Gary Friedman, chair and CEO of home furnishings retailer RH, has a handful of suggestions for people planning to visit his company’s new store in Indianapolis.
First things first, though: “Store” falls short as a description for what the company has named RH Indianapolis, The Gallery at the DeHaan Estate.
The setting is a 42,000-square-foot mansion that has been seen and visited by no more than a sliver of society since its construction behind high walls 16 years ago.
Beginning with opening day on Friday, everyone will have a chance to check out the residence philanthropist Christel DeHaan built along the White River west of Butler University and northeast of Newfields art museum and gardens.
RH has transformed the property at 4501 Michigan Road into a restaurant, wine bar, installations featuring the company’s furnishings and the RH Interior Design Studio. The company, known as Restoration Hardware from its founding in 1979 until 2012, refers to the location as an immersive hospitality experience.
Now to Freidman’s advice: “The DeHaan Estate is a place to come and dream, be inspired by the architecture, get lost in the views, enjoy a meal in the grand ballroom or sip a glass of wine while strolling through the gardens,” he said in an email interview. “Take a moment to imagine what life might be like living in one of the most beautiful homes in the world.”
RH hosted an invitation-only sneak-peek party at the property on Wednesday night that benefited DeHaan’s Christel House International, a not-for-profit that continues to support schools for underprivileged children worldwide. Guests sampled Bellini cocktails, caviar, lobster rolls and other gourmet bites as Friedman greeted the party’s high-profile guests in various rooms of the home-turned-retail space.
DeHaan, the businesswoman and community leader who died in 2020 at age 77, used the eastern half of the mansion as a private residence and devoted the western half to hosting events and gatherings. When the home sold for $14.5 million in September 2022—announced as the most expensive sale of a residential property in Indiana’s history—the proceeds benefited not-for-profit Christel House International, which operates K-12 public charter schools in high-poverty areas.
A joint venture between San Francisc-based RH and Aspen, Colorado-based M Development purchased the 151-acre property. RH leases it from the joint venture.
Friedman said among his favorite components of the DeHaan estate include the tree-lined drive leading to the house and a stone terrace and boat dock overlooking a lake and woods. Before DeHaan purchased the property in 2001, the land had been home to a dairy farm and the Benedictine Monastery of St. Maur. “The DeHaan Estate is one of the most magical properties we have ever seen,” Friedman said.
During the past decade, Friedman has positioned RH to make big impressions by transforming landmark buildings into stores, often accompanied by high-end restaurants.
The practice began in Boston, where RH took over the Civil War-era New England Museum of Natural History in 2013. In Manhattan, RH executed a radical makeover of a 98-year-old warehouse in the Meatpacking District. This summer, RH expanded to Europe by moving into a 17th-century country house near Oxford, England.
Aiming for something different from a cash-and-carry environment, RH encourages visitors to spend quality time in the company’s galleries.
Elle Cole, founder of Dallas-based Elle Cole Interiors, praised RH’s strategy for connecting with customers.
“They have to create these experiences, and I think that’s why they have invested in repurposing these architectural gems,” Cole told IBJ. “They’re harnessing the power of storytelling through design and allowing customers to immerse themselves in the narrative of each space.”
Cole compared the experience of visiting an RH Gallery to stepping into a chapter of history. “As a design expert, we don’t just sell the furniture,” Cole said. “We tell the stories of our clients. RH is selling furniture, but they’re also telling the story of timeless elegance and architectural heritage.”
RH reported 2022 fiscal-year revenue of $3.6 billion, down 4.3% from 2021. Fourth-quarter revenue fell 14.5%, to $772 million. The company turned a profit of $529 million last year.
The company will on Nov. 16 open its second European gallery, RH Düsseldorf, The Gallery on the Königsallee, which is located along a historic shopping boulevard in Dusseldorf, Germany.
Friedman said no previous RH project has taken over a property as isolated from the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life as the DeHaan estate. Even RH England, The Gallery at Aynho Park—which is located in a palatial historic house near Oxford, England—borders a village street.
