Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bravo, Gary Friedman

California-based Restoration Hardware’s CEO/Chairman Gary Friedman is known for boldly remaking the company and giving it a distinctive new vibe and look. 

This week Friedman launches his newest concept, a dramatic, sun-lit Restoration Hardware design gallery in a handsome Palladian showroom in San Francisco’s design district. It’s placed beautifully behind a tall wall and a pair of grand portals, with a terrace and sunlight galore, right in the midst of top design showrooms and the finest antiques galleries. 


I have long admired Gary Friedman for his fearless leap into management and ownership of Restoration Hardware. 

The company was founded in 1980 to sell, what else, restoration hardware. 

The original founder opened his first store and launched a quirky catalog because he was restoring a Craftsman house in Marin County in Northern California. He could not find all the authentic lighting, doorknobs, hinges, handles, and flotsam and jetsam of remodeling for a classic and historic residence. Thus the name! 

The company grew, catalogs arrived through the mail, and stores were opened around the country. The design evolved and the company offered a classic range, with beautiful bed linens, good solid furniture, beautifully made basic pieces for any residence, and the kick of quirky gifts and accessories. 

Gary Friedman, formerly with Williams Sonoma, boldly took over the company and has slowly and thoughtfully reshaped it. 

Now he is making an even more ambitious leap—with a glamorous new showroom in a former super-luxe antiques gallery. This gallery opens September 23, with a party for 600 guests, and hundreds of new designs, furniture, lighting, antique reproductions, and singular modern and period pieces. 

The new gallery is at 188 Henry Adams Street, San Francisco, in the former home of Ed Hardy San Francisco Antiques. Ed Hardy, who built this Palladian masterpiece, is knowledgeable and uniquely insightful in matters of antiques and decorative accessories, and he will stay on as a consultant. 

Gary Frieman made a great splash last year by revamping the whole Resto product line. He introduced what many design fans and design bloggers have called ‘the Axel Vervoordt look’ for its insistently beige tones and neutral coloring, heavy linen upholstery, off-beat antiques, industrial findings, rusted metals and use of raw wood. (The brilliant design blogger Joni Webb of Cote de Texas wrote brilliantly and presciently about this new collection.)

In fact, this is not Antwerp-based art and antique dealer Axel Vervoordt’s look at all. Axel's look for interiors (he insists he is not a decorator) is much more rare, more refined, more subtle, more self-aware and knowing. 

Axel's work for a range of international clients is always inflected with art by Lucio Fontana, a sculpture by Anish Kapoor, or Egyptian antiquities, authentic handcrafted pieces, a farm table here, a Roman or Khmer torso there, surprises, and the finest of the fine. It's expensive. You could not build a catalog truly replicating Axel—but you might use his ideas to get your creative juices flowing. He’s an excellent source for inspiration. 

Axel Vervoordt and his son Boris Vervoordt (see my earlier features on the Vervoordts in THE STYLE SALONISTE archive) love and collect and offer fine paintings and beautiful antiques and fine silver and modern sculptures, and very insider collections. They love the imperfect, juxtaposed with the new. Their 'look' (though all interiors are unique) as seen in Axel’s superb books published by Rizzoli, is not loft-like or rough or industrial or even especially overscale, as Restoration Hardware’s new look was shaped. 

The new Restoration Hardware look is what I would call Antwerpian loft (my own coined expression) or Brussels-esque. Maybe it’s actually Gary-esque. Brilliant. 

Restoration Hardware has done a superb job of adapting a dash of Axel’s witty overscale sofas with a typical Belgian understated monochromatic décor with plain linen upholstery. And there’s Belgian flea-market rough-and-tumble antiques thrown in. 

It’s a look originally presented with panache in multitudes of books published by the Beta-Plus Belgian publishing house, and in their tomes, with names like ‘Timeless Living’ and ‘Urban Retreats’ published beautifully and in multitudes. No text to speak of but highly detailed photos. These volumes have been hotly collected in design studios and merchandise design studios for some years. A secret resource. Designers love them because there are lots of easy-to-emulate and client-pleasing ideas and inspiration for product, kitchens, color, bathrooms, and décor. 

But Restoration Hardware—Gary’s talented team—has used these influences and magnified them and given them muscle and character and made it its own. Now the monochromatic overscale sofa is paired with a weird office desk or a strange and fetishistic set of rusted gear objects and chrome counterpoise floor lamp. Style should be a mash-up, not a period fantasy. 

Resto’s greatest new hits now include a mad and wonderful Aviator Chair with shiny riveted metal sides that looks as if it was crafted from aircraft parts and a vintage leather armchair. Love it. 

