BROOKLINE, Mass. It came without warning, says Chloe Vanderslice, who with her husband Rick narrowly avoided a gruesome death. “I stood up to help with the hors d’oeuvres, turned my back for a second,” she recalled. “Then I heard this ungodly rumbling noise, like an earthquake.”
The sound was not a natural disaster, but a decorating one. “I feel so sad for the kids,” says Mindi Baker, referring to Joey and Claire Elsworth, the two children who were orphaned when another guest’s knee hit a loosely-secured copy of the massive mail order catalog of Restoration Hardware, the high-end home furnishing company. The collision sent the volume cascading into their parents, who were buried under items from the chain’s “Wyeth Split Bamboo Collection.” “At least they’ll grow up knowing that their mom and dad died in good taste,” Baker said tearfully.
The heavyweight glossy tome is circulated to potential customers in high-net worth zip codes without regard to safety considerations, says Assistant Consumer Products Safety Commissioner Anne de Borchgrave, the federal agency that regulates overpriced gew-gaws. “Those things should be strapped down in high winds, and also central air conditioning,” she says as she scans a map of the United States by which she keeps track of catalog-related deaths and dismemberments. “If you lose your footing serving a canapé you could wipe out the Sherpa who helped you get it up to your apartment.”
The union representing letter carriers for the U.S. Postal Service has sought unsuccessfully for years to bar transmission of the massive catalog through the mails, citing the high number of hernias suffered by their members. “We tried to switch the pack mules,” says the company’s Director of Logistics, Ira Millstone, “but the ASPCA was all over us.”