Riverside Revival

A tour of the exquisite Lincliff estate

By Janice Carter Levitch

Photos by Kathryn Harrington

There is no shortage of beauty at the Georgian Revival estate in Glenview known as Lincliff. Built by William Richardson Belknap in the early 1910s, the house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It has been a labor of love for the past 18 years that began when the late writer Sue Grafton and her husband Steven F. Humphrey found Lincliff crumbling from neglect and begging to be saved. Humphrey has a passion for gardening and a talent for creating spectacular outdoor living spaces that are grand in scale yet humble in approach.  The symbiosis between nature and the architectural elements of Lincliff at times makes it feel like an open-air museum. A magnetic pull draws you into each area of the property.

The main outdoor terrace runs the full length of the rear of the estate and offers several areas for friends and family to gather. The woven wicker furniture provides comfortable seating for guests to take in the vista just beyond the balustrades that line the terrace edges. Humphrey is known to enjoy a cigar while spending time on the terrace during special occasions.

“I especially like sitting on the back patio during the air show at Thunder (Over Louisville),” he said. “Many of the larger jets come down the river, right past my house, and some make multiple passes overhead.  It’s very loud and very cool.” Cooking on the grill is an essential part of the experience under the covered alfresco dining space. Surrounded by nature and an expansive view of the gardens, enjoying a meal in this bucolic setting is serene and designed for lingering long into the afternoon or evening.

Adjacent to the outdoor terrace is the morning room, where Humphrey enjoys beginning his day. The walls are mostly glass and bring the outdoors inside with the tranquil views from the dining table that seem to never end. A seating area has been carefully placed for easy conversations or simply reading a favorite book. The colors of the fabrics reflect a neutral palette of soft grays and quiet tones of ecru with floral patterns that are soothing. Keeping the focus on the outdoors, the décor is peaceful and unobtrusive.

The main hall is more like a gallery and runs nearly the full length of the interior entryway. It’s lined with several sets of French doors, allowing an easy flow from the interior to the terrace overlooking the rear lawn and fruit orchard Humphrey has planted.  Olivia the cat seems to reign over the entryway with her feline prowess, letting everyone know who the real boss of the household is.

One of the rooms off the main hall is the billiard room where a 1905 Brunswick pool table can be found. The table is well lit by a hanging light found in New Orleans, Louisiana, during one of the homeowner’s many travels. Large windows allow plenty of natural light to cascade into the room and provide views of the front lawn.

A wood-paneled library includes an antique rolling ball clock that displays time by means of balls and rails. “When the clock is operating, everyone gathers around and watches it as if they are hypnotized by a beautiful newborn baby,” Humphrey commented.

At the far end of the main hall is the lattice room, appropriately named after its finishes and architectural details. The glass-enclosed boundaries between the outdoor and indoor spaces are blurred just enough so one can lazily lounge on the sofa, perhaps while working a crossword puzzle or taking an afternoon nap.

Magnificent gardens surround the property and have Humphrey’s near-daily devotion. He tends to each space as if they are separate rooms. He begins with the fountain area, trimmed with glorious ferns, that he refers to as the “fernery.” Then, he moves on to the boxwood garden punctuated with statues representing the four seasons.

The Parterre area showcases an in-ground sculpture of mathematical nature outlining theoretical physics. Humphrey has a Ph.D. in philosophy of physics, and this sculpture reflects that passion. A fragrance garden with lavender and yellow yarrow attract bees from nearby hives and help to pollinate the garden, which is also full of sweet bay magnolia.

An allée of trees creates the perfect corridor, stretching across the vast green lawn with a grand view of the Ohio River just beyond its end. The property is ideal for outdoor entertaining and there is plenty of shade in the garden dedicated to Humphrey’s late wife as a memorial to her life and request for shade while she watched him work outdoors. VT