The Keno Twins Race to Find Classics

Jay Johnson -- I had the fun of seeing two human dynamos, the Keno brothers (Leigh and Leslie) of Antiques Roadshow fame, giving a presentation yesterday morning at the D&D Building in NYC. Their subject: What Becomes a Classic?

Wouldn't it be great if we could all be able to predict what is being made today that will be the super-collectible antique of the future? The Kenos suggest that rarity is a big factor, i.e. very few pieces are being made of a high-quality item. So-called limited editions of objects, from a framed photograph to a Zaha Hadid piece of furniture (see her limited edition RED Aqua Table at right), should really be limited and not "too commercial." Beautiful crafts, made by top skilled artisans from the finest materials, can also become valuable one day if they're made as stand-alone pieces, contrasting to commercial machine-made furniture and accessories.

I was impressed with the Keno brothers love of antique cars and racing. It's been a lifelong hobby of their to "go fast." But this hobby ties in beautifully with their passion for beautiful, classic objects. They will wax poetic about the L29 Cord or the 1938 Alpha Romeo or the 1959 Lotus II -- and especially the rare "Mona Lisa" of cars, the 1962 GTO Ferrari. But these great automobiles share much in common with what they love about classic furniture and design:

  1. Look for great craftsmanship in anything you buy for your home.
  2. Sleek lines and fine design will elevate a good piece from a bad piece.
  3. Consider the object's condition as an integral part of its value.
  4. Buyers should beware of auctions as they may make claims for a piece that can't be proven.
  5. Look for traces of fine handmade features, like beautifully constructed chest drawers or tool patterns.

Leigh and Leslie showed some slides of lovely objects and why they loved them so, like the John Goddard 1760 tea table which went for $8.4 million at auction and became probably the most expensive table in the world. Its design is "unbelievably elegant," it's made from the finest mahogany, the carving is sublime, and its provenance is airtight. The Kenos love to collect important pieces like this pair of John Goddard roundabout chairs that Leigh Keno (left) bought at auction for $3.28 million.

If you like your old treasures to look like new, the Keno brothers would like you to reconsider doing anything drastic. They love the original finish, no matter how marred or peeling a piece of furniture might look. Wear patterns like rub marks around the arms and seats of chairs, for instance, show human interaction with the furniture and the marks tell their own wonderful stories that should be kept intact as part of the story an item can tell us. And sometimes perfectly good pieces have been reupholstered, and the Kenos warn that this is like "taking away great beauty." If at all possible, keep the original upholstery or finish as intact as possible -- even if the piece has a slightly musty smell to it.

A special thanks to always-lovely Traditional Home magazine, Lorin Marsh (whose distinctive home furnishings definitely qualify as modern classics), and the Apgar Wealth Management Group of Wachovia Securities ( for generously sponsoring the Keno brothers event and reception breakfast.

And for this month's video . . . let's look into the Keno twins' passion for fine classic cars and racing!



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