Ken’s Mixed Media Dream House
Location: Midtown West — Manhattan, New York
Size: 570 square feet
Years lived in: 2+ — owned
Who lives here? A software VP and a former life drawing class model. A collector and a minimalist. A former Brooklynite who likes his art raw and urban and a Dallas gentleman who prefers things serene and centered. An Art Decophile, a Wegner-ite, and a Carrie Bradshaw shoeaholic. And they’re all named Ken. Welcome to Ken’s mixed media dream house. On paper, it shouldn’t work. But, with a singular vision, in real life, it certainly does.
It’s obvious Ken Raboy has an eye. But his eye wanders: across time, bridges, boroughs, Venice Canals and eBay auctions. Yet with all those variables, there is a remarkable cohesion. What keeps Ken Raboy’s multiple personalities from going all Sybil? The steadfast belief: “buy what you love,” a focused art collection, a tendency toward Mid Century modern, and an undercurrent of pattern, applied to Persian carpet, Orientalist figurine, and modern lithography. It all leads to a most elegant game of Compare and Contrast.
The art he loves, at first glance, seems to be more different than alike. But a lot links it: figurative form, gutsy line and the paper it’s on. Another common denominator? A little bit of grit. But it’s a fine grit, the kind that adds luster, instead of roughing things up. Even the seemingly light-hearted pieces of art have an angst-y edge: a pouty anime takes a drag on a cigarette, and a candy-colored “brick of art” lists “artist DNA” in the media. And for a man who’s self-proclaimed “a-political,” Ken’s art takes a definite stance, with political activism and adult theme. Yet, for all the tension within the frames, the net result is one of calm and relaxation, two traits the busy Ken values more than the art itself.
What unleashed this edgy and unbridled art collector? In Dallas, Ken moved to a large home with an inspiring expanse of wall space, coupled with a life-changing issue of Art in America, “A Year in the Life of Art” (the year was 1994). But it was also part family affair: a father’s inspiring eye, and a Danish step-mother who held informal sessions where art dealers spread their wares on the dining room table. It demystified the art world, and helped Ken learn, in the turn of the page, what called his name the loudest. It also taught him that some of a gallery’s best stuff is often kept loosely in flat files (a hunting tip he happily shares).
Not everything is chosen purely for visual bliss. Ken is, after all, highly practical, but there’s practical magic in his sleight of hand. The Olsen table, favorite of Apartment Therapy readers, creates a dining room out of a perfect circle and thin air. The Wegner bookcase makes two rooms out of one, without blocking the light. The Kermit-colored Poliform closets create artful order out of an oddly configured hallway, hide an embarrassment of shoe riches, and deepen the width of the walk with a glossiness that seems deep enough to furnish.
The story of the space itself has an almost Biblical start. A flood, several stories up, and of nearly epic proportion, just days after Ken took possession of the apartment, would have sent even the most stalwart re-packing. But with the solid support of a rock steady partner, Ken took a deep Yoga breath, and then made the absolute most of an apartment that already had a lot going for it (lots of light and a killer location). Damaged walls got new plaster. Wood floors, paper thin and water stained, were replaced with sleek ebony floorboards. Along the way, and with some help from the building’s interior-expert in residence, Roy Otwell (a name some will recognize from his own House Tour), corrective changes brought the space into crisp and functional focus. Favorite works were cherry-picked from among the Texas-sized art collection that now, also, happily cohabitates with Ken’s Brooklyn-based partner.
It’s a living lesson in how to make simile from mixed-metaphor, in a space that proves when you get the envelope right, you can tuck pretty much anything inside. Especially when it’s all the notes you love.
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style: Whatever catches my eye.
Inspiration: My father. He exposed me to the Arts when I was very young.
Favorite Element: The bookcase, of course.
Biggest Challenge: What table would replace my oversized, 8-seater dining room table and its chairs that were stuffed into an alcove?
What Friends Say: They didn’t think I was that “formal.”
Biggest Embarrassment: My step-mother explaining that the light in the bathroom was insufficient for a woman to put her make-up on.
Proudest DIY: Running a teak oil-soaked rag over the bookcase when it emerged after a year in storage.
Biggest Indulgence: The solution to my dining room table problem.
Best Advice: Spend years looking for the things you plan to live with for a long time. “Buy what you love.”
Dream Sources: The storage room at the Met where they keep the smaller bronzes.
Resources of Note:
PAINT & COLORS
• Benjamin Moore:
• Credenza, chairs: eBay
• Framed art, pair: Bjarne Melgaard
• Sofa & chairs: eBay
• Framed art, Tryptych: Nicole Eisenman, “Talk Show” Parts I, II, and III, 1998, Acrylic and ink on paper; Tilton/Kustera Gallery, New York, New York
• Painted chests: Dallas flea market
• Sofa & Chairs: eBay
• Framed art (with Green): Carroll Dunham, “Green Box with Mouth” (6/25/95), 1995, colored pencil on paper
• Large framed art (black and white): Carroll Dunham, “The Search for Orgone: Night” (3/15, 3/16/01) 2001; urethane on paper; Nolan/Eckman Gallery, New York
• Art on bookcase: Giles Lyon, untitled (“Brick”), 2002, multi-media (including artist DNA) on styrofoam; Bellwether Gallery, Brooklyn, New York
• Artwork: Andreas Siekmann, gouache and watercolor on paper; Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin
• Artwork: Sven ‘t Jolle, ink and water color on paper
• Rug: West Elm
Images: Patrick J. Hamilton
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(Re-edited from a post originally published 9.16.10 – JL)