Kate Rheinstein Brodsky

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Family and guests alike make a grand entrance though the upholstered red leather front door of Kate’s Upper East Side pre-war apartment, which she renovated with the help of architects Dick Bories and James Shearron.

Kate Rheinstein Brodsky’s store, KRB on East 74th Street, sells what she declares are “objects of charm.” Her mother is the well-known interior designer Suzanne Rheinstein and when initially stocking the store the question they asked each other when it came to selecting inventory was “Is this saleable or is this something only you and I like?” That speaks in part to their shared aesthetic but Kate says she’s more into “juicy color”. Although she worked for Jeffrey Bilhuber on graduating from NYU, Kate had long harbored a desire for her own store. When her second daughter started kindergarten, she took the plunge: “I got a storage space. I started shopping … but first I made a business plan. So boring.”

So given your background with your mom (interior designer, Suzanne Rheinstein) and all of that, was there ever a moment when you didn’t think you were going to go in this direction?

Oh definitely. I mean I wanted to have a bookstore. I always loved retail and I didn’t think I would work in interior design. I interned in fashion when I was in college … but I really like the decorative arts, even more than design. I like objects; I love furniture; I love fabric and layers. I loved playing with my dollhouse when I was a child. I didn’t want to play with it but it was very elaborately decorated.

What instinct do you think it’s satisfying in us, decorating a space? Is it ultimately just nesting?

I think it’s definitely nesting. I like being at home. I’m a total homebody. I grew up with parents who loved to entertain and have people over.

Do you design now or just have the store?

I just have the store. Interior design is hard. I’m very impressed by anyone who can do it.

To give the foyer warmth and a bit of panache, Kate had the walls lacquered by Agustin Hurtado with Farrow & Ball’s “Orangery.” Kate’s husband Alexander purchased the Alexander the Great screenprint by Warhol at auction with money he received for his Bar Mitzvah. The work on the right is by Jason Stewart and was purchased at Geary Contemporary.
A coveted Bob Collins & Sons chintz available through Keith McCoy in Los Angeles takes center stage in the living room, covering the sofa and two 19th-century directoire-style bergères. The rug is by Stark; the ceiling and walls are painted in Farrow & Ball’s “Wimborne White”.

A Tina Barney photograph hangs above a George II style marble-top console upon which a classical bust, family photos and orchid plants are arranged.
A roll-arm chair, also covered in Bob Collins & Sons chintz is positioned below artwork by Alexander Calder, James Nares and Konstantin Kakanias.

So we’ve talked with a few people like Michelle Varian about the future of retail and the shopping experience—what is your take on the change in retail, so many stores closing, so much online shopping and so forth?

I think that—it sounds stupid to say—but retail is evolving. We are changing the way we interact with it. For every brick-and-mortar store you see close, something else opens that basically amounts to a showroom, a Warby Parker or a Peleton or something like that. The inventory isn’t all there—you can’t go into Restoration Hardware and buy anything.

How do you make it enticing for people to come in to what is essentially a showroom?

I have no idea—I think that is why we do well. We’re not like that. You can buy things when you come in. I also do well because I don’t have a huge amount of competition. We have great walk-in traffic because we’re between a bunch of schools. We sell one-of-a-kind pieces and [price-wise] I would say we’re “Upper East Side reasonable”. We sell objects of charm.

In the corner of the living room a slipper chair covered in tiger-print velvet is positioned next to a secretary filled with favorite treasures.
A series of drawings by Angela Detanico and Rafael Lain hangs above a vintage games table and antique Louis XVI-style chairs.
In the library. Kate chose fabric that stands up to the wear and tear of family life. A cozy banquette is covered in durable linen velvet with a forgiving patterned carpet from Patterson, Flynn Martin.
L. to r.: The walls and bookcases, which are inlaid with brass, are painted in Benjamin Moore’s “Ponderosa Pine”. The reverse sides of the doors are in Fine Paints of Europe’ s “Hollandlac Brillant Black.”

But Restoration Hardware is now offering restaurants and café-type spaces as part of its image—and you said earlier you were going to be using your store more for events and cocktails. Is that something you have to step up?

I think it’s necessary. Or we could have pop-ups too. But there’s a limit to how many of these things we can do. They’re really fun but they take a lot out of the staff.

Do you buy things you only personally like or do you also buy things because you know they will sell?

If I love it, I will buy it. There are certain pieces of furniture, antiques—and people think that brown furniture is out of fashion—but these pieces continually sell. For example, tiered butler’s trolleys work really well in a modern house. Hall chairs are still super chic. And it’s gateway-druggish for certain people!

What’s the best gateway drug for brown furniture?

[Laughs] I have to think about it.

