10 November 2009

Designer's confessional: I don't like Anthropologie

I spend time shopping with clients from time to time, it's one of the services I provide. Buying decent furniture can be daunting for someone who knows what he's doing, but to someone who's never done it before it can be overwhelming. I can usually tell ahead of time what will and won't work in a given space, and I tend to know exactly where to go to find what's needed. I don't like indecision and I'll never walk into a furniture showroom with a client cold. With me, it never a matter of "Hey, let's go shopping for a sofa!"

On the contrary, I'll say something like "I know the exact sofa this room needs. Let's go look at it at Doma." When we arrive at my friend David's store (the aforementioned Doma) he's ready for us because I call him ahead of time. "Hey David," I tell him, "a client and I are coming over to look at Younger Sofas, particularly the 40530 and 40535." I don't like to waste time. I'm not a tyrant though. If my client doesn't like my preselections, I can usually tell from his or her reaction which way to go from there.

One of the rules of having me work with you on furniture is that I get to pick where we shop and what we look at. Every once in while though someone tries to pull a fast one and tries to lead the process. I say all the time that the jobs I work on aren't mine. The rooms and homes I'm working on belong to my clients, my ego doesn't figure into the process at all. Well that is a damn lie. My name and my reputation are written all over these projects and I personalize a lot of this, much more so than I probably should.

Anyhow, the client in question wanted to use an upholstered chair from that glorified flea market Anthropologie in one of my living rooms. I was mortified. Mortified. It was a chair like this one:

Appalling, it's just appalling. It stuck out like a sore thumb and coordinated with no other color or stick of furniture anywhere in her house. I talked her out of it and we went to see David and found something tailored and orderly.

 Anthropologie looks like a thrift store. But unlike a real thrift store, it has the Skinner Box feel of a corporate experiment in how to get people to spend too much money on stuff that just looks bad. Their selections seem to be geared to people too young to remember how horrible the '70s were, but their price points are beyond the means of any 20-something I've ever met. The only people who can plunk down $4000 for an ugly Anthropologie sofa are the same people who should be old enough to know better.

Yet without fail and seemingly without thinking, the design press swoons over everything in their stores. I just don't get it.

In what universe is this an attractive or tasteful light fixture? What fool would actually pay five thousand dollars for it? Why doesn't any one seem to question this stuff?

Call me old-fashioned, but if I'm going to cough up $1700 for a media cabinet,

or $1500 for an armchair,

or $3500 for a sofa, can they look new at least?


  1. C'mon! You mean you don't like those bordello inspired pieces! An alternative way to furnish a house is to inherit fabulous mid-century pieces from a demented great-aunt and be lucky enough to have a brother whose wife has about as much taste as a newly minted robber baron and didn't fight me for the loot!

  2. Inheriting a house full of fabulous mid-century pieces sounds like a good time to me. But that'[s quite a far cry from the pretend character for sale at Anthropologie. Quirky hand-me-downs have a story to tell, and authenticity. These folks are selling the appearance of of a story without the story. What's left is a pose, and an absurd one at that.

  3. Man, that's some fugly Sh*!
    That first sofa looks like a dog bed I wouldn't even let my dog sleep on.
    This is one instance where, when a big US based decor chain announces it's coming to CANADA, then proceeds to open a half dozen stores in the Greater Toronto Area, I'm not getting so fashed about it.
    They seem to be perfect for those deluded individuals think an outrageous price tag equates quality.

  4. Please Susan, feel free to say "shit" around here any time you want to. Especially when you're describing this sort of thing. So Canada's now blighted with this outfit now too. You have my condolences.

  5. I've never understood the appeal of Anthropologie either. Unfortunately with people flocking to furnish their pads with IKEA, WalMart and Rooms to Go there will no longer be furniture to inherit.

  6. I shake my head in wonder every time I drive past a Rooms To Go in particular. But the strange thing about the upholstered furniture from Anthropologie is that it's actually made well. Unlike the garbage from Pottery Barn and the rest. I mean, those sofas have hardwood frames and hand tied coils. Ugly as they are, they will last long enough to be passed down. That begs the question of course of who in their right mind would want it?

