Restoration Hardware - Emergent Global Luxury Leader
If RH had a singular mantra or guiding principle, it would likely center on the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Refuse to follow where the path may lead, but instead go where there is no path, and leave a trail.”
It’s a quote often cited by Chairman and CEO Gary Freidman, and for good reason. In the pantheon of most admired luxury brands, it is an exceedingly rare feat to begin as a struggling mass market retailer and ever achieve this coveted status. But over the course of the last two decades, RH, once known as Restoration Hardware, has emphatically defied conventional wisdom to do just that.
“20 years ago, we began this journey with a vision for transforming a nearly bankrupt business with a box of Oxydol laundry detergent on the cover of its catalog into the leading luxury home brand in the world,” Freidman says. “Leadership is about pursuing a vision, something you’ve never seen, that’s somewhere you’ve never been.”
Core to this vision was a dramatic and continual elevation of the brand’s product offering. The quest led Friedman and his team to develop an extensive global network of acclaimed designers, artisans and manufacturers to co-create exclusive collections for the expanding RH platform – from master glass artist Alison Berger in Los Angeles to globally-renowned designer Piet Boon in Amsterdam. This level of design was previously only available to members of the trade through niche showrooms. “There are those with scale and no taste and those with taste and no scale,” Friedman says. “Furniture of this quality has never been made in these quantities before.”
A constellation of new businesses and concepts followed – RH Interiors, Modern, Outdoor, Ski House, Beach House, Baby & Child and TEEN, among them.
Conquering the luxury market also meant reimaging the physical manifestation of the brand. Friedman’s opening salvo came with the 2010 unveiling of RH San Francisco – a Palladian palazzo across the street from the San Francisco Design Center situated amidst the city’s leading interior design firms, an unprecedented move for a retailer at the time.
In breathtaking fashion, Friedman has challenged the prevailing logic that shopping is destined to become an all-digital pursuit in the years since. “Many who report on retail’s imminent death are overlooking the obvious – we are physical and social creatures,” Friedman says. “It’s why we still want to go to theaters to watch movies, concerts to listen to music, ballparks to see a game, and restaurants to grab a bite.
“The big issue with retail is that it’s basically been designed in the same way for the last 50 years – an archaic windowless box that lacks any sense of humanity. There’s no natural light or fresh air.”
On the premise that great architecture amplifies and renders its product and brand more valuable, RH continues to innovate by creating highly immersive Design Galleries that blur the lines between residential and retail, indoors and outdoors. From grand-scale contemporary structures to historic landmark buildings that have been meticulously preserved and restored, visitors discover lush garden courtyards and terraces, rooftop parks and conservatories, and full floors featuring artistic installations that showcase collections from each of the RH businesses.
Among these singular places are The Gallery at the Historic Museum of Natural History in Boston’s famous Back Bay; RH Greenwich, the Gallery at the Historic Post Office; RH West Hollywood, the Gallery on Melrose Avenue; and RH Atlanta, a 70,000-square-foot experience conceptualized as a contemporary version of a southern estate.
In later iterations, Friedman has pushed the concept still further by merging home and hospitality – initially at RH Chicago, The Gallery at the Three Arts Club, where he introduced the brand’s first culinary offering. The experience includes a Wine Vault, Barista Bar and the 3 Arts Club Café, which Zagat promptly added to its list of “ten sexiest restaurants.”
“We’re trying to revolutionize physical retailing by seamlessly integrating food, wine, art and design – creating environments that activate all of the senses and cannot be replicated online,” Friedman says.
True to that, glass-encased rooftop restaurants – where guest dine in year-round, skylit garden escapes beneath dramatic atriums with retractable glass walls, sparkling crystal chandeliers and heritage olive trees – have since emerged in new Galleries coast to coast. At RH New York, hailed by Forbes as “the perfect place to dine,” a stunning light installation by Berger flows through a six-story grand double staircase. At RH West Palm, visitors are met with a 14-foot wall of cascading water inspired by the famed fountain in Paley Park and an ancient text-based mural by renowned artist RETNA which commands the Gallery’s entire façade.
To evolve the brand beyond conceptualizing product to conceptualizing and selling spaces, Friedman and his team are also in the midst of building the largest residential interior design firm in North America – providing a concierge-level service that seamlessly appears in each of the new Galleries as an RH Interior Design Firm and Atelier. These interactive studios feature private client presentation rooms with state-of-the-art technology, as well as RH Rugs showrooms.
As an emergent global luxury leader, the future of RH is defined by possibility and purpose – one that includes the unveiling of RH San Francisco, the Gallery at the Historic Bethlehem Steel later this year. The 60,000 square foot building spans five floors and will be prominently situated at Illinois and 20th Streets – the crown jewel of Pier 70. Constructed in 1917 and designed in the Classical Revival style by distinguished San Francisco architect Frederick H. Meyer, the entire structure will be restored to its original glory in honor of the building’s unique history, cultural significance and singular place in San Francisco’s urban landscape. Friedman is also planning to expand the brand beyond North America with first-of-their kind Galleries in Europe, beginning in 2022.
“You should count on us to take the road less traveled – one that will continue to ignite our spirit and inspire our customers,” says Friedman.