Power shower

De­signer Ali­son Berger of­fers a rain­drop-in­spired wel­come at RH’S new NYC store

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Light­ing de­signer Ali­son Berger makes a splash at RH’S new NYC store

Tra­di­tional bricks-and-mor­tar re­tail­ing may be in re­treat, but RH’S chair­man and CEO Gary Fried­man has dou­bled down on in­vest­ing in the phys­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence. In the last two years, the US in­te­ri­ors brand has opened ten new stores – all am­bi­tious in scale – in cities in­clud­ing Austin, Las Ve­gas, Pitts­burgh, Port­land, Toronto and Dal­las.

The lat­est, and the jewel in the crown, is a mam­moth new re­tail lo­ca­tion in New York City – a 90,000 sq ft, six-level tem­ple in Man­hat­tan’s bustling Meat­pack­ing Dis­trict that brings RH’S in­te­ri­ors, out­doors, mod­ern, baby, child and teen col­lec­tions – along with a rooftop restau­rant and wine bar, and its in-house in­te­rior de­sign depart­ment – all to­gether un­der one roof.

RH New York, The Gallery in the His­toric Meat­pack­ing Dis­trict – as it has been named – oc­cu­pies a land­mark build­ing, orig­i­nally owned by real es­tate mag­nate John Ja­cob As­tor in the late 19th cen­tury. Re­worked by ar­chi­tect James Gil­lam of the firm Backen, Gil­lam & Kroeger, the build­ing, on a cob­bled patch of 9th Av­enue, is now a con­tem­po­rary vi­sion in steel and glass that seam­lessly in­cor­po­rates its metic­u­lously pre­served orig­i­nal brick façade, while boast­ing ad­di­tional cast-iron I-beams that ref­er­ence the neigh­bour­hood’s grit­tier past.

‘We liked the ir­rev­er­ence and soul of the Meat­pack­ing,’ ex­plains Fried­man, who has been lead­ing the charge (and change) at RH since re­turn­ing to the com­pany in 2013 af­ter a brief hia­tus. ‘At its core, it’s a neigh­bour­hood of orig­i­nals, and lead­ers– Florent [sadly no more], Pastis [closed but set to re-open], the first Soho House out­side of Lon­don, Di­ane Von Fursten­berg’s mod­ern steel-and-glass rooftop pent­house, the High Line, the Stan­dard. It also of­fers us con­trol of an en­tire build­ing on an iconic cor­ner with views of down­town and Free­dom Tower, in a low-rise dis­trict that is flooded in sun­light, ver­sus the shady streets dom­i­nated by high rises in most other dis­tricts. We loved the ar­chi­tec­tural chal­lenge of hav­ing to keep the his­toric brick façade, and reimag­ine what it could be­come.’

In­doors, each of RH’S col­lec­tions has a ded­i­cated floor. Flanked by cast-iron columns and topped off with a gi­ant sky­light that floods the space with nat­u­ral light, a cen­tral atrium houses a glass-en­cased el­e­va­tor and a dou­ble stair­case. It is within this tran­si­tional stair­way space that a par­tic­u­larly dra­matic mo­ment oc­curs. Span­ning the 90ft height of the store, an in­tri­cate light-and-glass in­stal­la­tion by de­signer Ali­son Berger (W*184) cas­cades down through the six-storey

‘You don’t re­ally get the op­por­tu­nity to drop some­thing six storeys that of­ten’

stair­well on both sides. The piece, en­ti­tled

New York Night, evokes a rain­storm that oc­curs just as night falls over Gotham City.

Berger sought to con­vey the feel­ing of be­ing caught in the rain in New York. ‘The city looks so beau­ti­ful when it’s rain­ing,’ she ex­plains of its ori­gins. ‘I thought about the re­flec­tions that hap­pen when you take shel­ter in a stair­well or un­der­neath a fire es­cape, and watch the city evolve into this al­most im­pres­sion­is­tic paint­ing as it rains – the whole city gets soft. That was re­ally the in­spi­ra­tion; to take this beau­ti­ful ar­chi­tec­tural set­ting and soften it with these points of light that ran­domly fall from the sky, all the way through the space.’

Berger’s in­volve­ment came about or­gan­i­cally, af­ter she had a chance run-in with Fried­man and was in­vited to visit RH’S HQ. A few months later, RH got back in touch, com­mis­sion­ing her to de­sign the cen­tral stair­well in­stal­la­tion. ‘It was pretty easy to know that I wanted to draw some­thing through the en­tire ver­ti­cal­ity of the stair, that talks about what it means to cir­cu­late through the space,’ says Berger. ‘You don’t re­ally get the op­por­tu­nity to drop some­thing six storeys that of­ten.’

While it feels like the in­stal­la­tion has been formed by chance, a com­plex al­go­rithm deter­mined ex­actly where each pen­dant should be placed to achieve that nat­u­ral rhythm, and also en­sured that the work would look dif­fer­ent when viewed on each floor. ‘The piece con­stantly changes wher­ever you are on the stairs,’ ex­plains the La-based de­signer. ‘El­e­va­tion­ally, you’re ex­press­ing the glass and the hard­ware and the beauty of the crafts­man­ship that went into the pen­dants, then as you go up, you’re aware of the ver­ti­cal­ity and how it ac­tu­ally feels like stopaction pho­tog­ra­phy. From the low­est floor up, it be­comes a con­stel­la­tion. These points of hov­er­ing light look like they are fire­flies float­ing up the stair­well. That’s the beauty of some­thing sculp­tural and so spa­tial like this – it’s con­stantly evolv­ing; it’s not static.’

Berger’s at­ten­tion to de­tail ex­tends not only to the shape of the crys­tal bulbs, each an at­ten­u­ated drop, but also to the fit­tings that hold them, which were in­spired by the open­ing of an um­brella. Even the char­coal plas­ter fin­ish of the stair­well’s walls is a nod to the as­phalt of the New York City streets.

Berger’s com­mis­sion is part of RH’S larger mis­sion to sup­port in­de­pen­dent artists and de­sign­ers in both its col­lec­tions and re­tail spa­ces. For the artist, it was sim­ply an op­por­tu­nity not to be missed. ‘It’s so ex­cit­ing to have the chance to bring this lan­guage to the pub­lic, so that more peo­ple can con­nect with it and share what I see,’ she says. ‘That was what was so mo­ti­vat­ing about these gallery spa­ces. You’re not go­ing there to see art, yet there’s a six-storey art in­stal­la­tion. It’s not just about what’s be­ing sold.’

Ali­son Berger’snew york night in­stal­la­tion At rh’s new flag­ship store in nyc’s meat­pack­ing dis­trict is made of 120 Hand-blown, teardrop­shaped Crys­tal pen­dants

Top, berger with her work in The cen­tral stair­case

above, a ren­der of The new rh store, set in a 19Th­cen­tury build­ing re­vamped by ar­chi­tect james gil­lam

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