The Keno Brothers, 'Antiques Roadshow' appraisers, branch out with furniture line that has a modern look

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HIGH POINT, N.C. -- Since Leslie and Leigh Keno became household names appraising antique furniture on the popular PBS series "Antiques Roadshow," you'd be forgiven for presuming their own line of furniture, Keno Bros., would pay homage to Duncan Phyfe, Chippendale and the like. Instead, the line they introduced at the International Furniture Markets last year is a stunningly beautiful collection of sleek, polished, modern profiles crafted by Theodore Alexander.

"It's all sculptural, really. We see these pieces as very sculptural," said Leigh.

The maple and hand-woven cane Slope chair, which appears to be carved from one piece, is a perfect example of this quality; the arms and legs form a continuous curve.

"It was our vision to make a comfortable chair that is alive and organic," Leigh said.

The Kenos, whose collection will appear in showrooms this month, have taken their extensive furniture expertise and applied it to their own pieces. The brothers also host "Collect This! With The Keno Brothers" on MSN. Leigh owns and operates Keno Auctions in New York, and Leslie is director of American furniture and decorative arts at Sotheby's auction house.

"In my opinion, this is the most exciting design statement the industry has made in the last 10 years," said Jeff Lenchner, president of Today's Home, the exclusive retailer of the collection in Western Pennsylvania. Keno Bros. will debut at Today's Home ( the week of Feb. 14.

What is most important to the twin brothers is great proportion, form and design.

"The same factors in terms of quality, craftsmanship and attention to detail which apply to antiques are incorporated into our designs," said Leslie.

They care more about quality construction and good design than about ornament. And they both admire the S-shaped line -- "the line of beauty, as Hogarth called it," Leslie said.

The brothers are not afraid of a little whimsy:

"I've got two little ones and they love the Peek-a-Boo" screen." said Leslie, who is married with two children and recently moved to a new apartment in Manhattan.

"It's interactive and fun because you can have light against dark or all vice a versa or all the same. It's very contemporary. You know everything we made for the line are pieces that we want to live with."

So which of the several sideboards would he like to see under a TV in his new place?

"I love the Wave, I love the Torque. Probably that would be what I would like, the Torque," he decided.

The front literally twists. The wedge-shaped doors are opposing so the grooves across the flutes turn as if they are bending.

"The wood is so important and so is the craftsmanship. The dovetails are all hand-cut," Leslie said.

Theodore Alexander gave the Kenos carte blanche when it came to design.

"Harvey Dondero, the CEO of Theodore Alexander, said the only thing that would limit us as far as our line was our imagination. Literally they can make anything. They have great craftsmen and woods," said Leigh.

In more than 30 years at Sotheby's, Leslie said he has never seen satinwood as beautiful as that used in their collection.

"It shimmers like sunlight on the water," he said.

"We really love wood, and the attention to the quality of wood was essential," added Leigh.

The brothers admit that the whole process of developing a concept and seeing it built has been a fantasy come true. Theodore Alexander has its own foundry and can mold brass and aluminum legs and bases and hardware to the Kenos' exact specifications.

"I mean how many places can you have a totally recast foot within 24 hours?" asked Leigh, noting that most companies have to order those parts.

The Tree chest was created as a fun whimsical piece.

"It can be used anywhere and has a harlequin pattern veneer which is very complex. Then on top is this dream-like fantasy tree with spirally shaped branches," said Leslie.

They wanted dark against light with a three-dimensional feel.

"The veneer was sand-burned. Using tweezers, they would dip little pieces of veneer in burning sand. The pulls that are set within the tree are also inlaid to blend with the tree," Leigh said.

The Dance, a small occasional table with drawer, is another shimmering piece, with a modern zig zag pattern.

"It was inspired a little bit by 18th-century French furniture," said Leslie.

They are considering doing some pieces as limited editions in the future, but for now it's all available at select home furnishings retailers.

"We do think of these as heirlooms for the future. We want them to show up some day at an 'Antiques Roadshow,' " Leigh said, laughing.

Patricia Sheridan: or 412-263-2613. First Published February 5, 2011 5:00 AM


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