Restoration Hardware brings new life to Greenwich Avenue post office

As Restoration Hardware chairman and CEO Gary Friedman, at left, helps lead the countdown, First Selectman Peter Tesei is one of many ready for the official ribbon cutting for the new flagship store on Greenwich Avenue. —Ken Borsuk

As Restoration Hardware chairman and CEO Gary Friedman, at left, helps lead the countdown, First Selectman Peter Tesei is one of many ready for the official ribbon cutting for the new flagship store on Greenwich Avenue. —Ken Borsuk

It was, quite literally, a day of restoration as the former site of the Greenwich Avenue post office was fully unveiled as a renovated home for Restoration Hardware on May 16.

The ribbon cutting came a day after a gala party that included actresses Uma Thurman and Kelly Rutherford on the guest list and live music, and it officially opened the doors on the expanded location for the business, which has been on Greenwich Avenue for years. This new location, which will be known as RH Greenwich — The Gallery at the Historic Post Office, means the old location will be phased out and closed completely by the summer as the business focuses on its new home inside a building of great historic value to the town.

Most of the exterior remains untouched and the front of the business remains an open area by the town’s War Memorial, which has been the site for years for American Legion Post 29’s annual Veterans Day celebration. But inside, the place has been completely transformed, just as Restoration Hardware Chairman and CEO Gary Friedman wanted, for he admitted at the official ribbon cutting on May 16 that he has had his eye on the building for quite a long time.

“I was visiting our Greenwich store about two or three years ago and decided to take a stroll down the street,” Mr. Friedman said. “I went over to the Starbucks and I was admiring the post office. At Restoration Hardware we’re real fans of great architecture. It is part of our DNA and part of our design ethos. Everything we design is based on human design, and we believe great architecture is harmonious to human design. This building is a great example of that. It respects the principles of human design and it’s done on a corner that radiates out, so it’s much harder to do.”

Mr. Friedman recalled walking across the street to further admire the building’s design, and he even took a picture to give to the store’s design development team as inspiration for future projects. That was all he ever figured would come of it until six months later, when he was in Westport meeting with a developer and was told the post office there was for sale. Mr. Friedman said that was nice but it was Greenwich’s post office that had really caught his eye.

The developer then made an offhand comment that he had heard Greenwich’s post office was for sale, and that immediately set in motion Mr. Friedman’s plan. He said instead of driving to the airport he turned around and headed to Greenwich to find out what was going on with a potential sale and how he and his company could get involved in the bidding.

“When the bidding started, my instruction was simple, ‘Don’t lose that bid,’” Mr. Friedman recalled with a laugh. “Only once in a lifetime does a building of this stature come up. Buildings like this aren’t built anymore. Architecture like this is almost too expensive to do. When we have an opportunity to be associated with a building like this it is such an honor and such an opportunity.”

In order for Mr. Friedman’s vision to become a reality, he first had to convince town resident Peter Malkin, who purchased the building from the federal government. Mr. Malkin, a longtime preservationist in town, said he was happy to see the history made part of the building and not something to be pushed away.

“The National Trust for Historic Preservation has focused on the United States Postal Service and its disposition of so-called excess buildings,” Mr. Malkin said. “The buildings that are historic and were built before the Second World War, when the government was able to do things in a classical, elegant way, are special. This is really the prototype. This is the most exciting adaptive reuse of a landmark post office. It’s very special to have this in this historic center of the town of Greenwich with the Havemeyer Building given to the town in 1903 and the Senior Center given by Mr. Bruce.”

Mr. Friedman said he completely understood where Mr. Malkin was coming from. He had no intention of making major changes to the exterior and said that instead he wanted to “respect what was here” and learn about the history of its design. Mr. Friedman said that in doing the renovation they consulted the original plans and even corrected some areas like the loading dock that hadn’t been done properly in the first place.

The major changes are to what’s inside, as the place had been left almost completely empty, with no rooms, when the post office moved out. The restoration of the building included the interior transformation, which was done keeping in mind how the rooms inside the building would have looked had they been designed at the same time the building was originally created. Mr. Friedman called it a “beautiful layout that respects all the geometry, all the windows and all the sight lines and all the natural light.” He thanked the architecture and design team for its work and energy.

“We believe when you walk in, it almost looks as though it has always been that way,” Mr. Friedman said. “We worked not just with the great architecture to restore it but then reimagine it for what it might be today so the use repects the history.”

Ultimately, Mr. Friedman said, the project was a “dream come true” for him, and he thanked everyone on the staff who had given everything they had to get it ready, even hustling to put away everything from the party the night before to get it ready for the ribbon cutting.

First Selectman Peter Tesei was among the many on hand for the ribbon cutting, and he gave his full support to the project, saying he was delighted that Restoration Hardware had stepped up to make use of the building after the post office had moved out for a less spacious (and also less expensive) location in central Greenwich.

“This is a wonderful restoration, capturing the essence of what the building is about but bringing it forward into the 21st Century with a retailer that has the finest in merchandise,” Mr. Tesei said. “We are thankful and blessed to be here today to launch Restoration Hardware’s flagship store in the town of Greenwich.”

Mr. Tesei credited Mr. Malkin for putting the deal together.

“We are blessed in Greenwich to have many wonderful residents, and I particularly want to recognize Peter and Isabelle Malkin,” Mr. Tesei said. “It was their vision that helped save the building of the signature U.S. Post Office here in central Greenwich. If there was ever anything that anchored our downtown it is this wonderful edifice that has served the community for many, many decades. Their insight and wisdom to purchase it and to find the appropriate tenant exceeded all expectations.”

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