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Excitement? Maybe not, but lots of hinges

July 20, 2006|Robin Rauzi | Times Staff Writer

HOW many hours did I lose standing, squatting and squinting in the cabinet hardware aisles? I worked the loop -- from Lowes to the Great Indoors to Expo Design Center -- looking for bin pulls. You know the kind: not too round, or too tall, or too cheap looking. And please, in brushed nickel.

Knobs, handles, pulls, hinges -- these are things of subtlety in a house. The wrong size or finish looks a bit off, or worse, desperate.

I was bordering on desperate.

If only my catalog collection had the hardware depth then that it does now. It seems my online purchase of a leather tool apron for a brother-in-law was the magic key to a world of tool and hardware manufacturers, all of whom have generously added me to their mailing lists.

The two most hefty -- each more than 200 pages -- are Lee Valley & Veritas and Van Dyke's Restorers. Pity the poor graphic designers who have to design page after page of casters or escutcheons, all photographed in obsessively aligned arrangements. Varying the background from maple to oak to travertine does not alleviate the monotony.

I may be the only customer who actually read the introductory note from the president of Lee Valley, but I'm glad I did. "Unlike our woodworking and gardening catalogs, the release of this annual catalog just doesn't generate a lot of excitement," writes Robin C. Lee, and I give him points for honesty. "This is a catalog of solutions, and we understand that you first have to encounter the problems before its utility has an immediate relevance."

That made me understand why Lee Valley & Veritas (www.leevalley.com) is a catalog that, although I am content to have it on-hand, generates such anxiety. The trouble isn't those first 130 pages of handles, knobs and hinges, but the "project supplies" that follow. Building plans. Wiring kits. Super-strong magnets. Browsing "a catalog of solutions" makes me look around my house for problems. And that's how I wound up with 120 feet of rope, two pulleys and a knot the size of a basketball.

I think of Lee Valley & Veritas and Van Dyke's Restorers (vandykes.com) as fraternal twins. From across the room they look similar, but get to know them and they have different personalities. Van Dyke's, for instance, likes Victorian style and is fittingly stuffy. Introducing its Legacy collection of hand-carved wood accents, the text reads: "Stronger now than ever in our history is the American family's need to turn inward to the bosom of their home." I bristle when a catalog invokes some kind of post-9/11 domesticity to hawk cherub corbels. But it sells surface bolts that fit my front window, and I'll probably order them anyway.

The Lee Valley catalog feels like an eclectic uncle who is trying to impart 50 years' worth of workshop wisdom. Space-filling yellow boxes offer tips on how hinges are measured or counter-sinking screws. My favorite: "Lacquer on brass deteriorates in a polluted atmosphere."

I truly don't know what to make of a third catalog, Antique Hardware and Home (www.antiquehardware.com), which has a SkyMall-ish disjointedness to it. The cover of the May catalog has a vintage plant stand, the image softened to look like a painting. Call it, "Still-Life With Geraniums." On Page 2, next to the index, is a photo of a plastic dachshund wearing a telephone headset. He's apparently standing by to take my order, 24/7.

After that came outdoor items, gifts and accessories that ranged from useful to odd -- like the copper weathervane shaped like a shotgun. And the wicker doll carriage with parasol. The combination of those items -- and the weird toy dog -- made the bath fixtures and switch-plate covers that followed seem tacky by association.

My own bin-pull crises was solved by Restoration Hardware, which sells 16 lines of cabinet handles, each in multiple finishes. But I had to go online to find it. Restoration Hardware, purveyor of leather club chairs and espresso-stained sideboards, puts little actual hardware in its catalogs any more.

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