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Destination Retail Spaces and the Impact of Lighting

RH (formerly Restoration Hardware) showcases its latest San Francisco location in an historic building.

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RH, Restoration Hardware, Chandelier, The Lighting Doctor
Randall Whitehead says size matters when it comes to dramatic entry chandeliers.

Restoration Hardware, now rebranded as RH, has opened the ultimate retail space in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco. Starting in 2016, they have beautifully restored the Bethlehem Steel Building, built in 1917. That building had been vacant since I moved here in 1976. This is definitely a new kind of experience of how to sell furniture, lighting and accessories. It feels like you’re walking into a grand hotel.

You are welcomed in by a friendly staff member who offers to give you a five-minute tour so you can get oriented. The entry rotunda has a beautiful coffered ceiling. The dramatic chandelier cascades down 8 feet from the center of the round ceiling. By using 2400° kelvin LED bulbs it has a very warm incandescent quality of light.

RH Wine Bar and Restaurant
Opt for a white wine or champagne if you are prone to spilling.

The first surprise is that there is a high end restaurant in the center of the main floor.

The second surprise is that there is a wine bar right off of the entryway. Visitors are encouraged to purchase a glass of wine and tour the five levels of showroom spaces. My recommendation is to grab a libation and make your way up to the rooftop garden and enjoy the panoramic view of San Francisco and the Bay Bridge. Then descend slowly from floor to floor, visiting all of the spaces. I would allow yourself at least an hour. Don’t be afraid to take a seat in any of the rooms and soak up the atmosphere. You can drop off your glass on the way out.

RH Living Room Setting
The huge mirror doubles the impact of the hanging fixtures in this living room space.

The showroom spaces are set up as complete rooms. All the furniture, lighting and accessories are in place. Each piece has a subtle QR code so that you can learn more about the product and pricing.
The first room I stepped into was the living room. Everything is enormous. The chandeliers are 48 inches  in diameter, while the shades on the floor lamps are 36 inches in diameter. These are perfectly suited scale-wise to the space, but it would take a pretty big home to accommodate the grandness of these fixtures.

The accent lighting comes from a recessed track system which looks very clean. The LED track heads provide a good punch of light even though the ceilings are 16 feet high.

RH Dining Room
Portable uplights create leaf patterns on the ceiling.

The next room was the dining room. It too has a gigantic pendant fixture. I like how the shades were at two different heights and that it felt like three different pendant fixtures even though it was hung from a single junction box. Like in the living room, the accent lighting comes from the adjustable track system.

I did notice that there was a generous use of portable up-lights throughout the building. This created some nice shadow patterns on the ceiling.

Restoration Hardware merchandising
Don’t be afraid to tuck the base of the floor lamp under the couch.

I do like the use of pharmacy lamps with opaque shades as reading lights. They project the illumination down onto your work surface without drawing attention to themselves. The LED light source keeps them much cooler than their original counterparts which used incandescent or halogen bulbs that could be extremely hot to the touch.

RH Bedroom Reading Lamp
Lots of control without glare.

The bedroom also made use of a tabletop version of a pharmacy lamp. It was very flexible, allowing a person to direct light exactly where they wanted it without disturbing the loved one in bed next to them.

RH Hallway
A modern day Versailles in the RH hallway.

The connecting hallways were quite elegant. The series of matching pendant fixtures were hung low enough to create a more human scale to the space. I liked seeing the fixtures reflected in the polished stone flooring.

RH Stairway with Chandelier
Go big or go home for the lighting in this opulent staircase.

In the center of the building is a huge spiral staircase. There is a diffuse glass skylight at the very top and from the center of it a 15 foot long chandelier visually descends to the first floor. Each landing is marked with huge torch-like wall sconces. Whoever was doing this design really understood scale.

RH Stairway Lights
The rectangular shape of the step lights compliments the railing detail.

The stair treads themselves had additional light coming from step lights that were recessed into the wall for a nice clean architectural look.

RH Display with backlighting
The backlighting takes away some of the visual weight.

One of the showstoppers was a pair of what looked like huge lids to a grain silo. They floated slightly off the wall and were backlit so there was a beautiful corona of illumination all along the periphery and a sweet little glow of light in the center.

Bottom Line: As shopping malls are falling out of popularity, what RH has done is to create at destination retail space. Go for the food and cocktails…stay for the furniture, lighting and accessories.

All photos by Randall Whitehead.


Randall Whitehead headshot

Randall Whitehead is an educator and author on the subject of lighting design. His work has been featured in many magazines, including Architectural Digest, Home & Garden and Esquire. He has appeared as a guest expert on HGTV, Discovery, CNN and Martha Stewart Living Radio.

His Latest book Beautiful Light outlines how to create successful and subtly beautiful LED lighting designs for homes and gardens. Available through Amazon and Rutledge Books.

You can see his entertaining 1-minute instructional videos at furniturelightingdecor.com. And you can follow him on Instagram:  @randall.whitehead


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