How both Art and interior design thrive in one small corner of Sheepshead Bay
By jessica jones-gorman photos by alex barreto
For decades now, Kenny Gams has endeavored to make the corner of Avenue U and East 27th Street beautiful. A business owner at the bustling intersection since 1998 and shop owner on the Avenue U strip since 1982, the interior designer has been bringing style to Sheepshead Bay with his high-end upholstery-filled bi-level Bay Decorators showroom. But now, even while remaining focused on custom draperies and fine furniture, Gams is expanding his interests.
“Jacobson’s Art and Frame Gallery handles custom framing, restoration work, and the sale of artwork,” Gams said recently from his office, describing the neighboring shop he took ownership of this past fall. “It’s a trusted local place where people can bring their artwork to be refurbished or properly matted—such an important service that oftentimes is overlooked.”
For Gams, it was paramount that the frame store remain his neighbor. When Mark Jacobson, the gallery’s owner and Gams’s friend, died last October, there was considerable neighborhood discussion over what would happen to the space. Would it be sold? Would it be demolished? Would it simply make way for yet another CVS? Gams, who solicits no credit for the decision, explained that he took it over because he truly cared about the business.
“Jacobson’s has a strong Brooklyn following…is firmly established in this community,” he said. “For years they’ve treated their clients well and filled an important niche.”
The new owner happily cops to a lack of framing expertise, but a glimpse at his resume proves ample skill in the home design arena. A graduate of the New York Institute of Art & Design, he has owned his own interior design firm for 35 years. He focuses on custom upholstery, manufacturers his own draperies and furniture at a factory on Coney Island Avenue, and Bay Decorators was recently granted the distinction of being named a Hunter Douglas showroom, a merit not easily awarded.
“[Hunter Douglas] is the most innovative and largest manufacturer of window shades in the marketplace,” Gams said. “To be designated by them is a real honor.”
“The quality of the materials we use and the way we manufacture is what sets us apart,” added the owner. “We take pride in each piece and make sure our furniture will last a lifetime.” This goal, he said, is in part why Bay Decorators and Jacobson’s Art and Frame Gallery blend well.
“Clients come in with pieces that have been passed down for generations and we treat them accordingly,” noted Linda Serrone Rolon, a designer for the Gallery. “We often work with archival materials, items of museum quality that need special attention. Basically, our goal is for the client to never have to open that frame again.”
Rolon, who has 13 years of experience working for galleries, museums, and the New York Historical Society, describes Jacobson’s as a mom-and-pop shop that has managed to take framing to the next level.
“A lot of what we do is conservation,” she explained. “Framing is not a dying art; it’s just an expensive undertaking if you want the job done right, which a lot of people don’t realize. You can easily go to Ikea and do the DIY route, but when people do that, they often end up coming in and having them redone, so where’s the money savings in that? We don’t just put a frame on something. First, there’s page balance to consider, and we also emphasize that paper has a life to it and we embrace that life. We focus on the artwork or photograph, put it on a platform or stage and take into consideration the air and space around it.”
“Ken has been next door for a long time and has been in the design business forever which is not a totally different beast [from the Gallery],” Rolon said. “The moldings that we have, for example:
I compare them to shoe shopping. Think of your home as a beautiful dress and the frames you hang are like exquisite pairs of shoes that must coordinate with your overall style. They’re actually exciting and fun to choose,” adding that frame choices “should be forever. You shouldn’t try to match your molding with your furniture, because you will eventually change your furniture. Our frames and moldings are from labels like Gucci. Everything is wood; they’re of wonderful quality, with some made in Italy, others in America, but you have to pay for that quality. So, you want to make sure it’s a versatile choice that can stand the test of time.”
The store has rows of samples to select from, rotated regularly according to industry trends. Jacobson’s also sells original pieces and currently has exclusive rights to represent Russian artist Iouri Khamitov, who is known as “Dvornik.” Khamitov, 69, was born in Vladikavkaz City, Russia, but he and his wife relocated to New York City in 1993, then to the Poconos in 1999, and now live in Scranton. The pen name comes from his stint as a Moscow street cleaner, a profession he took after the KGB forced him out of the Union of Russian Artists (dvornik means “street cleaner” in Russian).
“He is an amazing artist,” Gams said. “I simply fell in love with his work and wanted him to be represented in the store,” adding that he would like to represent more local artists, building upon the overall goal of being a shop that also frames the community.
“My ultimate goal is to really just uphold the legacy that Mark left,” Gams concluded. “To keep providing the quality service that this gallery was built on.”