RH reaching for the stars with debut in England

Summertime is for reading. I have been reading a lot. 

This past week, I read of the super-rich hiring big-name bands for their private events, including bar mitzvahs and birthday parties. I read of the lavish lovefest among fashion and celebrity that is the annual Met gala in New York. 

And I read that Idris Elba had been the DJ for the premiere of RH England in the Cotswolds. 

RH’s new address in Europe, Historic Aynho Park

To see displays of such concentrated wealth juxtaposed with inflation reports, tornado coverage and our latest property tax assessment was to invite a kind of madness that can see in the random text of world events a chronicle of connections and even conspiracy. 

They say seeing is believing, but I tend to put more stock in wisdom from Judy Elf in the original Santa Clause, who said, “Believing is seeing.” 

I believe I see some relevant, compelling through lines in these celebrity-driven, experience-focused, culture brand-laden pleasure domes created for the new aristocracy, an economic class of billionaires and ultra-wealthy in America that has tripled in membership since 2000.

The world is not enough 

In the New Yorker article on how to hire a pop star for your private party, I read of the legions of “the merely very rich” seeking “an experience” by hiring Lenny Kravitz, Maroon 5 or Snoop Dogg for their private gigs. Turning 50? Rent out Duran Duran, which just rocked State Farm Arena here in Atlanta. 

Now I cannot believe that for a nugget of wisdom I am about to quote Anthony Scaramucci, but in this column’s planetarium show, he’s one of the shifting images up there on the half dome. You might remember his 11 shooting star days as a member of Trump’s White House staff. Bet you didn’t know he’s also made a fortune retailing celebrity.

As Scaramucci explains it in the Evan Osnos-written article, “We’re in love with fame. Our entire society is addicted to it.” 

This addiction seems particularly acute among the new aristocracy. Right on cue, high-end furniture retailer Eichholtz announced that in October it will launch one of its largest collections in partnership with The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the same Met that got skewered on social for the “Let them eat cake” vibe of its big fundraising gala this year.

The uber-rich have only four basic options for spending their money, according to Scaramucci: “They can go into the art world, or private aircraft and yachting, or charity — naming buildings and hospitals after themselves. Or they can go into experiential.” 

Live and let die

Scaramucci said we have to prove we are “really living.” We seek a sense of immortality, however ephemeral. The zeitgeist of the super rich, according to one of that class’ more prominent concierges, screams out: “I’m super loaded! I have a Rolls-Royce! Well f— that. There’s a thousand of them. But if I tell you, ‘You are one of a kind!,’ now you’re special.”

Scaramucci’s explanation connects directly, even celestially to Elba at the turntables of the RH England launch, an event that glittered with Hollywood glamour. Among the event’s guests were Pete Tong, Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi. And that was just in Elba’s DJ booth. Emerging from the parade of black limos were Bridgerton’s Regé-Jean Page, Sydney Sweeney of The Handmaid’s Tale and Avatar’s Zoë Saldaña, according to coverage in The Times of London newspaper.

RH England, or, more specifically, The Gallery at the Historic Aynho Park, is the brand’s “most inspiring and immersive physical expression,” according to the company’s press release, and a key prong in the company’s strategy to become an elite culture brand of the kind of Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior. (Not any time soon, however. Vuitton parent LMVH reported 2022 revenues of $86 billion compared to RH’s $6 billion.) 

This culture brand ambition connects us again to the Met Gala held each May, an event lambasted last year for being callously disconnected with the realities of most Americans. The gala’s theme in 2022, “Gilded Glamour,” referenced the Gilded Age, or another period in American history when economic inequities yawned wider than Scaramucci at an ethics briefing. (This year’s theme paid tribute to the late fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld.)

So, while I throw up a little thinking about the very separate Americas that different socio-economic classes inhabit, I do get it. I see the rationale and even good business sense of creating the retail equivalents of gated communities. It’s working for real estate developers, and it could work for RH, which just opened the front gates on its lavish new haunts in the Cotswolds in England, an American invasion that had the Times of London lamenting the “rampant Hamptonsisation” of the erstwhile bucolic English countryside. 

