Most homeware retailers just want to sell as many beds, sofas, chairs and rugs as they can. Gary Friedman is a furniture maker who wants to change the world, one Afghan pouffe at a time. ‘We all have our own authentic light. And if we shine our authentic light, it can lift the spirit of another human being and inspire them to shine their light on others,’ he says. ‘Our goal is to create an endless reflection of hope, inspiration and love that will ignite the human spirit and change the world. We believe by chasing our hopes and dreams, we can inspire others to chase theirs.’
Listening to his evangelical corporate woo-woo while studying his permatanned complexion and wrists striped with woven bracelets inscribed with the mottos ‘Believe’ and ‘Live and let live’, it’s tempting to dismiss Friedman as a West Coast entrepreneur who has spent too much time in the California sun. But that would be a mistake, because he is transforming the way we play house.
world’s first large-scale upmarket furniture and homeware retailer. That might not sound like a big deal, but it is. While fashion companies have sold clothes and accessories in large branded stores all over the world for years, fancy furniture retailers are largely boutique operators, such as B&B Italia and Zanotta in Italy and The Conran Shop or Heal’s in Britain. Not Friedman. He sells a full range of furniture to suit an upscale lifestyle – thousands of items in dozens of variations – and he does it in the kind of stores that would make Sir Terence Conran, Habitat founder and Docklands property pioneer, weep with envy.
RH’s new shops, or ‘next-generation design galleries’ as Friedman prefers to call them, are up to 70,000 sq ft freestanding department stores with different sections for interiors, lighting, bath, bed, small spaces, linens, rugs, outdoor, baby and child, and teen. The most striking are located in converted historic buildings with architecture and construction budgets running into the tens of millions of dollars. The vast windows open to let in the sun and the fresh air. There are roof terraces with 100-year old olive trees, restaurants and cafés, and valuable modern art on the walls. ‘We are obsessed with great architecture,’ Friedman says. ‘We either find it or we build it.’