Loft Peeping: The artists Ken Brown & Lisa Crafts

The artist Ken Brown, better known around these parts with the 10-and-under set as Santa, first moved to Harrison Street 36 years ago. And that fact alone might tell you how much charm is packed into that loft. But it’s his patient nature and wit that both make him both a great Santa and a great decorator.

I first saw his apartment when I went by to deliver the yak-hair beard that clinches the Santa look. Since Ken comes with his own white mustache and ridiculously high rosy cheek bones, all he needs is the beard and the red suit. But once he let me in there, it took him a while to get me to leave, since there is just so much to examine, so many stories to hear, so much careful thought, intention and detail. Nothing seems random.

Ken claims that his wife, the artist and animator Lisa Crafts, is a minimalist, which means they must have a really good marriage. There is not a flat surface — or even a vertical one — that isn’t covered with some sort of fascinating collection. Even the plants have character.

The couple came to settle here from Boston in 1985, after a visit to see a sales rep of Ken’s postcards (see more on that here) whose office was on Chambers Street. On the walk up Hudson, they spotted a real estate sign in an upper floor window.

“Next thing we were standing there looking at this big empty room with a cheesy little kitchen, which made some sense since it was a cheese warehouse,” he said. “We made an offer two weeks later.” Ken was able to secure a corner of the basement to use almost as a warehouse for the business.

They raised their daughter there — she is in her 30s now — and created their work there, adding walls for bedrooms and studios as they went along. His daughter’s bedroom door was found in a local loft warehouse and has a textured glass window that reads “employees only/no admittance.” Lisa added Jemma’s name. The kitchen counters were salvaged from an old diner; Ken carried the oven upstairs before the building had an elevator. Ken made the cabinet over the sink using shards of pottery found on the family farm and other adventures.

Many of the figurines or tchotchke collections were found at the 26th Street flea market and were useful components for a number of wrapping paper and postcard designs. “Salt and pepper shakers, xmas figures, little citizens, toys, and Shriners all had new lives,” he said. “Other modest collections joined the fun, but I have since become a completely reformed curio collector with no purchases for many years.”

He still has a compulsion, however, to save — to record and preserve. Only now he does it digitally. Not just documents and art, but walls, windows, storefronts, everything. That’s the nature of his art and its also the nature of his home. Three decades makes for lots of layers.

“I’m glad we hung tight in Tribeca, even as it changed. I love the buildings and the landscape and the proximity to the river and the trains to go anywhere,” he says. “A lot of artist friends got bumped out. It can be hard to take the change. But I’ve always known that underneath it all is me trying to save things.”

 
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5 Comments

  1. Lisa and Ken are great neighbors. My two young boys love hanging out with them and hearing stories of Tribeca back in the day.

  2. Ken is a Tribeca legend and a wonderful artist. I hope he does another studio sale one of these days. Follow him on Instagram @kenbrownpixpop on Face Book or check out his website: http://www.kenbrownpixpop.com . Thank you for showing his loft.

  3. Ken Brown and Lisa Crafts are the “poster children” for TriBeCa !

  4. Ken and Lisa were my Animation teachers at Boston College. Two of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. They became my mentors. A few years after college I worked for an animation studio at 77 Hudson just around the corner from their loft. It was quite the serendipity. 40 years after taking their class I’m still doing animation. In fact I was lucky enough to work with Lisa on a few projects. And my wife used to buy a lot of Ken’s merchandise when she was a buyer at Kate’sPaperie. They are truly unique and wonderful people!

  5. These are some very nice pictures of their inside apartment building. I have never seen anything like that before. And I enjoy his art a lot. How can I meet him?

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