Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Catalog cute, revisited

So I gave up trying to cancel all my catalogs. Perhaps one day I’ll give it another go. But no matter whether it’s J. Crew, Uline, or the Oriental Trading Company, I just can’t help but look through every page of every catalog that comes through our mail slot and compulsively turn down the corners of pages with stuff that catches my eye, for whatever reason. To hell with the design editors who promise a happier, simpler life if only you would put those unwanted catalogs—and all your other junk mail—directly into a recycle bin by your front door (“Might we suggest a $98 Hable Construction storage box that perfectly coordinates—but not so much that it looks matchy—with the rest of your 8' x 10' entryway?”).

With this realization, then, I bring you a new regular feature: Catalog cute. I would try to articulate my criteria for what is cute, but it’s more difficult than one might think. So much of what people call “cute” just isn’t. What I’m looking for is more than baby animals or appealing and cheery patterns; it has to have that certain je ne sais cute, that special combination of zing and purity that gives me a feeling similar to a completed row of Tetris blocks, disappearing with a quick poof! Brief, fleeting happiness—perhaps not true genius or beauty, but a more human and democratic pleasure. Or something.

First off, then, comes a challenge: Country Curtains. I think I actually solicited this catalog when I was looking for a roller shade to go under our bedroom curtains. I wanted a step up from the cheap polyester kind, but I needed something with a simple mechanism that wouldn’t take up a lot of space and that came in a width to fit our window. Looking around online, this Textured Woven Shade in Natural ($38–$99) seemed to fit the bill, so I sent away for a sample. It really is quite appealing in person, although I never got around to buying one—we rarely open the bedroom curtains, so the cheapy shade that came with the house is just fine. (Plus it’s free.) But I like that I can imagine this shade in both a modern setting as well as a tidy grandma’s sky-blue condo bedroom.

As for the rest of the catalog, well, the curtains mostly seem to be designed for someone else’s house. But the website offers some decently cute home “accents,” including a couple of the hooked-wool variety, which always get me. I love the nostalgia of the “I'm Pining for You” pillow, and the Alice hooked rug’s simple, pretty design and timeless color combo would add a homey touch to a too-modern bedroom or entryway. The granny-square throw isn't bad, although I'm still partial to Garnet Hill's more sophisticated (and, at $328, way more expensive) Haverhill Afghan Throw.

Catalogs photo from Enviromedia.com

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