The creative headed north for greener pastures and found incredible interiors—her own, included—along the way.

By Caroline Biggs
November 05, 2020
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upstate book living room
Credit: Sarah Elliott / Courtesy of Monacelli Press

Upstate New York has long been a place of refuge for creatives looking for sanctuary from New York City. Brooklynite Lisa Przystup is no exception. "Being upstate offers wide open spaces and room to breathe and stretch out," the writer tells MarthaStewart.com. "It feels like an open horizon line, full of space and possibility."

For her first book, Upstate ($40.50, amazon.com), Przystup teamed up with photographer Sarah Elliott to document some of the rural region's most thoughtfully designed, not-so-country homes—all while curating her own farmhouse in the Catskills. "Working on the book and seeing the different way everyone lives in their homes inspired me to rethink the way we live in and use our home," she says. "Having space can be daunting because you're freer to float around in it, but part of that floating means you can feel slightly untethered. You have to figure out what elements to add to your space so you feel connected to it." Dreaming of one day buying and decorating your own rustic home upstate? We talked to Przystup about what she learned while developing her new book and designing her own home—and this is what she had to share.

upstate book home exterior
Credit: Sarah Elliott / Courtesy of Monacelli Press

Art Imitates Life

Przystup says the inspiration to create Upstate came long before she ever bought a house in the region. "I've always loved interiors and have been fascinated by the way people make a house a home," she says. "Living in New York City, you'd walk up to a completely unremarkable, unassuming building, walk into a poorly lit entryway, and climb the stairs to whoever's apartment you were visiting—they'd open the door and it would be this whole wide universe just unfolding and unfolding and directly contradicting everything leading up to walking into it. I loved that everyone had their own little jewel box full of comforts and memories, and piles of things that give them refuge from the city."

upstate bathroom tub
Credit: Sarah Elliott / Courtesy of Monacelli Press

Picking Favorites

When deciding which homes to shoot for Upstate, Przystup sought spaces that were both beautiful and meaningful in their design. "Sarah shoots interiors for a living so she had a bunch of gems back pocketed already, then between the two of us we thought of friends' and acquaintances' homes that we had been to and felt a connection with," she explains. "Both of us are interior design junkies, so there was also a short list of spots that we knew of from the all those wormholes you fall into online." However, Przystup says picking a favorite is impossible. "That's like asking a parent if they have a favorite child," she says. "I liked each of the homes in equal measure—each place had something wholly unique to offer and was truly special unto itself."

upstate book modern living room
Credit: Sarah Elliott / Courtesy of Monacelli Press

Personal Meaning

Przystup and her musician husband, Jonathon Linaberry, had already finished sprucing up the turn-of-the-19th century farmhouse they purchased in the Catskills before she began working on Upstate—but she says she still learned a valuable lesson from the spaces she captured. "I walked away from every house with a new idea or technique that I wanted to introduce to my home," she says. "However, the thing I came to realize is that the reason each of those things worked so well in each different home was that they were part of its unique DNA, and as such were also a kind of an extension of each unique homeowner, which meant that even if I lifted that element and applied it to my home it would feel different, and manifest itself differently."

upstate living room
Credit: Sarah Elliott / Courtesy of Monacelli Press

Rural Living

If you're currently a city dweller thinking about relocating upstate, Przystup says it's important to consider the change of pace. "It's a huge change," she says. "Things move slowly and the winters are long." If you decide to purchase a house, she recommends hiring a good inspector, and not rushing into any major renovations. "Spend time in your house before making any big changes," she advises. "You need to figure out how you live in it first."

upstate book bedroom
Credit: Sarah Elliott / Courtesy of Monacelli Press

Blank Page

As for upstate-friendly decorating advice, Przystup says starting with a blank palette—and an open mind—worked best for her. "We painted everything white, because it's like hitting a big, fat reset button," she explains. "Standing on that neutral ground made it so that we could see what the house really needed." She also recommends being as hands-on as possible with renovations. "Even if you hire a contractor you can help mitigate costs by doing some of the demo and finishing work yourself," she says. "I didn't know how to stack wood before—but now I do."

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