Thursday, October 13, 2016

One has to appreciate the immense risk corporate Restoration Hardware took in deciding on the concept for their new Chicago store and the restoration of the building they chose to do it in. The building they picked against the advice of many of their consultants was the former Three Arts Club located in the heavily residential Gold Coast area to the north of Chicago's main commercial action.
The club was built in 1914 but over recent history had become derelict and rundown, still the bones were there for a magnificent building. Yet its biggest negative was not having any foot traffic. Hidden in this residential enclave it would have to become in Restoration Hardware's CEO estimation their "Field of Dreams", make it and they will come.
CEO, Gary Friedman, fell in love with the building's Byzantine decoration, its arched windows and the open interior courtyard that let in so much light. It was his belief, a bet he was ultimately willing to make, that this should and could be the new home of his enterprise. So against the advise of many others the Three Arts Club very quickly became the property of Restoration Hardware.
Now for the concept, it has always been the goal of Restoration Hardware to blur the lines between furniture store and residential inspiration. The new element they wanted to incorporate into their newest venture was hospitality.
The Three Arts Club gave them a footprint that would make this possible. One of their first tasks was to convert the interior courtyard into the spectacular Three Arts Café. The original courtyard was only usable on a seasonal basis so the architects covered the area with a glass and steel ceiling and then put the café into the courtyard, the heart of the building.
It's a brilliant concept in the way they've incorporated dining into the commercial experience. There are other stores that have used this concept but most have done it by placing their restaurants in adjoining spaces usually with separate entrances. Here the lines are blurred. You have to walk through  several of the company's vignettes before you enter the café and then while in the café you have a view of the surrounding vignettes.
The hominess of these views give the entire first floor a vey comfy and inviting feel. I got the sense that there might have been patrons who had come in and spent the majority of their day sipping tea and dining on their signature grilled cheese sandwiches and fries.
In addition to the café the building's first floor includes a coffee and pastry shop and a wine bar.
In deference to the tradition of the original building that promoted the three arts of music, drama and the visual arts, the original stage remains and is open for use as a performance venue.
The store is arranged by floor. Each floor is designated to a particular division of the company's stock.
The first floor in addition to the café, pastry shop, wine bar and performance stage displays a series of lifestyle vignettes highlighting the buildings previous public rooms and the traditional Restoration Hardware offerings.
The second floor is designated as its bed and bath experience along with a design atelier where design professionals are given space and support to work with clients.
The third floor is given over to its children's collection along with its newly developed teen line. This is a big move for any retailer.
Most will allow a much smaller percentage of precious floor space to this category but here the under twenty group is given a lot of play with its own floor.
On the fourth floor you find the company's newest collection directions, Restoration Modern and its new fine art offerings.
The Modern line is a pared down version of its aesthetic with cleaner lines and a more industrial approach. The line includes all the same categories as its traditional line: casegoods, lighting and upholstery.
Each vignette is set up as a room where you are encouraged to sit down, put your feet up and see how it feels. There's no pressure, only smiles and an occasional "if you have any questions please let us know".
The top floor is an open outdoor garden complete with its own refreshments and a place perfect for hosting your own party.
You can take a subway there if you're like me and find yourself in Chicago without a car. I prefer to park my little Ford Focus at the airport in Milwaukee and then take Amtrak into Union Station. That renders me without my own wheels but absent of the headache of trying to drive into the city and find a decent parking place.
There's a subway station only a few blocks away from Restoration Hardware and on the warm day I was there the walk was refreshing but there's always Uber or a cab. Anyway you can get there it is worth the trip.
Now all we need is a client who wants to do a complete RH look so I can go back and purchase everything I coveted and drooled over.
Negro Cabaret, South Side Chicago, 1941
Russell Lee, photographer
Available through Shorpy Historic Picture Archive


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