There are a Royal Master Sealight Floorlamp, rusty looking mid-century Mid-Century Ship Ladder Shelving, an antique lunar map, a friendly wooden glider model, cashmere throws, a French dentist’s chair, a polyhedron model (very Belgian), lots of chairs and sofas rigorously upholstered in Belgian linen, along with a dramatic forties sling iron rocker. No pattern here. No frills. 

Some might find the collection relentlessly beige. The uber-macho industrial carts and muscular rusted industrial chain pulleys and collection of fishing weights might appear a bit lacking in humor. It can get a bit heavy-handed. You can love or reject the bulky authentic ironbound antique cotton mill bins (just 235 remaining), but they are original and will last a life-time. And unquestionably the bed linens are superb (Italian, French, just perfect), and I love the towels and duvets and luxurious goose down pillows. 

It takes fearless leadership and a strong point of view to pull this all together and to achieve such a strong, inviting, versatile, and cohesive look. 

This new Resto offering of furniture and décor would fit right into a Colorado lodge, a Lake Tahoe cottage, a Silver Lake escape, a Rancho Santa Fe equestrian property, an Arizona retreat, or an Adirondacks cottage. Belgian linen, rough and unpretentious and classic, looks great anywhere. 

A careful perusal of the pages of the new catalog (I seem to get at least one a day in my mailbox) digs up a useful French postal desk (terrific for a garage or a studio), and a chic fifties linen-upholstered Copenhagen chair, plus some bombastic beds, fake antlers, whacking big rolls of sisal/linen rugs, and enough silk and linen curtains to cover Antwerp with a Christo-like wrapping, there and back. 

I hear that Restoration Hardware is going to be opening in Los Angeles on or near Melrose Avenue in the heart of the design district around the Pacific Design Center. Decorators might feel it’s a bit too close for comfort, but clients with be happy. 

Light-filled galleries and chock-a-block flagships and entirely new collections are being planned at this moment. I love it. 

The next thing, I think you should see hordes of Restoration Hardware furniture and décor on a TV reality show or in a celebrity house or starring on its own TV show, and its only fitting. It’s time. 

Cue the lights, camera, action. 

Thanks to Gary Friedman, Restoration Hardware is ready for its close-up. 


Year Restoration Hardware was founded: 1980 

Year Gary Friedman took over: 2001 

Number of Restoration Hardware stores: As of September 2010, Restoration Hardware operates 97 retail stores and 11 outlet stores in 30 states, the District of Columbia and Canada. 

Largest Restoration Hardware stores: The Flatiron store in NYC and the original Corte Madera store in the San Francisco Bay Area are the flagships. 

Newest item: The entire Fall 2010 collection, over 500 new pieces.

About Restoration Hardware 
The official—and fascinating—information on the company: 

Restoration Hardware is a leading purveyor of premium home furnishings offered through a multi-channel platform that includes retail stores, catalogs (Restoration Hardware Home, Garden, Outdoor, Baby & Child, and Gift) and on-line at www.restorationhardware.com and www.rhbabyandchild.com

Additionally, the company markets its products to the interior design trade and has a contract division targeting the hotel and hospitality industry. 

The Restoration Hardware merchandise offering for Fall 2010 (and basic to all stores and catalogs) includes meticulously crafted furniture, textiles, lighting, bathware, hardware, and collections of large-scale, inspirational products handmade by an international roster of artisans. The company is owned by an investment group consisting of Catterton Partners, Tower Three Partners, Glenhill Investments, and Gary Friedman. 

All photography courtesy of Restoration Hardware. Published with express permission.


Daniel Hale said...

Really VERY beautiful. I am looking forward to seeing the revamped space, which was great before. Those chairs are a hit. Incredible resource! Nice post

Jen Preston said...

I've been to the showroom store in Palo Alto, CA and my mouth was agape the entire time. I really love how they went directly to the artisans, and cut out the middlemen. It really shows in the details and quality of the pieces.

Brillante Interiors said...

I just visited a few days ago the renovated RH store in Vancouver, so different display from before, definetely more like a furniture store. You are right, Vervoordt houses are uniquely refined. Restoration can give some refinement to a "normal" house if not over-used, otherwise the space can become just boring or looking fake. A house needs personality.

Tricia Rose said...

so much I didn't know - thank you!

shiree segerstrom said...

Well said as always Diane. I think I would have made the same Belgian/Axel Vervoordt connection as well. At any rate, Gary has done a lovely reinterpretation at RH. I wish them luck in their beautiful new location at SFDC. Shiree'

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


I love all your comments.
I expect that Resto will leap forward now.
I hope they will vary the look--a lot of beige--and add to the mix. I am sure they will.
I'd like to see some refinement in the collection, too, and perhaps fewer of those great big whacking beds, so massive.
Thank you all so much for your wise words.
Refinement--I'd like to see it more in design now, and perhaps some smaller scape pieces, transitional and elegant.
cheers to you all..brilliant ones, DIANE

Karena said...


