Art of the Deal
One house, two Roberts. Robert Deyber is 58, stands six feet, four inches, has ink-black hair, grew up in affluent Greenwich, and paints comical, clever, contemporary art. His partner, Robert Graham, is 36, stands about half a foot shorter, has hay-blonde hair, grew up in working-class South Windsor, is a serious, highly driven businessman, and has an affinity for all things antique.
Aside from sharing a first name, the two are so steeped in incongruities that it may seem surprising they’re partners—in life and in work. But the couple, who met in 2001, are the picture of domestic and professional symmetry and their Litchfield homestead is testament to how opposite and eclectic proclivities can combine to create a dwelling so entrancing, you never want to leave. The 4,800-square-foot estate of Deyber and Graham is a tasteful oasis that blends centuries-old architecture and antiques with new design and modern amenities, furnishings, and art. “It’s a careful balance of old and new,” says Deyber, sitting at the long, modern, stainless-steel center island in the couple’s new kitchen that ties in seamlessly to the original 1776 farmhouse. Next to the island is a 19th-century farm table surrounded by antique benches with fluffy heirloom pillows, where Graham sits and says, “Somehow all of our things just sort of go together.”
The kitchen used to be a garage in the home the couple bought under foreclosure five years ago. It’s one of many transformations they’ve made to the estate that started as a 2,450-square-foot farmhouse, and was about doubled in size in 2005 by another owner. The couple had been living in Atlanta and wanted to return to their Connecticut roots. “We pulled in the driveway, and any regular person would have backed out and left,” says Deyber. “There were trees growing out of the driveway; it was completely overgrown, but the northern views were amazing—36 acres of total pristine beauty. It oozed potential.”
Deyber is a celebrated pop-Surrealist painter whose works are visually alluring, thought-provoking pictorial puns, like Bad Hare Day (a large rabbit sitting in a field with a lit match in his mouth, houses on fire in the background) and Three Sheets to the Wind (three bright white sheets billowing against an ominous sky). “I’m addicted to contrasts; they sort of command your attention,” Deyber says, touring the house that’s filled with a mix of his art, Graham’s antiques, and collections old and new that they’re constantly compiling together.
Graham, whose father taught him carpentry when he was a child, did most of the renovations himself, impressively making the new spaces feel like part of the original structure. They retained beams and chestnut floors, and ripped out tile and sheetrock, replacing them with pine plank floors, shiplap and beadboard ceilings, much of it milk-stained or painted white. With seven bedrooms, five and a half bathrooms, six fireplaces, three staircases, great open spaces, and intricate hallways, the estate is like a homey museum filled with beautifully backlit treasures. Most of the furniture came from Graham’s store, The Housatonic Trading Co., which he opened in November, a few miles down the road from their home, on Route 202 in Bantam. It’s a huge antiques and consignment shop in an old brick building.
Deyber’s real-estate-developer father forced him to attend business school. He worked in the airline industry, and would sit bored in meetings, doodling his interpretations of staid maxims: Thinking Outside the Box (man sitting in thinker pose, beside a big box). “I put paintings up on e-bay for $75,” Debyer relates. “Within two weeks I had $2,500. I thought, This could work.”
It was Graham who propelled Deyber’s career through the stratosphere. He set up Deyber’s website, and arranged for him to be represented by several galleries, including the Martin Lawrence Galleries, where Deyber is featured along with Dali, Rembrandt, and Picasso. “Bob is a genius artist, and Rob is the practical machine that makes it all happen,” says Lory Quist, a major Deyber collector from Blanco, Texas. When she started collecting his art ten years ago, a 48-inch-by-48-inch painting went for around $3,600. Now, they fetch between $10,000 and $30,000 apiece. “We have dinner parties, and Bob’s art is always the highlight. Everyone’s laughing, everyone’s smiling, everyone’s happy.”
Other big clients include Tom Petty and his wife, Dana, of Malibu. The musician commissioned Deyber for the cover art of his 2006 album, Highway Companion. “Back in two thousand something, we happened on an intriguing picture of a giant tree with hundreds of branches and a small man standing on one,” writes Petty in the foreword for Deyber’s forthcoming book, Figures of Speech, to be published October 1. “On learning the picture’s name was Out on a Limb we immediately purchased it. I was about to release an album called Highway Companion. I had a quick fantasy of Robert painting the cover. ... The work arrived much quicker than expected, with the concept realized beyond my wildest dreams. ... I’ve since met Robert and found him to be an upbeat and sincere person and artist.”
Back at the house, their magical milieu, Deyber and Graham go outside to rake their stone garden and sit beside the reflecting pool. Their dogs—two huge, horse-like great Danes named Mikey and Timmy, and a mixed-breed named Posey—gallop around the yard toward the setting sun, an image not unlike a Deyber painting. Graham contemplates his partner’s art and says, “My focus is on seeing this as a business. Bob’s focus is on his creative outlet. So together, we make the perfect blend.”