RH’s global expansion begins in San Francisco with a new 80,000-square-foot flagship
Words by KELSEY McKINNON
The new RH San Francisco, The Gallery, inside the iconic 1917 Bethlehem Steel building is the crown jewel in the latest of a string of NorCal openings for the storied brand — and a deeply personal one for the brand’s impassioned CEO, Gary Friedman. “I remember growing up in San Francisco and my mom would take me to the Emporium department store downtown. It was such a magical place, with multiple floors of shopping soaring up to the sky under this beautiful glass rotunda,” says Friedman, who grew up on food stamps with his single mother. They eventually relocated to Sonoma County, and he never got to dine at the Emporium’s rotunda restaurant; but now, in a way, he finally can. Amid the new 80,000-square-foot gallery, where entire floors are dedicated to RH’s businesses (including RH Modern, RH Interiors, RH Outdoor and the brand’s largest RH Interior Design Firm and Atelier), the glass-enclosed atrium restaurant with trickling fountains, glass chandeliers and soaring medjool date palms sets a new high-water mark in luxury retail.
The brand’s reverence for symmetry is on grand display at the new atrium restaurant, featuring a central fountain surrounded by mature palms and glittering RH chandeliers.
In the 20 years since Friedman took the helm at RH, he’s transformed the sleepy knickknack brand into a publicly traded luxury conglomerate. It’s a fairy tale not unlike Friedman’s own success story — he famously dropped out of Santa Rosa Junior College and became a stock boy at The Gap before a 13-year turn at Williams-Sonoma, where he was passed over for the CEO title despite having helped Pottery Barn become a $1 billion brand.
“Growing up, the Emporium department store was such a magical place, with multiple floors of shopping soaring up to the sky under this beautiful glass rotunda.”
As the new RH San Francisco, The Gallery, bows at the former Bethlehem Steel building, the brand’s longtime outpost on Henry Adams Street (pictured here) has been reenvisioned as a monastic gallery for the latest concept, RH Contemporary.
At RH, Friedman was determined to summit the luxury mountain, with key moments of the brand’s ascent playing out close to its Corte Madera headquarters. In 2010, he had the radical vision to break from the traditional mall model, opening RH’s first stand-alone gallery in S.F. (which will now be home to the new RH Contemporary concept). In 2018, RH debuted its first experience-driven concept, in Yountville, with a five-building compound including a wine vault at the historic Ma(i)sonry building and a restaurant surrounded by 100-year-old olive trees. And last summer, Friedman unveiled a colossal 60,000-square-foot gallery in Corte Madera with a glass-encased rooftop restaurant and wine bar that looks out onto a fully landscaped park.
The company has a firehose stream of forthcoming hospitality initiatives, from guesthouses and restaurants to yachts and gulfstreams, along with the opening of its first overseas gallery next year (on a 73-acre estate in Oxfordshire, England, no less) that will bring its signature linen sofas, reclaimed tables and glittering fixtures to life. With each new project, Friedman applies the same litmus test: “Does it leave a lasting memory as the Rotunda did to this young boy 50 years ago?” 590 20th St., S.F., 415-865-0407; rh.com.
Feature image: RH’s new gallery in the historic Bethlehem Steel building on S.F.’s Pier 70.
This story originally appeared in the Winter 2021-2022 issue of C Magazine.
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