By Ruth J. Katz
Photography by Phillip EnnisThey rescue precious things—and they’ll apply their exquisite craftsmanship not just to the priceless (a Ming vase) but also to the beloved (your grandma’s treasured teacup)
“We will not turn anybody down. We’re not snobs,” declares Anatoly Kristhul, co-owner of ARK Restoration & Design, Ltd., a company in Manhattan that specializes in repairing and restoring objects of all types, from a humble glass candy dish from the Old Country to a Paris porcelain bought at auction to a priceless Ming Dynasty museum piece. “We can repair almost anything. And, when it comes to sentimental items—where the repair would cost more than the item itself—we try to find a way to make it feasible. We know what it is to cherish something beautiful.”
They do indeed. Kristhul and his business partner and wife, Rena, were forced to leave most of their treasured possessions in the former Soviet Union when they emigrated in the late 1970s. “My grandmother had a lot of lovely old things,” comments Rena, “but you were not allowed to take any antiques out of the country, so we came here with nothing.”
In fact, they came here with less than nothing. “We even owed money!” Anatoly says, laughing. “At that time, if you left the country, you had to pay the government back for your education … so we had a huge debt!” But their combined educations provided just the depth of expertise they’d need for the business they would eventually establish. Rena has the equivalent of a master’s degree—in glass and ceramic design—from the Lvov State Institute of Decorative and Applied Art. Anatoly has degrees—also comparable to a master’s degree, but in civil and industrial engineering—from the Moscow Institute of Civil Engineers and the Lvov Polytechnic University,
“I really missed having pretty china, so we went to flea markets and small antiques shops,” Rena explains, “and bought all the damaged, imperfect things. Because I also learned very practical things about the science of clay bodies and the technology behind glass production, I knew what to do to repair them. The kitchen was my lab.” The pair then returned to their favorite haunts with the repaired goods, to trade in and trade up. Not surprisingly, the dealers were intrigued by Rena’s ability to turn straw into gold, and the Kristhuls landed a steady stream of commissions; eventually, Hyde Park Antiques, Ltd., Kentshire Galleries, Newell Galleries, and the dealers David and Jack Seidenberg were among their client roster.
In ’84, they took a leap of faith and moved the workshop out of the kitchen into a real studio. “We were always experimenting and researching new techniques, teaching ourselves various ways to successfully repair each new, challenging object,” says Anatoly. They also built up an immense reference library. “Every few years,” he continues, “we have to build new bookcases.”
Today, ARK’s clientele includes David Rockefeller and others whose privacy the Kristhuls guard; innumerable dealers from around the country; and a handful of museums. But mostly they service private clients who just need to have something cherished repaired, or who want to have something custom-made that is so oddball that they just wouldn’t know where to turn.
One day when we were visiting, Rena was custom-crafting enameled international signaling flags (perhaps 3/8" square) to spell out “I Love You,” to go on a miniature, precious-metal sailboat. At any given moment, the shelves in their 3,000-square-foot loft are stacked with objects both rare and regular: an $800,000, mid-19th-century vase from the Russian Imperial Factory; a shattered piece of not-terribly-valuable lusterware; a dozen Tiffany vases; a Tung Dynasty terra cotta horse; an Austrian clock; Chinese archaic bronzes; a Delft tobacco jar.
Repairs could cost as little as $50 or $100 (for salvaging Grandma’s favorite teacup), but museums and dealers have been known to spend upwards of $100,000 for a repair on a prized item. A repair might take a month or, for objects that require tedious, stage-by-stage labor, a year. “In all the years we’ve been doing this,” Rena notes, “we’ve given up on a piece only once—a broken Art Deco tray that was made from a plastic that rejected every adhesive we tried. Normally, between the two of us, we always find a way to succeed.”
All repairs are reversible, because, as Rena puts it, “We are not the last stop in the evolution of repair technology. Twenty years from now, there might be better methods, and someone may want to reverse a repair, in order to take advantage of a better, more modern way.” Above all, the Kristhuls and their staff of skilled artisans do as little as possible to alter the original. Rena also points out that the worst thing a client can do is repair something himself. “Then we lose the ‘fresh lock’ that a clean break affords us,” she cautions. She also emphasizes that most “civilians” want repairs to be invisible (the repaired objects may not be food- and dishwasher-safe, but they will look flawless), while museums, far more interested in conservation, do not mind—and often want—repair work to be apparent, not concealed.
So talented are ARK’s proprietors that in addition to repairing and restoring clients’ objets, they have started to custom-craft entire sets of china for regulars. Would you like to see various views of your estate on a tea service, or winning portraits of the family pet on a tête-à-tête breakfast set? Rena will order china (anything from a no-name Japanese set to the finest European porcelain) and then custom-design and decorate each piece differently, copying pictures you give her or creating designs using snippets of images you supply. A very elaborate breakfast set for two might start at $30,000, and a relatively plain series of designs on dinnerware (eight five-piece place settings) might start at $60,000.
And if you lack a muse for that custom-crafted set—no fabric to match? no grandchildren to immortalize?—no problem. Rena and Anatoly have on display in their atelier an abundance of china that they have accumulated since arriving stateside, including a collection of charming teacups that will surely provide inspiration. At last, this couple—who could bring to America only their love for, and appreciation of, exquisite things—have not only acquired countless bibelots of their own but are always surrounded by priceless museum artifacts. Design stimulation abounds here, as does the duo’s repair expertise. In short, you can be sure that if you bring in sad, broken treasures for invisible repairing, they will be in very good hands. TME
252 West 37th Street, 17th floor
New York, NY 10018
212.244.1028; www.arkrestoration.netRuth J. Katz, the former on-air Home Services Expert on Fox-TV, has been a consumer, shopping, and service writer for New York magazine for more than 20 years. She has contributed extensively on service and design topics to The New York Times, Traditional Home, and Hearst’s Classic Home.