At home with twin brothers Leigh (left) and Leslie Keno, who know a good thing when they see it—whether an antique or a designer classic. Leigh is the proprietor of Leigh Keno American Antiques in Manhattan; Leslie is senior vice president of Sotheby’s Americana department. Their appearances on PBS’s Antiques Roadshow made them famous, but the two have been honing their expertise for decades. At the tender age of 12, they noted in a joint diary that they had become "antiques dealers."
Photographs by Joe Standart
Written and produced by Doris Athineos
A walnut desk designed by crafty Wharton Esherick in 1957. "He designed around the figure of the wood," says Leigh.
In Leigh’s apartment, an 11th-century Khmer sandstone torso of a goddess once belonged to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The fork sculpture in the foreground was purchased for $15 from a street vendor outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Leigh’s new catch: A sexy 1950 coffee table by Carlo Mollino for $180,000. The Italian architect’s work holds the world record for the price paid for a piece of modern furniture—$3.8 million for a table sold at Christie’s in 2005.
In Leigh’s living room, an Asmat shield that once belonged to artist Donald Judd, and Outsider art by William Hawkins.
Some of Leigh’s favorite things: a painting by Italian Outsider artist Arnaldo Boscherini, a 19th-century Chinese jar, and early-19th-century wrought-iron door handles.
Emily and Leslie Keno discovered this yolk-yellow Egg chair with ottoman by Danish architect Arne Jacobsen while trolling online. Made in 1957 and covered in original fabric, the Egg was a good buy at $2,500.
This painted pine blanket chest sailed by its $5,000 to $10,000 estimate, selling for $228,000 at Sotheby’s in 2007. But the Kenos assure that there’s still opportunity for young collectors. "You can find thumb-back fancy chairs at flea markets for less than $100," says Leslie.
Native American craftsmanship finds a place in the Keno collection: A 19th-century Zuni Pueblo pot sits atop a mid-century coffee table by Isamu Noguchi.
Think Jackson Pollock meets Duchamp. British artist Shane Bradford transforms objects by dipping them into glossy paint. In Emily and Leigh’s collection, a Victorian silver soup ladle turns into a juicy sculpture titled "Tasting Rainbows."
Leslie loves organic shapes like Georg Jensen’s twisty sterling silver candelabrum, circa 1946.
After spotting a shapely tree trunk in New York’s flower district, Emily and Leslie turned it into a rosewood vase, now filled with flowers that mimic its organic shape. Leslie, with dog Oliver, admires its natural beauty.
America ’s most beloved painting style, Impressionism, was once called modern. So what does modern really mean? To get a handle on it, visit the Modernism show at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., through July. "Modernism covers everything made between World War I and World War II," says director of curatorial affairs Philip Brookman. What’s striking is how many architects were also designing furniture. "Buildings were so different that they had to design new furniture to fit," explains Brookman. The unifying theme is that artists—including Lyonel Feininger in Zirchow VII (above)—threw away the rule books, he says.
The Tulip chair by husband-and-wife team Erwine and Estelle Laverne, circa 1960, was uprooted by Emily and Leslie Keno for $2,600.