Leigh and Leslie Keno are a lot like talent scouts who spot supermodel potential in grocery-store clerks. Their seemingly X-ray vision cuts through the hype, or lack thereof, as they judge whether an object has what it takes to become an antiques superstar. As country kids growing up in New York state’s Herkimer County, they spotted beauty and history in centuries-old clay crocks, rusty barn-door hardware, and painted furniture caked in layers of dirt, all affordable because their value wasn’t completely understood.
Today, the Keno brothers hunt for furnishings from all periods and styles that they believe have both staying power and potential for financial growth. Looks that grab them? Hold the rosettes and ruffle carvings. They’re looking for spare elegance devoid of decoration, which describes both a crystal-clear Lucite chair and a Lancaster County Amish quilt. They’re aiming for fresh, classic beauties with potential for long-term growth in the far-off future—or, at least, to avoid depreciation. And it’s their proven ability to pluck pretty pieces out of obscurity that turned them into The Antiques Roadshow’s favorite appraisers.
But how to predict whether a particular style has the power to endure? “Good design doesn’t have to be old, but it has to reflect the period in which it was made,” says Leslie. “Great new forms, some very beautiful things, are being created right now or were made in the last 50 years.”
To spot emerging trends, the Kenos keep an eye on museum exhibitions, auction prices, and recently released design books that catalog new discoveries and current scholarship.
So what’s still affordable? Here, the Keno brothers identify undervalued styles and periods worth investigating.
Text by Doris Athineos
Produced by Leigh Keno and Leslie Keno
Photograph: Bryan McCay
See More Keno Brothers here.