In terms of renovations, the DeHaan property required a light touch, Friedman said. A parking lot was added southeast of the house.
“Besides covering the indoor pool, adding a commercial kitchen to support the restaurant and a fresh coat of paint, very little was changed,” Friedman said.
The store features furnishings from RH’s Interiors, Contemporary, Modern and Outdoor collections. Outdoor furnishings are on the lakeside terrace.
Friedman said RH presently has no plans to use other parts of the grounds for new purposes.
A sense of place
In Greenwich, Connecticut, an affluent New York City suburb, RH took over an old post office building that became underused in the 21st century.
But the building’s location in the heart of town and Classical Revival architecture made it attractive to RH, which gutted the building’s interior and opened a luxury retail destination in 2014.
“We were all wondering what would take that spot, and now RH has occupied it just perfectly,” said Marcia O’Kane, CEO of the Greenwich Chamber of Commerce.
O’Kane said the town’s residents are proud to host RH in the iconic setting.
“The store presents so beautifully,” O’Kane said. “Many liken it to walking into a museum.”
In Indianapolis, Mike Johnson of Encore Sotheby’s International Realty was one of the listing agents when the DeHaan estate was offered for sale.
Johnson said the property, which is punctuated by fine-art sculptures along the driveway and around the lake, is peerless among area estates.
“Not only do you not feel like you’re in Indiana, you don’t even feel like you’re in the United States,” Johnson said. “You truly feel like you’re in Europe.”
DeHaan’s point of reference contributes to this sensation, Johnson said. She grew up in Germany and moved to the United States in 1962.
The co-founder of Resort Condominiums International built the company into one of the largest time-share-exchange companies in the world. DeHaan sold RCI for $825 million in 1996.
Johnson described the choices DeHaan made for the architecture and decor of the mansion she called “Linden House” as personal, comfortable and the opposite of ostentatious.
“I’ve had the opportunity, not just here in Indianapolis but in other parts of the country, to see some impressive homes,” Johnson said. “Sometimes you go in and you feel like you have to sit with perfect posture. But every time I was at [the DeHaan estate], if anything, it felt understated.”
Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio inspired DeHaan as well as RH CEO Friedman.
The mansion is considered to be an accurate homage to villas Palladio designed near Venice, Italy. Friedman counts Palladio as one of the five Italian architects who guide his company’s design ethos (joined by Vitruvius, Leonardo da Vinci, Leon Battista Alberti and Vincenzo Scamozzi).
Another central Indiana landmark inspired by Palladio is Carmel’s Palladium music venue, a $126 million structure that opened in 2011.
Friedman said Palladio’s influence is seen in “perfectly proportioned rooms filled with natural light from the abundance of windows.”
Adjoining the mansion’s “main house” are two wings of curved corridors that RH promotional material cites as contributing to a rhythmic repetition of forms.
“We respect the hierarchy and important relationships between architecture, furniture and decor that creates harmony,” Friedman said. “It’s a discipline of addition by subtraction, where less becomes more, and calm is created through continuity.”
The gallery’s restaurant, known as The Dining Room, occupies the grand hall directly inside the main entrance. The menu is described as offering enduring classics featuring fresh ingredients from select sources.
A concierge at the entrance will greet visitors and discuss options that include shopping, dining and professional design services at the interior design studio.
Dallas-based designer Cole advised visitors not to be stressed by visiting the previously gated property.
“Act like you own the place, basically,” she said. “Don’t let it intimidate you. Make yourself a guest, because they are opening their doors to you as the customer.”
A ribbon-cutting is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday. Hours are planned as 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays.
At Wednesday night’s VIP party, attendees sparked a rare traffic jam on Michigan Road north and south of the entrance to the RH Indianapolis grounds.
Spotted at the party were Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles and Newfields board Chair Darrianne Christian, two members of the event’s host committee.
Other faces in the crowd included IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi, former Indianapolis Colts star Gary Brackett, art curator Sarah Urist Green, American Pianists Association CEO Chris Williams, Discovering Broadway CEO Joel Kirk and WJJK-FM 104.5 personality Laura Steele.