  7. I have to admit that a colleague and I were just talking about how we WANT to find things we like at Anthro, but it's really hard sometimes.

  8. I would love to have another resource for decent furniture at my disposal. I'd love it. But unfortunately...

  9. Have you seen the new show, "Man Shops Globe?" (Sundance Channel) It follows the main buyer from A all over the world looking for items for the store. He visits all kinds of artists and explains why and why not the items would work in their stores. The chandelier was from an South African artist. I can't afford the furniture, but I love watching the show!

  10. Oh Paul, another post that cracked me up. I actually do like Anthropologie for some things and clothes. You are so right about it though (scary corporate-ness, etc.), and the prices are obscene.

    I did buy some fun hardware there recently -- knobs for kids' bathrooms that were reasonably priced. I also got a wallpaper idea from there, and found something similar somewhere else because I couldn't stomach Anthro's price ($198 a roll!).

  11. Heh. Thanks for the laugh. The emperor does indeed have no clothes.

    This is the hint of what we're going to see more of when Gen-Y becomes the major buying power, unfortunately.

    The only thing I can think of is: Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice!

  12. I hope this doesn't tarnish your imagine of me, but I do love Anthropologie's clothing. They are one of the few places that sells some unique and good quality shoes and boots for which one doesn't need a loan.
    The down side to that is that their clothing is totally overpriced and, even worse, made in China. Between those two detractors, I don't buy clothing from them, but since I can sew I copy a lot of their garments that end up costing me a relative pittance and are fairly accurate replicas.
    I have to agree with you about the furniture though. I never really liked that shabby chic shit which it seems is all they sell.

  13. Kathy: Thanks for the comment and welcome to K&RD. I have never seen that show on Sundance, but that it's on Sundance comes as no surprise. Hah! I will keep my eyes open for it. Even though I can't stand what they sell, the science behind stocking a retail store is fascinating.

    Erika: I had a bad day yesterday and I was still spitting nails when I sat down to write this post. Believe it or not, channeling my venom like this improves my mood. I'm glad you enjoyed this.

    Kelly: Please don't scare me like that. I believe in my heart of hearts that just as our generation moved from spiral perms and acid washed jeans to Banana Republic, Gen Y will come to their sense eventually too.

    Melody: Your admission has forever tarnished my image of you. Be careful what you admit on the internet, it may come back to haunt you. Hah!

  14. "Their selections seem to be geared to be geared to people too young to remember how horrible the '70's were..." Ha.. so true! Check out James Lileks book "Interior Desecrations: Hideous Homes from the Horrible '70's". Actually, just about all of his stuff is funny!

  15. tsmith: Welcome! I will keep an eye out for that book. It sounds like a real hoot.

  16. www.lileks.com
    his commentary is gut-splitting

  17. Hold on a second:


    Oh Paolo, you're just jealous that the A designer gets his own TV series and is paid twice: once to shop for this shit (yes, I said it!) and once more to be featured doing it on The Sundance Channel.

    Who's making the decisions at Sundance, anyway? First the Anthropologie buyer show; now the flaming figure skater bad boy with no class, Johnny Wier? What's next? Talk amongst yourselves.

    I do like the fact that they meet with artisans and artists, learning about their techniques and educating the public on how much craftsmanship and dedication goes into these products. Unfortunately, his picks are so wild, they end up looking more Mardi Gras float than anything else.

  18. Look no further than the bumper music and video between movies on that network, I say. I realize bumper music is a radio term, I forget what fillers are called in TV land. Anyhow, they are such a film school pose I can't stand it. I still haven't watched the Anthropologie buy show mostly because the fruits of his labors look exactly like a Mardi Gras float. That's a perfect description by the way. I haven't watched the Johnny Weir thing either, mostly because I can't handle young gay men on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I won't let people in my life who are that unstable, why would I invite one into my living room.

    Ahhh, Julie now you've sent me over the edge again. Damn!

  19. Poverino. I think you need to go to Rome for some R and R. (Risotto and Ravenna)

  20. I agree wholeheartedly. I'll be in New York this week and some Neapolitan food will have to hold me over.


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