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RH Splashes in Yachting

When it comes to retail, RH CEO Gary Friedman knows a thing or two – particularly with regards to selling upmarket homewares to the US market. Dropping out of college at age 18, the charismatic San Franciscan began his 47-year career as a stock boy at Gap. He quickly became the brand’s youngest-ever regional manager, thanks to his keen eye for detail and an innate talent for sales.

At 29, he was recruited by another big US firm, kitchenware and furnishings chain Williams-Sonoma, where he spent the next 13 years and helped to grow the business’s annual revenue from $300 million to $2.1 billion – thanks in part to his introduction of novel and interactive experiences on the shop floor (demonstration kitchens, for example, and tasting bars), which you’ll now find in department stores around the world.

In 2001, he left after being passed over for a promotion to CEO, and instead became CEO of the then-struggling chain Restoration Hardware, now known as RH, injecting a multi-million-dollar investment of his own cash in the process. Since then, he’s been on a mission to elevate RH from a company selling cheap trinkets and $2 card games to a global luxury brand. Today, it sells everything from marble entry tables to works of art, with price points at thousands of dollars. And, the key to taking the brand even further, he believes, doesn’t lie in glossy billboards or prime-time Super Bowl slots – it’s in a breathtakingly beautiful superyacht.

The 38.7 meter explorer yacht RH Three to be exact, which the company bought in 2019 and firmly put the RH stamp on. A calling card for the brand’s design aesthetic and a landmark to gain the attention of wealthy clientele, the yacht is also a charter vessel in her own right. She hit the market soon after, operating in the Mediterranean in summer and the Bahamas in winter. Although, explained Friedman, it was a chance encounter that got things to this point.

“Quite frankly, I’d been invited on many boats before by many very wealthy people, and I’d never been on one that I thought was beautifully designed,” he says. “I always thought there was a lot of discord between the boat inside and out, and a lot of them looked too decorative, like Las Vegas.”

Then, a designer in Belgium who had been in the Med, saw that a yacht called RH3 was up for sale. “He emailed me and asked, ‘Are you selling a boat in the Mediterranean?’ I laughed and replied, ‘I don’t know anything about yachts; I’m not even very good at swimming!’” Friedman recalls, but the note had piqued his interest, and he soon found himself flicking through the listing. “I said, ‘Yeah, it looks like we could have [designed] that,’” he says.

Friedman kept tabs on the yacht, visiting it with his design team in Sicily, and a year later presented the project to his board. Her good condition and fair price, he reasoned, meant they wouldn’t have to invest much financially to make an impact, and besides, “This wasn’t one of those white plastic boats you see in the harbor in Saint-Tropez, which are all the same. I liked that it was different.”

Once RH3 was acquired and renamed RH Three, the renovations were begun in earnest, although much of the original structure and design remained untouched. Built in 2003 by Turkish yard RMK Marine to a design by Vripack, the yacht had already been blessed with something of a transformation, thanks to a renovation by esteemed Belgian architect Vincent Van Duysen in 2016. “He had taken this boat to a certain level in a way that was extraordinary,” explains Friedman. “We didn’t change any of the bathrooms, they were incredible. We didn’t really change any of the staterooms apart from a bit of painting and new bedding, or the lighting either.” Besides, he’s keen to point out, the yacht isn’t a floating catalogue of what can be bought in RH stores. Rather, she represents the essence of RH quality and good design.

There were, however, some major adjustments – starting with the yacht’s exterior. Her hull was originally white and gray, whereas today it’s a dark, metallic Phantom Grey with a champagne metallic above. It was a controversial decision. “Everyone told us you can’t paint the boat metallic, it’ll look bad, it’ll be too reflective,” remembers Friedman. “So we almost didn’t. And then right at the end we said, ‘You know what, the planes are painted metallic [the company had previously designed two Gulfstream jets known as RH One and RH Two], and everyone told us that was a bad idea, and they look great.’ So, then we painted RH Three metallic, and now she’s the most beautiful boat in the harbor!”

Another move, according to Friedman, was changing the layout of the crew cabins, and downsizing the yacht’s five guest cabins to four in the process. “I went down into the crew quarters and I was in shock at the spaces the crew was kept in. I mean, two people in a room that was maybe a meter wide with 70-centimeter-wide bunks on top of each other? I can’t believe that’s much better than a prison cell, [I thought] it was crazy,” he says. “Everyone said ‘That’s just the way it is, don’t worry about that,’ and I said ‘Well, I do worry about that. We have a crew that we expect to give luxury service to our clients, but we’re not giving luxury service to them’.”

The crew then spent a week at RH’s California Center of Innovation and Product Leadership, advising designers on what they needed and felt was important in their space. One of the five guest bedrooms then became the captain’s room, while the captain’s room became a spacious twin cabin, replacing one of the two bunk rooms that was previously for the stewardesses.

The upper deck was also transformed, from a space that was originally half lounge, half gym, to a single area with a bar and lounge space that extends outside, changing the white ceiling into a wooden one too. Initial plans to place a spa pool on the top deck were scuppered when the team realized how much extra this would cost in terms of stabilizing the boat with the extra weight on board, and the idea was replaced with a large fire pit and outdoor daybed to create a sunset terrace, while a new gym was created on the bow, with equipment stylishly stashed out of sight.

Inside the saloon, a masculine palette of champagne lacquer, wire-brushed white oak, caramel Italian leather and charcoal velvet mirrors the colors of the yacht’s exterior, adding to the seamless effect of the design. And, there’s a less is more approach to styling, with items like individual photographs, carefully curated shelves and an extensive spirits bar taking center stage over a more maximalist approach.

Friedman has been on board of late to iron out any last-minute kinks. “I don’t get any freebies,” he laughs, “I have to pay full price, and I’ve chartered the yacht three times now. One was last winter, and then I chartered this summer, one week in Saint-Tropez and one week in Ibiza.” Like many owners, he’s enjoyed the intimacy of spending time with friends on board, while having plenty of private space to retreat to – not to mention the joy of a good night’s sleep in the way that only a yacht can deliver.


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