Gary Friedman.
Courtesy RH: Restoration Hardware

If you’ve wandered into your neighborhood Restoration Hardware lately, you’ve probably noticed that it’s not quite what it used to be. You have GARY FRIEDMAN to thank for that.

Restoration Hardware is branching out and leaving its “hardware” roots behind. Now branding itself as RH: Restoration Hardware, the company is opening a slew of new stores (billed as Design Galleries), taking over tens of thousands of square feet in what are usually historic buildings and launching wine bars, floral boutiques and more surprises in a number of its locations. The man behind the dramatic face-lift is Gary Friedman, the company’s chairman emeritus, creator and curator. He’s also the handsome guy in the catalogs, pictured gazing thoughtfully into the distance, mid-sketch, pen in hand.

Worthy Buys

Some of Gary’s favorite things from the current (count ’em) six RH source books

PORCELAIN TABLETOP: “We spent more than two years obsessing over plates for our tabletop catalog. Look at the side of the plate, the way it curves down … [this is] so it doesn’t chip — it’s not just aesthetic. I can’t tell you how many plates I banged together to get this right. And, we’re the first to do porcelain in glazed colors. We found a crazy chemist who figured it out.”

LIBBEY GIBRALTAR GLASS: “Some people on the team argued with me because I decided to put in this $2.50 glass. The fact is,
I have had this glass for more than 25 years. I use it every day. It’s the best everyday drinking glass I have ever had. You can buy it anywhere, and we’ll sell it at the same price as anyone else. But nobody else will photograph it the way we do — we make it look like it’s the best piece of crystal in the world.”

THE ASPEN COLLECTION: “This furniture collection was designed by Søren Rose, who’s from Copenhagen. It’s made from these unbelievable, big logs and is perfect for anybody who has a home in the mountains or ski country.”

1920s GERMAN LIGHT BULB VOLTAGE TESTER BAR: “This is in our Curiosity [source] book, and it is magnificent. It’s a giant metal sphere, about four feet wide, that’s a reproduction of a 1920s light-bulb–voltage tester. It sits on a tripod and is great on its own — but we outfitted the inside like a bar.”

American Way: You arrived at RH 12 years ago — it was a very different store back then.
Gary Friedman: It was a mall-based business. More than 50 percent was what the company called “discovery items,” which were interesting, nostalgic knickknacks or tchotchkes. It was also losing $40 million a year and on the verge of bankruptcy.

AW: How do you take a brand from tchotchkes to more elegant furnishings, like Belgian linen and Sheffield silverware?
GF: Slowly. We started with textiles — Italian bedding, Turkish towels and Thai silk drapes. Then we developed our own bath-hardware collection of faucets and fittings. And we built the furniture business — when I first got there, it was Mission furniture or slip-covered sofas and not much else. Today, we’re a highly curated collection of furniture, lighting, textiles and decor.

AW: You restored a 150-year-old museum building in downtown Boston, and you’re opening a store in an old post office in Greenwich, Conn. I heard you’re also eyeing an age-old building in Chicago.
GF: We do adaptive reuse of a historic building if and where we can — it resonates with the spirit of what we do. Our design ethos is based in great architecture. Where we can’t find great architecture, we’re trying to [create] it, like in Houston, where we built a 20,000-square-foot building from scratch and put a park on the roof.

AW:: I’ve heard you’re also including “bibliothèques” in some stores, with magazines and newspapers from around the world, as well as a floral boutique and a wine bar.
GF: At our core, what we do best is curate. We find great things that we love and we try to put those into a composition that creates a point of view or experience that’s aesthetically our own. That can include a local florist who does design in a way we love, or my friend Michael Polenske, who’ll be doing the wine bars.

AW: What’s the philosophy behind the product selection?
GF: Everything we do should operate from a place of truth. Like the porcelain from China. China is the birthplace of porcelain. It was that country’s gift to the world. Manufacturing is moving around, and in some places it is better to make something somewhere else than the original country. But there are certain places true to the origins of those products, and that story is often overlooked in today’s world.

 To find a RH: Restoration Hardware store near you, call (800) 910-9836 or visit