Dancing with the Stars

by Tina Manzer

Linda Graves found the Victorian architecture in the Finger Lakes utterly enchanting. In 2016, after retiring from her environmental conservation job in Washington, D.C., she bought an elegant Italianate Gothic Victorian in Ithaca. “Although it is still part of the city, it is beyond the reach of streetlights,” she says. “There is no nighttime light pollution, which makes for incredible celestial viewing.”

And with a pond that offers glistening reflections of light, established formal gardens, mature trees, and the added bonus of an art gallery, it has become a magical event venue and Airb&b location. Linda and her partner, artist Brian Keeler, call the 3.5-acre property “North Star.”

“We believe great art is as constant and enduringly beautiful as the North Star,” Linda explains. “My personal motto is ‘Live with beauty,’ and that’s what we want our guests to experience.”

With that in mind, she created a unique setting that radiates beauty year-round. Brian’s art takes pride of place. More than 30 of his paintings from Linda’s private collection are displayed throughout the venue. “I have a great love of representational art, and beautiful subject matter is very important to me – it’s joyful and uplifting,” she says.

Brian’s typical subjects are landscapes painted en plein air, a skill nurtured by his painter father in the Endless Mountains of northeast Pennsylvania. “I continue to paint along the Susquehanna River, but more often in the Finger Lakes during the Golden Hour; late afternoon,” he says.

He met Linda at a cross-step waltz workshop in the Poconos. “I fell in love with the man and his art at the same time!” she says. When she purchased the house, they created a studio and gallery in a two-story wing.

It wasn’t easy. The wing was structurally unsound, with knee walls that were pulling apart and a weight-bearing wall that had to be removed. An unwelcome surprise was the discovery of an abandoned stone-lined well that had to be sealed. “It took three truckloads of concrete to fill it because the concrete spread out laterally between the stones,” describes Linda.

Essentials like heat (the boiler was broken, the old windows leaked) and water (a new pump was needed but they couldn’t locate the working well) also posed challenges.

But a year later, the venue and gallery were ready for business.

She and Brian, who remain avid social dancers, added two bridges around the pond and a dancing/music deck with a pergola. Dancing is encouraged inside, too, on the wood floors of The Grand Foyer and The Music Room. The house retains some of the original 9-inch-wide plank floors plus original doors and woodwork. The cupola affords a 360-degree view of the countryside.

“North Star offers an elegant country environment for small and medium events – up to 30 people indoors and 75 in the gardens,” Linda says. “We’ve hosted everything from weddings and receptions to dinner parties and corporate meetings.”

North Star Venue offers custom planning for indoor and outdoor events. Visitors have lots of chef-prepared culinary choices, live music options ranging from classical and jazz to country, and an array of floral décor solutions. For more information, visit northstarvenue.com.

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