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Friday, 30 November 2012 03:54

Connecting Design Across the Centuries

The Kleins have expanded the house, only partially seen here, since they purchased it in the 1980s. It was built on property owned by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848—1933) in Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island. When they walk down to the beach, the couple uses the same path Tiffany used. Unfortunately his house and studio are no longer in existence. Part of their land was Tiffany's garden, so Joanne had a strong base upon which to work. Her designs for the waterfall and surrounding landscaping were inspired by what she saw while on a trip to Hawaii. The free–standing sculpture is by Evan Lewis. Image courtesy Shawn Elliott Luxury Homes & Estates, Woodbury, New York.


The entry showcases classic antiques in a modern setting, with early bicycles hung from the ceiling as decorative accents. The rugs were all custom dyed to match the paint colors of the period furniture and to look like early ingrain carpets. This area is all about color and simplicity of style, from the Native American basket, green/blue six–board chest, grain–painted apothecary, and the Dunlap chest, the only known example from the Dunlap School with original salmon paint.

Classic line and design has continuity through time. Good design is good design, regardless of its age, which explains why antiques are just as relevant in a contemporary setting as modern material.

Joanne and Jeff Klein, the collectors featured here, live with objects and artwork from the eighteenth through the twenty–first centuries. When asked about integrating periods and styles, Joanne, says, “I start with the house itself as an object and the pieces within make the relationships. I choose spots where I feel things will look their best and light them well so that everything is on an even footing.” She adds, “I will combine a Jim Dine lithograph with an early hooked rug. Each is seen together as a unit, but each also has its own space. It's not about contrasting: they become almost as one.”

Their collecting journey began, says Joanne and Jeff, "when we were much younger and poorer." Adds Joanne, "I got the collecting bug and thought that if I ever had money I would buy antiques." They learned as much as they could about the material, drawn not only to the objects but to the history and stories each held. In the late 1980s they met dealers Marybeth Keene and Wayne Pratt at the Hartford Antiques Show, who mentored them in understanding what they were looking at and the importance of aesthetics. The couple caught on quickly and spent many days canvassing shops, attending shows, meeting other dealers, and expanding into folk art and playful material, gradually combining their collections together in their house.

The family room is whimsical and relaxing. Among the toys, which include a Märklin erector set, gameboards, and an early peddle bike, is a mid–century "footed" glass table and a Knoll Eero Saarinen Womb chair. The 1950s jukebox is the same model as the one seen in the television show Happy Days.
The Kleins also began to collect art. Their first major acquisition was Romare Bearden's (1911—1988) Fancy Sticks. Drawn to the artist's work, they particularly liked this example because their son had taken up drumming. Jim Dine (b. 1935) and Jasper Johns (b. 1930) are among the other artists represented in the collection.

Adding modern and contemporary material was not a conscious decision. "I see it from the perspective of design," says Joanne. "If the aesthetic matches, then the century doesn't matter. Craftsmen and artists have grown up seeing older material in the homes of their families and they cannot help but be influenced by what is successful in line and design." About their collecting instincts, Marybeth Keene, who has worked with the collectors through the decades, has this to say, "[Their] house could be the residence of someone from any age. It is timeless."

Six of the property's ten acres is devoted to a designed landscape that Joanne has been integral in creating. Along its paths and venues is a collection of modern and contemporary works by sculptors Anish Kapoor (b. 1954), Jene Highstein (b. 1942), Richard Long (b. 1945), Ursula von Rydingsvard (b. 1942), and Evan Lewis (b. 1958). "What all these pieces have in common is that they are one with the earth and environment," says Joanne, "we see each artist's hand manipulating the natural material." She adds, "These sculptures are about soul and the idea that design changes you and brings something to the present culture and future generations. Not only is this true for these works, but for antiques and fine art as well." 

"The pure colors of this room work together," says Joanne. "That is the beauty of having original paint; the oxidation of time is not possible with new pieces." The eighteenth– and early nineteenth–century painted furniture silhouetted against the white walls is minimalism at its best and is suggestive of the Color Field abstract art movement. The dining room, an extension of the family room, exhibits a playful mix of contemporary Knoll furniture with the early–twentieth–century rustic country signs and imagery. The pillows repeat the colors seen in the family room with the checks visually playing off the game boards.

The white bedroom is all about distillation. Joanne introduced the eighteenth–century tilt–top table, made by Eliphalet Chapin of Connecticut, into the contemporary setting because its curves are echoed in the overhead lamp and Ligne Roset chair. As a tilt–top, it can be flattened against a wall or brought out into a room. Joanne notes, "It can be manipulated and moved to wherever you want it placed."
The living room has the classic elements of a historic interior, with Windsor chairs, tavern table, and ceramics, set off by Romare Bearden's Fancy Stix over the fireplace mantel. The Nantucket double sewing basket stand is extremely rare. A knitter, Joanne keeps her yarn in the woven baskets.

Joanne designed the bridge and the waterfall beneath. She placed Jene Highstein's sculpture, Kugel (1991), along the side of the path, its out–of–round shape and colors melding with the landscape. "Originally I wanted it to "float" on the pond, but here it draws one's eyes to the space and can be seen from a distance, from the path, the beach, or when crossing the bridge."

Because the couple’s son has moved out west and they will be relocating to be closer to him and his family, they will be selling their house and the majority of its contents and outdoor sculpture. Keno Auctions in New York City will offer the Collection of Joanne and Jeffrey Klein in their January 22, 2013, Important American Paintings, Furniture, Folk Art and Decorative Arts sale and in their June 11, 2013 Important Impressionist, Modern & Contemporary Art sale. Interior designer and broker Marybeth Keene is a consultant to the auction. Says Leigh Keno, "The collection of Joanne and Jeffrey Klein represents their dedicated focus to seek out those works of art that transcend shifting trends of popular taste. I could not be more proud to bring their great passion to the public."
Anish Kapoor's four–foot tall sandstone sculpture was created in 1993 during the period when he was making biomorphic forms, experimenting with receding voids, and polished and unpolished surfaces. His most recent work includes the Orbit tower commissioned for the London Olympics.
For information on the January and June auctions and previews call 212.734.2381 or visit If you would like to reach the realtor, contact Ira Gross at Shawn Elliott Luxury Homes & Estates at 516.364.4663 or via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

If you have a well–appointed collection that combines historic and contemporary styles that you would like featured, send scouting images to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 617.926.0004.

All images unless noted are courtesy Keno Auctions. Photography by Ben Cohen. Written by Johanna McBrien.