RH: A Store Turned Dream House
With the opening of its massive new store in Cherry Creek, RH aims to transform the retail shopping experience
Rendering of RH Denver, The Gallery at Cherry Creek
Gary Friedman started his working career stocking shelves for Gap in San Francisco. That was just after he dropped out of college. Not that it mattered. Friedman’s résumé details a meteoric retail rise. At age 21, he was the youngest-ever Gap manager. At 29, he was recruited as senior vice president of stores and operations for Williams-Sonoma, where over the course of 14 years he saw the company’s yearly sales increase from $300 million to $2.1 billion. In October, at 58, Friedman unveiled his grandest project yet, RH’s new Denver location, The Gallery at Cherry Creek—a 70,000-square-foot, four-story lollapalooza.
We caught up with him at his Belvedere, California, home for some insight into his philosophy and Colorado’s new retail monument.
Where did your love for design come from?
GF: In a lot of ways, I think I was born seeing the world in a certain way. I was always very visual. And because I wasn’t a big reader or a big student, I wasn’t influenced or inhibited. I could just be super curious about the world and try and understand why I liked what I liked. I developed my own framework of logic. Great design to me is full of logic and intent; it’s not accidental. The logic creates the feeling.
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How does that philosophy manifest itself in the new Cherry Creek gallery?
GF: You’re never more than 25 or 35 feet from natural light. We have indoor/outdoor gardens. We have over 100 pairs of French doors. We have rooftop garden conservatories. We’re trying to blur the lines between residential and retail and have our galleries really feel more like a home—not just any home, but a real aspirational home. When our first RH stores opened in L.A. and Houston, the number one comment I heard was, “Aah, I just want to live here.” I’ve been in retail over 30 years, and I had never heard anyone say that.
Reclaimed Wood & Glass V-Form Console Table by Thomas Bina, base constructed of reclaimed Douglas fir, $1,495
How did you pick the architects for your stores and specifically for Denver?
GF: I was really impressed with Howard Backen’s design of the Il Fornaio restaurants. There was one in San Francisco where I lived. At the time, I was president at Williams-Sonoma and working on taking Pottery Barn from being a tabletop tchotchke business to a vertically integrated home business. I worked with Howard on Pottery Barn and then with him and Jim Gillam on the redesign of Williams-Sonoma stores. When I came to RH, I called them. They also designed my house in Belvedere.
Richards’ Trunk Tall Coffee Table in Aluminum, also available in Beige and Charcoal waxed canvas, $1,695
Why invest a fortune in a brick-and-mortar store when so much purchasing is done online?
GF: It’s one thing to say, “This many transactions happen online.” But how many of those transactions are influenced by a retail experience? We live in a visual world. A department store in a mall is really an archaic, windowless box that lacks any sense of humanity. There’s no natural light. There’s no fresh air. Plants die in a department store. We’re trying to build something that we believe is right for today, that respects humanity, that’s inspiring to be in, and is a place you really want to go.
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You talk a lot about the home experience. What is your home like?
GF: The house itself is a study of order, balance, symmetry, and proportion. It’s a bunch of things that I love that are integrated in a way that all kind of works together. I’ve got Asian antiques. I’ve got Spanish Baroque. I’ve got midcentury modern.
Milo Baughman Model #3426 Chair, 1953 in Black Mohair Velvet with Brushed Brass finish, available in 120 fabrics, 20 leathers, and 3 finishes, from $3,195
Do you have any design books at your house?
GF: My whole library is architecture and design books, and I haven’t really read any of them. But I do look at the pictures. I really like graphic designers, interior designers, and architects. All the books are either white or cream or neutral. The books are part of the design of the room.
Kinetic Chandelier in Dark Steel, also available in Polished Nickel, $895
RH carries the work of many designers, like carpet guru Ben Soleimani (rugs pictured on previous page) and designer Jonathan Browning. How did you select these people?
GF: We used to design internally, with our own design team and a specific point of view. This is what I had done at Gap with Mickey Drexler, at Pottery Barn, West Elm, and in the early days at RH. What I realized is it was limiting. You can only attract so many really great people inside a company because the really great people want to do their own thing. In the early days we went out and found these partners, but in many ways they found us. Ben Soleimani, for example, was our landlord on Melrose Avenue in L.A. He also had a rug business. My ex-wife and I bought four or five rugs from him about 10 years ago. One day he says, “I love what you’re doing, but your rugs are s***. Let me do your rug business for you.”
These partners are really kindred spirits—we share the same ideals when it comes to life and design, etc. They present their best ideas to us, and we curate from that. We don’t have contracts; we have mutually beneficial relationships. We don’t buy more than 5 or 10 percent of what anybody shows us, not even Ben.