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The Real Deal | Inside the Home of Robert K. Futterman

09.05.08

From art-filled Meatpacking pad, Futterman looks out for new retail deals

By, Alison Gregor

Shortly after Robert Futterman, the chairman and CEO of Robert K. Futterman & Associates, was divorced, he was featured in a 2006 magazine piece celebrating the new freedom recent divorcés had to decorate their own places.

And Futterman did indeed explore his true colors. He showed off a purple, or eggplant-colored, living room in his Greenwich, Conn., home, where a black pool table was paired with a photograph of a Chinese man in a tub surrounded by women.

A similar sense of liberation pervades the retail real estate broker’s newer apartment in the Porter House, a West 15th Street condominium in the Meatpacking District.

The three-bedroom, three-bath condo — which, according to the property deed, Futterman purchased from Us Weekly editor Janice Min for $3.15 million in 2005 — is where he rests his head on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when he is not staying in Greenwich.

Before he founded RKF in 1998 at the age of 39, Futterman worked at Garrick-Aug Associates, where he started in 1983 for $250 a week as a retail store canvasser, which meant relentlessly trekking the city looking for vacant retail space to lease.

Futterman, who never graduated from college, quickly rose to become senior managing director at the firm. And he has now built his own company into one of the country’s largest independent firms specializing in leasing retail space. Currently RKF has 107 employees and four offices nationwide.

Since he started his real estate career, Futterman says he has completed more than $3 billion worth of leasing transactions.

His Manhattan space is filled with dramatic artwork, the rewards of that successful career. He converted one of the bedrooms in the apartment, where dark blue and black colors predominate, into a home office where he has hung a large, realistic painting depicting a nude woman.

In the living room, a statue of a group of street thugs with death’s heads for faces is made of fiberglass and tinted dark purple with auto-body paint.

Futterman said he even briefly considered buying a Damien Hirst skull.

“At the time, I thought I was going to buy one,” he said with a laugh. “Then I thought, a single guy living in Chelsea with a skull — isn’t that a little bit too much?”

Futterman, 49, seems to have struck a balance between the freewheeling and the functional in his “crash pad,” which is 2,271 square feet, and has a bedroom shared by his two sons, Jesse, 15, and Kevin, 13. (He shares custody with his ex-wife.)

The apartment also has a Valcucine chef’s kitchen, Viking appliances and Jatoba wood floors, which Futterman had stained to a near-ebony shade.

But, despite the top-flight kitchen, which was installed by Us Weekly’s Min, Futterman said he chose the neighborhood, in part, for its variety of restaurants and entertainment options.

“I used to live on the Upper East Side, before I moved to Connecticut, and if I went out to restaurants or out to meet friends, it was always Downtown,” he said. “And I kind of gravitate towards the West Side more than the East Side.”

Chelsea also affords Futterman an easy commute to his office at 521 Fifth Avenue between 43rd and 44th streets. That helps for someone who proclaims to be “obsessed with work.”

The neighborhood also helps him keep in close touch with one of New York City’s thriving retail neighborhoods: The Meatpacking District.

In fact, Futterman’s sixth-floor condo in the Porter House looks south over the cobblestone streets of the Meatpacking District (and also has western views of the High Line and a slice of the Hudson River).

“You can see a lot of the buildings that we’ve leased,” Futterman said, including the Apple Store at 401 West 14th Street, right across the street. “We’ve made a big push in the Meatpacking District, and a lot of it might have to do with the fact that I live here.

“If they’re within my purview, the landlords know they can’t hire anybody else but me,” Futterman added, laughing.

Futterman has chosen to decorate his apartment — which has the tall arched windows of the 1930s brick Renaissance Revival warehouse it formerly was — with furniture of modern design and contemporary art. As retail has grown inextricably entwined with fashion and art in recent years, perhaps it makes sense that Futterman has gotten seriously into art collecting since he bought his Porter House apartment. He works closely with art consultant Andrea Hazen of Hazen Partners Art Advisory.

“Robert really engages with all of this,” Hazen said. “He really loves to learn about the art. He’s not just buying it because, ‘Oh yeah, I need to have this because I’m successful.’ He’s actually interested in the art and the artists.”

For example, the nude study in his office means more to Futterman than simply a depiction of aesthetic beauty; there’s a backstory.

“The artist is Christian Jankowski,” said Futterman, whose 72-year-old mother is a painter. “And I’ve actually met the guy, had dinner with him. The concept in this painting was actually really well thought out.

“I was as interested in the person who did the art as I was in the piece itself,” Futterman said.

Futterman’s living room, dining room and kitchen are all one loft-like space, and several distinct artworks draw the eye. One is a blue neon sign that says “Modus Operandi” in script, done by the artist-philosopher Joseph Kosuth.

“That was sort of the key piece that things grew off of,” Hazen said. “It was really exciting when Robert went for it, because it’s not a picture. It’s new media; it’s very conceptual. I think it really reflects him, his M.O.”

Futterman was so keen on the piece that he also purchased a book by Kosuth written in Latin, which he said he cannot read, along with a book of the philosopher-artist’s ideas on conceptual art in English — which he has read.

“It’s one thing to know the art,” said Futterman, who has stacked books about art and other subjects throughout his apartment. “It’s another thing to read writings by the artist; to get into their head a little bit. Even though it was very difficult to get into [Kosuth’s] head, you sort of were able to pick up some bits and pieces of his conceptual art.”

Though drawn to the contemporary, Futterman can also be charmingly retro. For instance, the round dark blue couch in his living room, behind which he keeps his electric guitar and bongo drums, is paired with a circular coffee table in acid-etched bronze, pewter and enamel depicting warriors, noblemen and steeds. Done by father-and-son sculptural team Philip and Kelvin LaVerne, the table, which sells for about $10,000 to $11,000, was made around 1960. (The electric guitar is not just a dated display either: Futterman learned to play it as a teenager and seriously considered becoming a rock concert promoter after college. He still plays.)

Futterman’s decorator, Tatum Kendrick of Tatum Kendrick Design, also helped him find a large blown-glass sphere lamp, made in Italy in the 1950s, which hangs over the dining room table. The unusual lamps over his bed also came from 1950s Italy. Balls of glass on the ends of a tangle of metal tubes, the lamps look a bit like a cluster of molecules.

“None of these things are new; they’re all old,” Futterman said. “It is a little retro, because it sort of sticks out with all the contemporary furniture.”

Art in the bedroom, which is complete with a walk-in closet, includes a giant photograph of a library by Candida Höfer.

“I felt like I was almost adding a room by having that piece,” Futterman said.

Futterman’s collection of art serves as a backdrop when he entertains, which he likes to do from time to time.

He threw a surprise birthday party recently for colleague Karen Bellantoni, an executive vice president at Robert K. Futterman & Associates. As many as 60 people, plus a catering team, can be accommodated in the condo.

Futterman said that, though he only uses the apartment part-time, he doesn’t see himself selling it any time in the near future.

“This really serves my purpose,” he said. “If I were to trade up from this, it might be for something with outdoor space — an apartment where you could actually open a door and walk outside. But for my purposes, I didn’t really feel I needed that.”

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