When Alon and Betsy Kasha started spending more time at their pied-à-terre in Paris than at home in London, they knew they were at a crossroads. Alon had worked in finance and Betsy in public relations for Cartier, but they had been having more fun renovating and decorating their vacation apartment in Paris—and they were good at it. Houseguests began inquiring about whether the property might come on the market and, soon, "we decided to turn our passion into a business," according to Alon.
Today the couple lives in Paris full-time, and has bought and sold some 60 redesigned apartments in the Saint-Germain-des-Pres neighborhood. Working together as a+b kasha, Alon and Betsy do everything from rewiring the electricity to hanging paintings on the wall. The couple, who are avid collectors themselves and have decorated their own country pied-à-terres in Normandy and Madison, Connecticut, spoke to Artspace about how to choose art for the home away from home.
How is the decorating approach for a pied-à-terre different from that for a primary dwelling?
AK: The greatest luxury of the pied-à-terre is that it has no clutter. There can be space between all the hangers in the closet. Even if it’s aestheticaly cluttered—the chair with the blanket and the pillow and picture frame behind it—it’s much more stylized.
BK: The other thing is that you come in and everything in it you love; there’s nothing you’ve adopted or inherited. You create this perfect zen environment. You’re in a different mindset in a pied-à-terre, in a mini-vacation mode, and you’re not worrying about getting your bills done, or the project that’s sitting in your closet.
AK: We often put some of our better art in our Paris apartment before we lived there full-time, because when you get there you just wanted to be in the perfect environment.
What kind of art would you say is best-suited for creating this kind of uncluttered, zen-like environment?
AK: We like Minimalist and abstract art.
BK: If you think about fashion, the apartment is a little bit like the perfectly tailored little black dress and the artworks are the accessories. If you’re more traditional, you pick the set of pearls, or you might something more fun like an old estate necklace.
AK: Another point is that large contemporary paintings and more minimal paintings make a space feel bigger. The bigger the painting, the bigger the space will feel. So when we have the luxury of fitting out smaller apartments completely, we put very large paintings in them.
How did you begin your personal art collection?
BK: We were on our honeymoon in Cartagena. We went out to a gallery one night and saw this painting we loved. We decided to get it, and after that it became a tradition to buy a work every year for our anniversary.
AK: Now we totally violate our rule. We'll be somewhere and say, "anniversary present?" So we end up buying way more than one a year. But I'd say that the love affair with art started even before our honeymoon, because when we were first married we lived in this tiny, 350-square-foot apartment in New York and we wanted to get a big painting to put on the wall. We couldn't afford much, so I said to Betsy, "We’re going to create our own painting," and I went to Pearl Paint and bought the biggest canvas we could buy. We pushed all the furniture out of the way, bought red paint and materials to give it 3D aspects and did it ourselves.
BK: We had a dinner party and people loved it, they were like, "Who’s the artist?!" We kept saying it was someone downtown, and finally we said, "Okay, we did it." No one believed us so we showed them pictures of the process. A friend asked if he could buy it and so we said, okay, and sold it him for $1,000.
Your tend to sell your clients complete-package apartments that are already redesigned and decorated. What happens if a client doesn't like the look?
AK: The analogy is when someone says to an artist, "I love your painting, but I want it in red." Well, it’s blue. Sometimes we’ll say we can actually create a red one, too, if it works as a red version. But if they’re like, "Can you put a little flower in the corner?" we try to avoid that.
BK: We get emotionally attached.
AK: Working with art is actually riskier, because if you put in a very contemporary painting and the person is very into representational art they have trouble seeing past that. They’ll say, “This apartment is too modern for me.”
Do you ever have the opposite problem, where clients don't seem to have an appreciation for the art?
AK: We’re always shocked by clients we have who spend a lot of money on an apartment and then don’t spend anything on art.
BK: They don't have an appreciation for it, or sometimes I think people are intimidated.
AK: I’m very straightforward about it. I’ve walked into people’s apartments and said, when you’ve reached 40 years old or your first million dollars, you cannot have posters on your wall anymore. For a lot of people, art is just not a priority. But I think that people who collect have their own inward appreciation of beauty—they're not just trying to show you their cars or clothes. Art is less in your face about money.
BK: It’s also so personal. When I wake up in the morning, what I see in my bedroom is all very important to me. It's about the mood of the room, but also the mood that you’re in in the room. We have this painting in our bedroom that’s perfect. It's this whimsical, passionate work by a French artist Cecile Defforey and it says a lot to us. It really speaks to me.