Avigdor’s Design Inspired by Adventure
By Christine Sampson
Most people on the South Fork have known Raphael Avigdor for the last 15 years as a prolific real estate agent with Douglas Elliman who, along with his business partner James Peyton, represents a significant market share of new construction north of the highway. His team at Douglas Elliman has been recognized as a top-ten producer in the Long Island market for 12 straight years.
In the grand scope of Avigdor’s life, however, his career in real estate could be compared to hot fudge atop a sweet ice cream sundae with varying flavors and an assortment of toppings. He has worked in the architectural field, in the textile trading industry and in the fashion business. He is a professional photographer and sculptor who has exhibited locally and in New York, Miami and more. He travels around the world to hike up mountains, tour foreign cities and ride caravans through deserts. He performs as a samba drummer and has produced or co-produced numerous films, notable among them the award-winning documentary “The Man Who Saved the World,” about a retired Soviet military officer who quietly prevented a nuclear war.
“My mother is an artist, and I always grew up with a strong sense of aesthetics,” Avigdor said over a bowl of fresh berries and glasses of rosé and lemonade during a recent interview at his house in North Sea. “I like beauty. I’ve always surrounded myself with things I think are beautiful, and the luxuries are all granted by my real estate business that affords me the opportunity to pursue these other things.”
His arrival on the South Fork came from New York City by way of Hawaii. In the late 1990s, after a particularly tough break-up with a girlfriend, he traded New York’s skyline for Hawaii’s shoreline “to escape.”
“I realized nature was missing from my life. I thought, ‘When I get back to New York, I’m going to buy a house in the country,’” Avigdor said. “I was thinking upstate at first. A friend said, ‘You should check out Southampton.’”
He closed on his 3,000-square-foot, contemporary-style house in 1998 for $480,000.
“I love it. No regrets. I don’t think I would change it, even knowing what I know now about real estate in Sagaponack and other places,” he said. “The truth is, it wasn’t about business.”
His house itself is a reflection of his career, artistic talents, interests, and travels to so many countries around the world that he says he’s lost count.
Art and photography — including some of his own, in which he captures vivid, international details of humanity and place — can be found lining every wall, to the point where he owns up to having quite a few paintings and photographs that he simply has no place to hang. The living room, the focal point of his house, features a painting by the Italian-Israeli artist Ori Carino that is nearly the entire size of one wall and features Buddhist iconography, Japanese animation, the likenesses of two Caucasian women and even the cartoon character Betty Boop. Carino, a friend of Avigdor’s, will return to the North Sea house later this year to finish a custom air brushing of a 1962 Chevrolet Impala that Avigdor owns and plans to use as an art installation.
Tour the various rooms of Avigdor’s house — some of which have nicknames like the “African Room” and the “Blue Sisters Room” for the art, unique furniture such as wall screens and vases, and other decorative touches — and you will eventually encounter collections of distinctive artifacts. He has at least 20 different likenesses of Buddha, an arrangement of tall Moroccan perfume bottles, a row of terra-cotta reproductions of the soldiers who served the first Chinese emperor that he purchased on a trip to China, and more. There’s an orchid in every room of the house that supports growing them.
His favorite room is the “Moroccan Room,” where the art on the walls began as photographs he himself took while traveling. Two artist friends then transferred them as black-and-white images directly onto the walls of the room, then colored them with pastels.
In the entrance of his home is a distinctive bench that is the handiwork of a married couple, a metal worker and a glass blower, who created an interpretation of a husband and wife holding the hands of three children.
Most notable among his collection of artifacts are a series of intricately detailed clay polymer bowls, made by Avigdor’s sister, Rosalyn Avigdor, and stone sculptures, made by his mother, Lea Avigdor. The three artists were the focus of a recent show together, Avigdor3, in Castle Fitzjohns Gallery in New York City.
“Am I a real estate guy doing other things? Or am I that other guy who has a career in real estate?” Avigdor asked. “It’s hard to tell. Just about every 10 to 15 years in my life I’ve changed careers. I think that’s important because it’s so easy to get stuck in your rut. If you change things up, you end up living a different life.”