In the dining room a 19th-century chandelier hangs above a vintage Regency-style dining table and chairs by Liz O’Brien Editions.
The large artwork is by Janäina Tschape.
L. to r.: In the dining room fragment lamps from the Marché aux Puces and a Victorian silver éperge are arranged upon a painted 18th century Italian console from Louis Bofferding; The walls, which are covered in a caramel-colored paper from Gracie, balance the geometric patterned floors inspired by David Hicks. The floors were painted by Chris Pearson.
Peeking into the living room and kitchen from the dining room.
Kate made the stylish yet practical choice of using Benjamin Moore’s “Courtyard Green”, to cover the kitchen cabinets. The glass cabinet doors were reverse painted to hide potentially messy shelves and the geometric-patterned linoleum floor is both easy to clean and soft under foot.

What else sells well?

Mirrors. You have to have at least on mirror in your house.

Katie Ridder told us that when she had her store, one of the reasons she shuttered it was that she got so tired of the shoplifting. Is that a problem for you?

You know in the five years that I’ve been open, we’ve only had one thing shoplifted. It was a set of six silver forks. I was like, “Clearly these people don’t know what they’re doing because they have no street value.” It would be hard to walk out with a Christopher Spitzmiller lamp.

How do you find dealing with the public?

I don’t mind it. I have a “seller” mother! I’m good at being nice … like being performative! I do not like people who are rude to my staff. One thing is that people don’t want to pay for shipping …

Kate chose to decorate Delphine and Frederica’s room in a timeless style that, with a paint change, they can grow into as they get older. The metal beds are from Hollyhock and a classical style side table is from Bunny Williams Home.

The girls’ bath, all dressed up in D. Porthault towels.
Kate converted the third bedroom of her apartment into a playroom and study space for her three daughters, 11-year-old Beatriz, 8-year-old Frederica, and 4-year-old Delphine.
The walls are covered in a grasscloth from Philip Jeffries and the curtains are made of a Peter Fasano fabric.
L. to r.: The girls’ impressive Lego building skills are displayed atop vintage shelves which are an Alvar Aalto design; Everything in its place.

How was working with Jeffrey Bilhuber—you were his personal assistant when you graduated, right?

After a year of working with him, I felt so confident in my own abilities. Jeffrey is an exacting boss and, he’ll be like, “Okay you need to find Victorian carolers within 24 hours.” Just never say no to Jeffrey. I left there believing in the art of the possible—it was wonderful.

What led to you opening your store?

My second daughter was about to start kindergarten and I was like, this seems like as good a time as any to open a store. If not now, when? It’ll never be a good time. There is never a “good time” for anything. I got a storage space. I started shopping … but first I made a business plan. So boring.

What did your interior designer mom think?

My mother is wonderful. She doesn’t ever say anything negative, about people, things, anything. She said, “If you love it, it will work.” We did sort of say about some of the things, “Is this saleable or is this something only you and I like?”

Farrow & Ball’s “Pitch Blue” informed Kate’s design choices for the master bedroom. Decidedly French in style, the headboard has very deep tufting; steel and brass shelves are filled with a collection of Hermès boxes.
A bow-front chest of drawers stands on a Madeleine Castaing carpet.
L. to r.: A discontinued Ralph Lauren paint, “Persian Sunset”, was custom mixed for the walls of Kate’s bathroom. A sink from Urban Archeology and vintage Crane fittings stand on a black ceramic tile in a herringbone pattern.
L. to r.: In husband Alexander’s bath, the walls are clad in Saint Laurent marble and the flooring is limestone. The cabinets are black glass with brass trim and the sink and fittings are from Urban Archeology.

How are you different in terms of taste or aesthetic from your mother?

We like the same things but we use them in different ways. I’m more colorful. She’s not “un-colorful”. She just has a much softer palette. I just love a lot of juicy color—and I wear black.

And does your husband have opinions?

Oh my gosh, yes! He likes color! Clear, bright color. My husband grew up in the most beautiful apartment. His parents have exquisite taste—a more formal apartment than ours. His two requests are generally “Please make sure there are chairs I can sit in,” and “I’m not interested in grey.” He wanted a French blue bedroom.

Kate carved a cozy bedroom for Beatriz out of a former maid’s room. The chintz is from Claremont and the stripe fabric is also Claremont.
The custom armoire was made Urban Green and then painted to look like a wild faux bois. Nearby a lamp from Christopher Spitzmiller sports a vintage silk sari shade is from KRB!

So you grew up in L.A. – are you ultimately a California girl?

I love Los Angeles. You have outdoor space. You can do indoor/outdoor. The traffic is a bummer but time slows a little bit. Fewer people work 9-5 jobs … not that they don’t work. It gives a different rhythm to daily life. But I love it here—I like the anonymity of the city.

 I like this quote I found from you: “You’re either anonymous or you’re out there”. Are those two sides to your personality? Which is the “anonymous” and which is the “out there”?

Well, I wear a lot of black, which is sort of anonymous. Having a white room is about the most anonymous thing I could do. The bathroom that we’re not photographing has white subway tiles and you can’t get more anonymous than that. I think what I like is something severe and simple, say a Parsons table, then paired with a rococo mirror. Regency is probably my favorite period. This is also why I could never be a designer and it’s so fun to have a store. I love everything!

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