Photography by Sarah Elliott

Published on November 2, 2020

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In an excerpt from Upstate: Living Spaces With Space to Live (The Monacelli Press), author Lisa Przystup visits a daydream of a house in Ghent, New York.

Simon Lince and Cary Leibowitz’s home exudes a madcap whimsy, and it’s easy to get swept up in their aesthetic, a very palatable flavor of Kool-Aid. In a sitting room, festoons of rainbow streamers hang from the ceiling, leftover holiday trimmings strung up by Lince. “They started drooping down to where they were brushing your head,” he says. “I thought about taking them down, but I strung a streamer across the middle instead.” In their bedroom, a banner of multicolored cutout letters wishes them Happy New Year 2019. Made by Lince’s niece and nephew years ago, Lince just updates the last number to reflect the current year.

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Lince and Leibowitz met 19 years ago through artist Katharine Umsted, whose piece Endless Column is the focal point of their upstairs guest room. “She described us to each other, and we were both like, ‘Why would you think we’d be interested in each other?’” says Lince. “Then a year later we actually met at her gallery, and we were like, ‘Oh, this is him? He’s nothing like what you said.’ We never looked back.” 

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In addition to matching suits (of the psychedelic floral and campy bark cloth variety), the couple shares a wicked sense of humor that permeates the house. Drinking glasses designed by Leibowitz are emblazoned with cheeky phrases (Abraham Lincoln’s Friend Sleeps Over, George Washington Redecorates Mount Vernon, and Better Not Say Anything Bad About Liza), and a collection of mugs features the entire House of Windsor. 

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Then there are the giant corn-on-the-cob side tables. And the Technicolor mushroom table-and-chair set, a Price Chopper find. The plastic lilac garland that wraps its way up the stairs—“I probably only paid a dollar for it,” says Leibowitz—is a beautiful bit of kitsch softening the collection of antique Mount Vernon group photos that crowd the walls. 

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Plastic garland notwithstanding, Lince’s penchant for gardening is clear outside—where he’s sweet-talked a thriving garden into existence—and in—where he arranges freshly cut blooms in a pair of 1960s-era flower stands that Leibowitz found at auction. “Everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve had a garden: London, New York, Toronto, Dusseldorf,” he says. Leibowitz even commissioned custom wallpaper crisscrossed with forsythia, one of Lince’s favorite flowers, for the main bedroom.

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The house itself is a wonderful mishmash of old and new. The original section dates to 1795, and an addition, by architects Robert Venturi (with whom Lince shares a birthday) and Denise Scott Brown, to 2009. “We realized that we needed a bigger room. There were no larger walls for hanging art,” says Leibowitz as he stands up and flips a switch. On the wall, a painting by Jonathan Borofsky begins to spin.

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