Excellent and well researched posting. I love the new mix of furnishings and the great lighting is a wow! I too would like to see an assortment of smaller scaled pieces.

Art by Karena

Jeannine 520 said...

Great post. I can't wait to see the new space. I love RH's look and have a number of pieces in my house but would really like them to consider scale with some of their pieces a little more carefully. For instance the super large chesterfield style sofa, even 6'2" men can't sit in it comfortably, it's too large. I can't tell you how many women I've seen sit down on it in the showroom and hop out if seconds later unable to feel comfortable on it. It's too bad as I think it's one of their only rough spots that really needs addressing.

A Super Dilettante said...

A great post, my dear. Now, the interesting thing about biege colour is that I've always associated this colour with grandma's colour. But this colour work so well here when it's been used as netural colouring. It's really interesting.

mary said...

Great post!! Although I love Belgium style and some of RH hardware inventory, most of all I appreciate the fact that the American level of taste will be elevated to a new level, where authentic antiques and good design will be appreciated by a wider range of buyers. Thanks for highlighting this visionary.

Alexandra said...

These are incredible spaces. Love the Aviator Chairs!

Dandy said...

i appreciate this collection, but I have to say, I love color and I find the Belgian look too wintry, cold, bleak and depressing. Sunny colors and climes for me. :)

Square with Flair said...

What a comprehensive article and interesting comparison of Restoration with Vervoordt (wish I knew how to pronounce it).

I love neutral, light rooms, but I’ve heard some criticism of the colourless Belgian look. Personally, I feel that Vervoordt’s interiors necessitate the neutral schemes because very bold pattern and colour can overpower superb antiques, and he has many of the very finest available. The only problem I see is that to some extent the work becomes watered down, when dramatic pieces are reproduced. The copies lack soul, especially if they are of very unique and distinctive pieces. The overscale vintage clock faces are now cliché, and I don’t think they are appealing when faux distressed and made in Asia. Same goes for Paris street signs, and such. In these instances, where superb antiques are lacking, and repros take their place, neutral rooms look exceedingly dull and trite.

I greatly admire Restoration Hardware but have a few reservations. Firstly, the Toronto location is poorly stocked(lots of bedlinens, throw cushions and patio accessories like lanterns), and little of what is available in the catalog is there. I want to see the pieces of furniture or large items before buying, otherwise why have a bricks and mortar store? Secondly, I feel they should stick to their strength; hardware, fixtures, lighting, and similar products. We really don’t need another store selling high thread count solid colour sheets; those are everywhere.

Lastly, I find that while many of their furniture designs are excellent, of very good quality, classic, and priced to offer very good value, they are overscaled. Many of the pieces such as giant harvest tables, and huge heavy chaise lounges for out of doors are really scaled for suburban monster homes. Their designs are so good, but if only they had some lines with more diminutive proportions for city apartments and little terraces. I’m surprised they’ve not addressed this need.

Anonymous said...

Any company that brings more people and business to the area is a welcome addition to the Design District, to be sure. Let's hope they do better going forward than their "exclusive" opening party last night.

We arrived at 6:30 to find a line of guests stretching around the block, shivering in the chilly evening air. We looked at each other and said, "Oh hell no!" We went across the street to Perry's and had a cocktail, thinking if we gave them some time, they'd get everyone inside and we could just walk in. As we sat there sipping martinis and talking, we saw several people who had been in line come in looking rather annoyed. 45 minutes later when we left Perry's, that line was still there, and just as long.

We left feeling we'd answered a cattle call rather than a welcome from a new neighbor.

Avant-Gardenist said...

What serendipity - hearing about todays opening of Restoration Hardware's showroom and finding your blog at the same time - remarkable. And that's just what I've done, I've remarked about it. Thank you very much.

Claudia Juestel said...

I think the marriage between Ed Hardy's eye and Gary Friedman's vision will be a blissful one. The opening party was a wonderful introduction of what RH will have to offer in the future.

Diane, I like your coin phrases for the new look of RH.



Anonymous said...

At first I gasped with admiration. Then felt empty. Those great Belgium flea market finds loose their magic/history if it's just a reproduction. I'd be embarassed trying to explain to my house guest it's not real.
As for anyone who speant BIG bucks on original items such as the classic framed maps only to find them on the wall of every surburban house wifes wall, must be a little peaved.
RH is turning items that could be forever classics into trendy fads.
I feel a since of loss.

Anonymous said...

oh dear..It's late and I'm tired. "I feel a sense of loss"...thank you.

Unknown said...

Wonderful post. Gary Friedman has really taken on every aspect and create something beautiful.

Candace @ Candace Creations said...

I have felt so inspired with the new look at restoration hardware, and I just read an article in the WSJ magazine about him just left me wanting to learn even more about him...how I ended up finding this post!