaches; the first being a client who has waited for this opportunity for what feels like a lifetime and has already begun the task before a line is drawn on a plan and the other who knows that decisions need to be made but are overwhelmed with the staggering array of choices.

I first came across Restoration Hardware through the pages of Architectural Digest ( which I have collected for the last 15 years) and an American podcast series that I enjoy, ‘ The Business of Home’ with Denis Scully. When we heard that they were opening in the UK with the restoration of a 17th century, 73-acre estate in the Cotswolds we knew that we had to visit. We also work with a large number of returning expats who have either bought or visited RH across the world so experiencing the furniture first-hand is essential when designing homes. Now I won’t lie, I was somewhat nervous about visiting having seen the fabulous launch party and A- list celebrities that attended and Imposter -syndrome most certainly kicked in. However, we need not have been nervous at all. From the first email to the actual meeting the brand experience most certainly does live up to the hype. One of the main things that tends to be missing when choosing furniture is the experience of it feeling like a home or an intimate space, something that regardless of how much you decorate, a showroom can never give. Not here at Aynhoe Park.

While the setting is opulent it is calm, quiet and almost introspective allowing you to get lost in your own head as you wander through the space. I must admit that i did have pre-conceived notions that it was all going to be ridiculously expensive, however i was pleasantly surprised to find so much of the range well within the reach of a mid-range budget ( if you don’t choose the luxury fabrics).

This brand is definitely not for everyone and I suspect nor does RH want it to be, however for those clients who appreciate good design and a pared back level of simplicity then it’s a trip well worth making. For me, it was a masterclass in sensory design, from the scent consistency throughout to the whisper quiet surroundings that didn’t feel awkward but instead felt calming ( or is it a brilliant disarming sales technique) promising us the holy grail of home design, comfort and calm in one swoop and it’s really hard to not leave converted. When we are sold furniture we are being sold a lifestyle, a promise of the good life and comfort. Of course it is hard to walk past the famous Cloud couch and not ooh and ahh and imagine yourself curled up on a miserable Sunday afternoon with your loved ones but at the core the brand really knows who it is and who their customers are. They don’t use social media ( relying on others to do that for them) and they are surprisingly low-key and super efficient to deal with, which surprised me given the hit and miss experiences I have had lately with other brands.

Always at the back of my mind is the need to be sustainable and support local and while we absolutely do make every effort to do this, furniture making is still very expensive to make as custom here in Ireland so clients are not willing to make the investment on larger pieces which is a shame but understandable. It’s also very difficult to convince a client to spend a lot of money without having sat in or on the piece and rely purely on a sketch. For me this was the main selling point of a visit to RH. I needed to experience it for myself and feel each piece before i can recommend or not to a client.

So, the big question is, was the trip worth it? absolutely. Would I return with a client? Yes and I did 6 weeks later. Why would I buy from the range? For me personally I found the range of materials, fabrics, designs all to be super calming, pared back and organic, something I know will be timeless and incite a sense of calm in a home so yes. Would i spend on some pieces in the more expensive ranges? No because I believe that beyond functionality there is a price point at which you have to ask if it is really worth it and if the experience of using it will be elevated beyond sitting on a stool or chair. Good design has to make you feel happy, calm, content and special. Yes. It really does. Who am I to argue if that comes with a price tag that somebody can afford if it ultimately brings them joy?

Karen x

Karen & Ronan visited at their own expense and are not affiliated in any way with RH.

Karen Douglas is a partner in the architectural practice and a Flow Practitioner ( Lean, Six Sigma Black Belt) E: