This Harlem brownstone moonlights as a groovy gallery
Although 23 percent of American workers do some of their work from home, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that trend doesn’t normally apply to Loni Efron’s line of work.
While most art galleries are located in spacious studio and loft spaces, Efron runs Ilon Art Gallery out of the late 19th-century brownstone she shares with her family at 204 W. 123rd St. in Harlem.
Efron has run a successful photo archiving business, Ilon & Company, for two decades — working with the likes of David LaChapelle and Annie Leibovitz — but in 2014 she expanded her business to include a gallery in her 4,500-square-foot townhouse that’s open to the public.
“I had been collecting pieces for 20 years, hanging them on my walls, and they looked amazing,” says Efron, who also recently launched iArchive, a database management tool for photographers.
“So I decided, ‘Let’s do a show. Let’s make it a real gallery.’ ”
Fast forward two years and several installations later, and Efron’s current exhibition is “Music.”
Running until June 3, it features more than 70 snaps of iconic musicians shot by celebrity photographers.
They hang on walls throughout her four-story home.
The majority of the photos on view are in the parlor floor’s main room, which features soaring 11-foot-high ceilings. Highlights include David Bowie by Claude Gassian, Lady Gaga by Martin Schoeller and Keith Richards by Gered Mankowitz.
When the parlor room isn’t filled with visitors, Efron says it’s an epicenter for family life. “We’re in here all the time,” says Efron, 45, who lives with her husband Russ, 50, daughter Kami, 7, son Cody, 11, and pet pooch Bo. (Two cats, Phineaus and Rex, and a parrot, Tikki, round out the menagerie.)
Like the rest of the home, the parlor room is a charming ode to New York of yesteryear, with its original wood floors, doors, paneling and window shutters as well as old doorknobs and crown moldings on the ceiling.
“The parlor room is hard to furnish because it’s long and skinny,” Efron says. There’s a salmon-colored vintage couch from The ClearingHouse, a consignment shop in Greenport, N.Y., flanked by a pair of vintage chairs. Also next to the couch are two pieces Efron picked up during her travels: a wooden statue of a “Colonial Man” crafted in West Africa she and Russ purchased in his native South Africa, and a mahogany statue of a guitar-playing Rastafarian they bought in the Dominican Republic.
At the far end of parlor room is a mixture of hand-me-downs from Russ’ South African family, including his grandparents’ sideboard and card table, both crafted from stinkwood. The adjacent kitchen also has a stinkwood dining table — with ball-and-claw feet — and chairs, also via Russ’ grandparents. The kitchen’s role in the exhibition is to display an Albert Watson-shot photo of Tupac Shakur.
The exhibition continues below, on the ground floor, along a hallway lined with Elvis Presley photos captured by Alfred Wertheimer. Efron chose to hang these smaller photos in the narrow hallway for a reason: “This is a really hard floor to hang stuff,” she says. “With big pieces in this space, you can’t stand back and look.”
Off the hall, bedrooms are conspicuously located behind closed doors. The blurry line between Efron’s public and private life extends to the level above the parlor floor, which houses her office. “It’s part of the show, but the pictures in it aren’t part of the ‘Music’ show,” Efron says, pointing to pieces by LaChapelle and Leibovitz. “They’re just other things I can offer you as a collector.”
Ilon Art Gallery is open on Tuesdays from noon to 7 p.m., and on other days by appointment. Efron has made sure the home is hospitable to guests at all times. Russ built a bar in the basement that is stocked with products from local businesses, including Harlem Brewing Co. beer and Sol Cacao handcrafted chocolate. Down there, some of the pieces lining the white-painted exposed brick walls include a Bob Gruen photo of John Lennon, a Kevin Mazur photo of Kurt Cobain and a Roxanne Lowitt photo of The Misfits.
Efron says the basement was a key factor in purchasing the brownstone in 2004. “When I came down the stairs, I said to Russ, ‘This is the nicest basement I’ve ever seen,’ ” she recalls. “This was one of the few brownstones where I wasn’t afraid of the basement.”
The Efrons moved from Battery Park City because of their desire to leave lower Manhattan following the 9/11 terrorist attacks — and chose Harlem for its charm. “I love Harlem because it’s a neighborhood where people say ‘hello’ on the street,” says Efron, whose gallery is part of the community-based Harlem Days Harlem Nights collective of cultural initiatives. “And we fell in love with the original details of this brownstone — since a lot of others were gut-renovated or needed a gut renovation — and that it has a quiet backyard.”
Efron’s children, who run around the spacious home, spend a lot of time playing in the backyard, which features a basketball hoop and a pond Russ created and stocked with koi and goldfish. There’s also an herb garden that proffers mint, chives, rosemary, cilantro and basil, all of which Efron uses in her cooking.
Plus, there’s an organic vegetable garden with the likes of corn, tomatoes and broccoli.
The actual brownstone aside, Efron says her children are fans of the at-home art gallery setup. “They think it’s kind of cool,” she says.
And visitors are just as keen on the gallery being in her brownstone. “They love that they’re not in some four-walled, white-walled sterile room,” she says. “Some people are afraid to go into a gallery; they feel like they don’t belong.”
Efron says she has no plans to change her work-at-home lifestyle. “I would hate it if I had to go to an office every day,” she says.
“It’s nice to be home at 3 p.m. when the kids come home. I can give them a snack, hang out with them and then go back to work. That way, I don’t feel like my kids are growing up without me being around.”
PHOTOS: Annie Wermiel/NY Post; STYLING: Brice Gaillard/ThePropStylist.com
NYC’s HOMIEST MUSEUMS
A handful of other New Yorkers also operate galleries and museums in their homes. Here’s a trio of appointment-only venues worth visiting:
Rabbi Shaul Shimon Deutsch pays homage to the animals cited in the Torah in his Borough Park row house. His collection features more than 300 taxidermied animals, including oxen, lambs and lions (877-752-6286).
Located in the sixth-floor Lower East Side walk-up of performance artist Reverend Jen, this eclectic space features a dizzying collection of vintage trolls and troll memorabilia (212-560-7235).
Matt Harkins and Viviana Olen pay homage to the skating nemeses in the hall of their Williamsburg apartment, with artifacts like a scoring sheet from the 1994 championship, and a diorama of Harding doing a triple axel jump.