The Wizards of Odd
There’s no place like Regina and Ryan Cohn’s quirky Westport home, a meticulously showcased exhibition of oddities and artifacts from around the world set in a classic New England country estate. Although I was expecting to find the macabre eccentricity of the Addams Family, theatrically contrived, when I ventured to the surprising suburban haven of the hosts of the former Oddities reality show and the current curators of the Oddities Flea Market, instead I found myself transported to the marvelous land of odds where a wizard and a good witch lived with their little dogs and scaredy cat. Their house was not unlike the one that Dorothy’s Auntie Em may have lived in, a colonial farmhouse with nook and cranny coziness, wallpapered finery and a tucked-in attic alcove, created with heavily distressed paneling that was rescued from a burnt down 19th century church, perfect for reading the day – or praying the night – away.
The munchkins that reside here take shape in real shrunken heads, maniacal articulated dolls, Egyptian mummies, and rare osteological specimens. There are flying monkeys and stuffed birds in mock flight here as well, along with a swinging lamb and any number of winged gargoyles quietly strutting their stuff. Cauldrons, empty now, teased with visions of sorcery and witchcraft. The scarecrow came to life in suited armor, with a headless one reminiscent of the friendly fellow without a brain. Centuries-old oil paintings provided eerie scenic settings, dimly lit, with portraits of people past and marble busts of noble origin eyeing us no matter where we ventured from their view. Rare books lined the shelves, many boasting exacting anatomical illustrations exquisitely detailed. Skeletons and statues stood rigidly by, silent insects hovering overhead, each possibly intoxicated into eternal repose by the poppy-esque flower fields that surrounded the house.
The wicked witch and sidekick ghouls no longer pose threats in this land of odds, frozen in time as they were in poses wickedly cool. The dining room hippo, mouth agape and teeth bared, is just a mere fraction of himself now, with only his bony head remaining on Earth. There were more relics and rarities than I could count in the salon and living rooms, including taxidermied critters, anatomical curiosities, religious iconography, occult pieces and unconventional jewelry, each having been carefully collected by these remarkable connoisseurs of the creepy.
Venturing upstairs, I paid my respects to a Spanish 18th-century Santos, life-sized and nailed to his cross in the two-story stairwell, but couldn’t help but notice how familiar the hallway wallpaper was. “Brunschwig and Fils,” offered Ryan as he saw me gazing at it intently, recognizing the expensive paper from one of the world’s premier wallpaper houses in memories of own mother’s family home. An astute admiration for life’s finest luxuries was just one of Ryan and Regina’s many well-honed fortes, belying my initial, completely off-base, image of the couple who I thought might resemble a real-life Morticia and Gomez Addams.
When an impossibly cute curly haired cockapoo, bobbed tail wagging, purple-tipped ears flopping, scrambled down the stairs with another small dog bringing up the rear, I found myself surprised again. My hosts grinned sheepishly, sharing that they support an animal Rescue organization in Brooklyn where they rescued one of the pooches Regina named “Spider.”
“I love spiders too,” she added, “always have.” That statement was totally in line with what you might expect from an Oddities aficionado, but when you hear it from a soft-spoken petite beauty, you do a double take. While she is wonderfully at home with all the creature comforts of her new home, Regina Marie Cohn hails from a haute couture background managing retail operations for such fashion luminaries as Madison Avenue’s elite lingerie boutique, Agent Provocateur, French firm Sandro/Maje, and hip brands alice + olivia and Betsy Johnson and today serves as the executive producer and event planner extraordinaire for New York-based Oddities Flea Market, roles she visibly relishes.
“Regina has changed my whole mindset about what I’ve been collecting. I was heavily into anatomical antiques – that’s been sort of my interest for the past decade or even more. When we met, I started to make this change from anything anatomical and even some of the stuff that is a little bit grisly. I went from collecting that predominantly to going in a more elegant direction. Regina would pick out a chandelier and things of that nature and add it to those rooms. It has evolved from there,” said Ryan.
You can see her fine touches in the priceless antique carpets and furnishings, Rococo pieces mixed with English and Italian styles, in the artful displays inside cabinets of curiosity, where one-of-a-kind osteological finds and medical history ephemera make striking design statements, and in the antique accouterments that speak volumes about life long gone. She transforms the images of death that abound here with a softness that somehow takes the sting out of it.
Ryan has had a fascination with life and death, the grotesque and the scary, since he was a little boy, never fearing any of them. His obsession with obscure items began when he was a kid of three or four, when hunting for reptiles day and night, alive or dead, was his childhood passion.
“I would put them in little Ziploc bags under my bed. I think my parents were really worried about me. I remember my dad sat me down and said, ‘Alright, you’re either going to become a doctor or a serial killer or something somewhere in between.’ It was really funny because at family events, even at our wedding, they would say my bedroom was like what children’s nightmares were made of,” said Ryan. “Our house is a strange extension of my childhood. I was born in Maine and grew up in Woodstock, New York. My mother was into country antiques so I think I have mixed it all together in some form or fashion.”
