‘A Lot of Barbara Kruger’: Wife Gussies Up $3.2 M. Stopgap; $35 M. Mansion Awaits

Seven months after getting disbarred for his ties to a personal-injury practice in Long Island City that belonged to a non-attorney who’d made his money in taxicab medallions, and 10 months after closing on a $35 million mansion on East 62nd Street that Madonna had bid on, the lawyer turned real estate investor Keith Rubenstein has made another real estate deal. But it’s more modest.

According to city records, he and his wife, Inga, an art collector and ex-model, spent $3.2 million on a two-bedroom duplex at 101 Warren Street, the massive new Tribeca condo building.

It’s a much smaller place than the penthouse (marketed as a “skyhome”) that Mr. Rubenstein had once agreed to buy in the building. As he told The Times last year, he went to contract on a $20 million penthouse but got “a yen for something bigger” after his private-equity firm, Somerset Partners, sold a Chelsea office building for $130 million more than it had bought it for just a couple of years earlier.

“When I originally had the skyhouse under contract, I also had a one-bedroom under contract,” he said this week, “for staff or whatever other purpose we had.” (In a separate conversation, his wife said the extra place might have been for her mother, who lives in a Brooklyn luxury apartment the couple bought her.) “And when we decided to terminate the skyhouse, we decided to upgrade to a two-bedroom.”

It was a good idea. He, his wife and their son, Keith Jr., will stay in the Warren Street apartment for about two years while their new East 62nd mansion is renovated (with a pool, a Russian steam bath and a room based on a space in Catherine Palace near St. Petersburg). But even the brand-new apartment is getting renovated: “Just cosmetic stuff,” he said from the Hamptons, where the family is staying until the place is ready, “painting, some cabinetry, audio visual, things like that.”

“I want the place to be very contemporary, very Zenlike,” said Ms. Rubenstein, who’s doing some of the design work. “Barbara Kruger, a lot of Barbara Kruger, some fashion photography.” (Major art work from her collection, like a Jeff Koons piece, is being saved for the mansion.)

Does Mr. Rubenstein have a say in the décor? “Keith always has a say; he has to sign the check, so he always has a say. But he trusts me.” As it happens, he represented her in a 1998 lawsuit against a much older (and married) Wall Street executive, which she filed after he left her for another mistress. The suit, sprinkled with phrases like “perverted and experimental,” was settled out of court.

Since then, Mr. Rubenstein has been in the news because of a real-estate-related feud between Somerset and the mega-chef Mario Batali, though this year’s disbarment was basically only covered by the New York Law Journal. “Mistakes,” he told that publication, “are part of life.”

mabelson@observer.com

‘A Lot of Barbara Kruger’: Wife Gussies Up $3.2 M. Stopgap; $35 M. Mansion Awaits