Where There’s Smoke
Lighting up leads to lasting love
At home in their 18th-century Bedford antique, Osborn and White are devoted pet owners who make monthly trips to the SPCA in Briarcliff to deliver donations of food and supplies.
Photo by Megan Haley
It was a gamble, and he knew it. Spencer Osborn straightened his horn-rimmed glasses, leaned over ever so slightly toward the fair-haired young man seated next to him, and mustered his most refined British accent. “Excuse me, but may I bum a cigarette from you?” The place was Bar d’O, that raucous ’90s downtown New York City den of celebrity and song. The year was 2000, and a performance by Joey Arias was about to begin. Osborn, a marketing executive, had moved to New York from his native London a year earlier and was perpetually disappointed by a dating scene rife with gym rats, workaholics, and those more impressed with themselves than anyone else would ever be. But when he sat down and glanced over at Justin Garth White, the plates of his soul shifted.
“Of course you may,” White obliged, shaking a cigarette from his pack, the words spilling out in a warm drawl honeyed by his upbringing in the American West. The two exchanged pleasantries and throughout the entire performance they joked with one another sotto voce. The rest, the oft-repeated saying goes, is history. But it should be noted that Spencer Osborn had never smoked a cigarette in his life.
If you think they rode off into the sunset on horseback bound for White’s home state of Wyoming, you’d be in a different story. The pair set up household in Osborn’s ultra-modern, stunningly spare Chelsea apartment. “It was all glass and white fabric,” White, a designer, bemoans in mock outrage. “I kept thinking I was waking up in an operating room.”
They were such devoted urbanites that over the years there were only a handful of reasons why they’d leave NYC. On his occasional trips to a client’s office in Westchester, Osborn would eye the long line of cars inching into the city. He couldn’t understand how people put up with that kind of traffic every day. “That will never be me,” he swore. But as time slips by, even the most stubborn urbanites sometimes find themselves yearning for a little softness underfoot that isn’t man made, for a visual respite from just so much concrete and glass, and for a little space to spread out. As the pair found themselves heading out of the city more frequently, they launched a real estate search that brought up a historic antique in the Byram Lake Reservoir area of Bedford Corners.
While they met in a cabaret, the couple decided to make their home in an 18th-century farmhouse that served as a speakeasy in the 1920s and a tavern in the 1930s and 1940s. Restoration of the property has since fallen mostly to White, who studied art history in college and worked for years for the photographer Richard Avedon. With his western pragmatism and fearless creativity, he set about transforming the house and grounds—even creating two ponds, one of which is now home to his prized family of Koi.
Very early in their history, Osborn and White discovered a mutual love of animals—rescues and discards in particular. Their first—when they were still city dwellers—was Sophie, a shih tzu-poodle mix they rescued from an upstate puppy mill. As those who rescue animals well know, the endeavor is a slippery slope—it’s a labor of love that can easily turn into an obsession.
Predictably, their brood grew. And grew. By the time they left the city their amalgamated family consisted of five dogs, five cats, and as many Koi, the largest of which now weighs nine pounds. One of their Koi, Anastasia, recently gave birth to a baby—they named her Flora. Another one, Blinky, was born without eyes, and one was diagnosed with diabetes and had to be given a series of shots.
“Justin and I did it ourselves,” Osborn explains. “We thought giving a fish a shot was a two-person job, but mind you, if one of you has a temper, it’s a three-person job.” Eventually, a hamster family came home, as well, when Osborn discovered them in a cage at an office Secret Santa party. “Needless to say we’re on the frequent flyer plan at the veterinarian,” he says with a laugh.