Both he and Regina are avid and expert antique hunters, with finely-tuned sensibilities that celebrate the elegant, rare one of a kind artifacts they have collected through their travels and invitations. Many pieces came from the finest auction houses and museums from all around the world.
Some items they literally waited a decade to own and through due-diligence, they somehow made their way into the Cohns’ home.
“You have only one chance to buy these pieces,” said Ryan, “or else you’ll miss the opportunity forever. You can’t just chalk it up and say you’ll get another one. It doesn’t exist.”
Which also changes my perception of the pieces exhibited here. Most pieces found here can’t be found anywhere else, like the sixteen-legged chick Regina gifted Ryan for his 40th birthday or the 17th century books on occult natural history anatomy, the crazy stained straight jacket out of a long defunct mental hospital, or the actual ceremonial tsantsa (shrunken head) from 1800s Ecuador, grisly to look at. Price tags range from the hundreds for a single 18th-century tooth into the hundreds of thousands for a medieval suit of armor.
“I really can’t put a price on these,” Ryan confided as he showed me his personal favorites. They include the 18th-century gilded polychromed “Putti” figures from Italy he brought home recently, the likes of which he had never seen before. The sculptures came from a private collection that had been fiercely guarded by the man who owned them.
“I’ve only had them for a few months. I’d say my other new favorite addition would be the 18th-century oil painting of Cleopatra holding a serpent which adorns our dining room,” he said.
And Regina’s picks? “The Victorian taxidermy birds I’ve collected over the last decade are some of my favorite pieces in the collection,” she said. “I have many beautiful peacocks and a variety of smaller natural history specimens I truly adore. As far as modern art pieces, I have several Stephen Mackey originals that I love.
Most of the pieces they sell in their collections tell a story, sometimes a grim one, but they always tell tales about an important part of history.
That’s another unexpected revelation that is revealed when you meet Ryan Matthew Cohn in the flesh. He is fascinated with history and research, and takes an active interest in all facets of life around him. Ryan was meant to go to school for medical illustration, short lived as it was, played rhythm guitar for a New York City rock band that found some headlining success, and apprenticed as a silversmith to rising star acclaim with one of Ralph Lauren’s designers, all the while scouring flea markets and antique emporiums for the weird stuff of his dreams.
“I have always been good at sensing what would be cool before they actually became cool,” he said, explaining how he gained worldwide notoriety for his passions. After being discovered by the Discovery Channel as a buyer for an antiques store, he soon starred in his own reality TV show “Oddities” with his mummified animals and skulls. The show aired 73 episodes during its five-season run gaining a cult following who still stream the show on demand today.
Always a dapper dresser, Ryan prefers to don custom tailored suits that fit his taste for finery to a tee. In fact, he used to co-own a tailoring shop in Brooklyn that keeps him in his favorite threads. He also teaches anatomically based classes on re-articulating cat skeletons – reassembling the bones so they resemble the cat that owned them – in between hunting for more unusual objects for their wildly popular Oddities Flea Market.
Sometimes they buy entire collections; other times they search for that one exceptional treasure that has alluded them for decades, but truth be told, Ryan owned “I can never really determine what I’m looking for next. These pieces truly find me.”
Some items they put up for sale; they have a growing and loyal celebrity clientele who are always interested in Ryan’s finds. Others they keep for themselves in their residential museum. For them, part of the fun of collecting is the research they do and the stories they learn about the things they buy. Reliving history is a particular passion of the Cohns. Living with history is what makes their house come to life in unusual ways.
“Living within our treasures is part of everyday life for us. I feel fulfilled with my collection around me every day. It’s truly an ongoing installation work of art for me, always evolving, always adding to the overall aesthetic. Each piece that we add tells a new story,” Ryan shared.
Regina added that she doesn’t see the items as individual pieces, but rather how the collection as a whole evokes a certain aura or feeling; each room has its own cohesive tale to tell.
In addition to the three fantastical floors of oddities in the main house, there is a 19th-century chapel on their property that is similarly filled to the rafters with museum pieces. It too has a legacy of its own, according to a Westport publication that writes about the history of this Gold Coast town. Originally a boat house, it is pictured in a black and white photograph taken more than a hundred years ago, and today whispers tales of its storied past as soon as you enter the historic building.
Which begs the question. Did Ryan and Regina, Brooklyn transplants, just happen to get lucky when they spotted the random for sale sign on an antique house in a town they had never considered moving to? Or was it yet another one of Ryan’s prescient moves that makes some place cool before it becomes really cool? Or was the house, like the objects they collect, waiting for them all along?
We think it was all three.
www.theodditiesfleamarket.com | @odditiesfleamarket
Photography by Cody Smyth
Creative Direction and Production by Liz Vap, FeralCat Productions
Styling by Erin Turon
Makeup by Jenny Smith
Hair by Peter Butler
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