Why are the Americans suddenly interested in English sheep enclosures? Why are estate agents referring to Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire as “brand destinations,” the newspaper wondered.

Diamonds are forever

Spread out over 73 acres and more than 60 rooms, RH’s first U.K. presence is an elaborate showroom with restaurants and resortlike guest services. Showcasing the retailer’s big move into luxury hospitality, the Gallery at the Historic Aynho Park features three restaurants:

  • The Orangery, a live-fire concept
  • The Loggia, an outdoor venue featuring wood-fired pizzas
  • The Conservatory, an American bistro, opening later this fall

The storied estate, which is older than America, gives RH a stunning setting in which to present its RH Interiors luxury home furnishings collections, an overhaul that reclassifies RH’s looks as Contemporary, Modern and Outdoor.

One of three restaurants in The Gallery at Historic Aynho Park, the Orangery

“We believe RH England represents our greatest work to date and will serve as a symbol of our values and beliefs as we embark on our expansion across Europe,” said Gary Friedman, chairman and CEO of RH, who also has spearheaded the revitalization of landmark buildings in the U.S., including the former Museum of Natural History in Boston, The HistoricThree Arts Club in Chicago, The Historic Post Office in Greenwich, Connecticut, the Bethlehem Steel Building in San Francisco, and the company’s Gallery in the historic Meatpacking District in New York.


Friedman’s and RH’s bravado is breathtaking. As the Times pointed out, it wasn’t long ago that Friedman had never heard of the Cotswolds, Aynho Park’s architect, Sir John Soane, or Capability Brown, the landscape architect of Aynho Park’s jaw-dropping grounds. In fact, he authorized $1 million for a new staircase featuring a statue of Hercules, but, on the night of the premiere, couldn’t say for sure exactly where in the estate that elaborate escalier is located. 

Boy, if I had a dollar for every time I misplaced a $1 million staircase!

(For a tour of RH England, see Courtney Porter’s report in sister publication Décor News Now.)

But, he knows what he wants, and he has a vision for where he wants to take RH, which is into the rarefied air respirated only by ultra-high-net-worth individuals.

Friedman also knows what he does not want. 

It is striking that RH furniture is among the most Instragrammed in the world, yet the brand has no Instagram account of its own. In fact, RH categorically eschews social media, preferring to ride the prodigious social media coattails of its A-list clientele: Gwyneth Paltrow, Kylie and Kendall Jenner, Jessica Alba, Naomi Watts, Meghan Markle. 

The Architecture & Design Library at Aynho Park, showcasing RH furniture and its aesthetic

Keep in mind that when Friedman left Pottery Barn to take the reins of RH in 2001, then-Restoration Hardware was in the crapper teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Now it’s celebrating a global expansion with an estimated $64 million historic English estate. From down in the dumps to Downton Abbey, escaping bankruptcy to bask at Bridgerton. 

“What we’re trying to do with RH is something no one’s ever done,” Friedman said, which is “to take an American brand that started probably at the base of what I call the luxury mountain and turn it into a genuine American luxury brand.”

All-time high

This Alpine adventure begins improbably in the rolling English countryside, just down the country road from the Lakes by Yoo, a 170-home development on 850 acres with prices ranging from $1.7 million for a “cabin” to $13 million or so for a house with 2 acres. 

If Friedman and RH are able to pull it all off and become a “genuine luxury brand” and global culture influencer, the entire home furnishings category would benefit. Consider that Louis Vuitton’s profit margin last year was about 50%. Consider that LVMH pulled in nearly 25% more in revenues than the entire global art market. 

If RH is able to improve mind share for the industry, I think many of us would be willing to throw on a silver thong in celebration

Now where did I put that dadgum staircase . . .

Brian Carroll

Brian Carroll covered the international home furnishings industry for 15 years as a reporter, editor and photographer. He chairs the Department of Communication at Berry College in Northwest Georgia, where he has been a professor since 2003.

View all posts by Brian Carroll →

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