Gary Friedman hates meetings. A 66-year-old with apparently limitless energy and a perpetual tan, Friedman is the CEO of RH, one of the country's largest high-end furniture sellers, and he never holds meetings. Instead, he convenes "adventures."

To the untrained eye, these look and sound a lot like meetings. But there is a difference. Adventures can last 10 hours, or more.

That's a typical stretch for Friedman's adventures with his architecture and design team, a group of about 20 executives overseeing one of the priciest expansions in the history of American retail. The company is doubling the number of stores, called "galleries" in RH speak, with 35 new ones in the works. Many will cost $20 million or more.

RH sold $3 billion worth of products last year, but Friedman's goal is not just to move $10,000 sectional sofas, most of them in earth tones and a style that could be called California Rich. He wants to forge a brand that is so ubiquitous — RH restaurants, RH hotels, RH clothing — that its impact is global.

"I don't really talk about our vision for the company to Wall Street because they might lock me up," Friedman said one recent afternoon, sitting in an RH restaurant not far from headquarters in a suburb of San Francisco. "But our vision is to create an endless reflection of hope, inspiration and love that will ignite the human spirit and change the world."

If this sounds a tad grandiose for a guy peddling sideboards and coffee tables, you haven't spent time with Gary Friedman. He's not a conventional businessman. He is more like the highly demanding head of a home-furnishings-based cult, complete with its own bible (those 350-page glossy catalogs that turn up in your mailbox), terminology ("adventures," "galleries," "RH rules") and catechism ("This is not our job, this is our life," reads one of the RH rules). Total commitment is required of underlings. Anything less can bring scolding rebukes.

Friedman became the CEO of what was then called Restoration Hardware in 2001, when it was a nearly bankrupt seller of midpriced furniture and Americana-themed tchotchkes, like Slinkys and Moon Pies. By driving the brand to "climb the luxury ladder," as he puts it, he made it a place where aspirational shoppers could reach for furniture a bit outside their budget. During the pandemic-era renovation craze, the company was worth $15.5 billion.

But RH is now suffering through a grinding downturn, its market value off 70% since its 2021 peak. Nearly every player in the furniture business is slumping, largely because the great engine of sales — new home purchases — has stalled. While competitors pull back, or lean into online sales, Friedman is in the midst of a risky, full-tilt building spree. Along with those immense and stately stores, he's galloping into the real estate business, planning furnished apartments and houses in places such as Aspen, Colorado, and Napa, California.

The point for Friedman, an inveterate optimist, is to prepare for the boom that he believes will ensue when interest rates go down. He also wants to broaden RH's appeal beyond the upwardly mobile who are now its core customers and pitch the brand to the ultrarich. Hence more RH restaurants, with main courses that include such decadence-signaling dishes as a $125 grilled Wagyu rib-eye steak.

And as if to prove that his ambitions are truly Napoleonic, the company is now invading Europe. Last year it unveiled its first store in Britain, a renovated 400-year-old, Downton Abbey-like manse in Oxfordshire, with restaurants, a tea salon, a wine lounge and what appears to be a taxidermy unicorn. Up next are stores in Madrid, Milan, London and Paris.

"Gary is a brilliant guy, but his ambitions have run away with him," said Pamela Danziger, the founder of Unity Marketing, a market research firm. "To open in England, France and all these other places — I think he's just put way too much in front of him. Because he's got problems now in the U.S. market, and that is where he needs to put his horsepower."

Friedman relishes nothing quite so much as the suggestion that he's overreaching. He made this point, and many others, in our interview, which turned into a nine-hour adventure. A largely uninterrupted monologue, it started at lunch in one RH restaurant, ended over dinner at another and covered the story of his life, which began in San Francisco, where he was raised by a widowed mother who struggled with mental illness.

Today, his net worth is $1.5 billion, according to a Forbes estimate. Last year, he bought a $26.7 million oceanfront house in Malibu, California, and a few months later bought a second house on the same beach for $28.5 million. His marriage to an Australian singer was celebrated with 272 guests over four days last summer on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza.

Friedman's journey from a childhood of food stamps to stratospheric wealth has left him with a finely tuned understanding of the dynamics of striving. It also left him with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. His shareholder letters could be called "Notes From an Underdog," filled as they are with triumphalist musings about the joys of ignoring his doubters.

"We avoided bankruptcy while being accused of lunacy," he wrote in a letter last year. "Soon the world will be within our reach."

Few companies are better at exploiting the American obsession with affluence than RH. It sells the kind of sleek, oversize furniture seen on television shows like "Succession" and does it through a singular kind of experiential shopping. With their soaring ceilings and Zen ambience, RH showrooms are a daydreamer's fantasy of a billionaire's home.

Friedman takes a marathoner's approach to work, and he expects colleagues to match his stamina.

Among some executives, Friedman's nickname is "The Sun" — a person who gives off a warm glow on good days and burns you on bad ones. The company's workplace culture earned a D-minus from Comparably, which collects anonymous ratings from current employees. Just 22% of respondents said they would recommend the company to a friend; 67% said they would not, placing it in the bottom 10% of companies of similar size.

Friedman is unbothered by this kind of feedback. The maxims he wrote for the company include "Love us or leave us." Plenty of people, he noted, stick around for years, and others who have quit later returned, having found life elsewhere a little dull.

At RH headquarters, there's a full-scale model of the rooftop restaurant for an RH store set to open sometime in 2025 in Paris, near the Champs-Élysées. This version is made with Styrofoam tables and lots of place-holding silverware, glasses and chairs. Immense photographs of the city are plastered on walls, designed to reproduce the view that diners will see. It's basically a rough draft you can sit in.

"You don't get a second chance to make a first impression in Paris," Friedman said.

RH hopes to prosper in the same thin air breathed by Chanel, Hermès and Gucci, a realm that seems downright hostile to American brands. Other than Tiffany and Ralph Lauren, few have succeeded in the cradle of luxury retail. And RH emerged from the least refined of settings. It has roots in the U.S. mall, where it offered decorative accessories and affordable nostalgia. Friedman is pretty sure those storied European brands are looking down on the company.

"We are not from their neighborhood," he's fond of saying, "nor invited to their parties." If the past is any indication, he's not waiting for an invitation. He'll throw a shindig of his own.