As you drive down the gravel lane and approach Sara and Stuart Grattan’s farm in western Goochland County, you hear the barking before you see the sign reading:
Several stupid dogs
Please drive slowly
Consider it fair warning of the happy chaos that is about to be unleashed by the family’s four dogs as they welcome you to Dungeness, 500 pastoral acres on the James River.
Though the Grattans have lived here just since 2013, they have adapted quickly to the rhythms of country living. For Sara, it’s in her blood. Her father, James Pleasants Massie Jr., purchased the property in 1978 and spent two years constructing his dream home on this parcel of land that once belonged to Isham Randolph, grandfather to Thomas Jefferson, whose mother was raised on the property.
When Sara’s father and her mother, Joy, left the farm to move to the Cedarfield retirement community in 2012, the Grattans and their three children — Frances, 22, Ellie, 20, and George, 16 — sold their house in Richmond’s West End to move into the six-bedroom contemporary home.
“My husband is handy, and we are outdoors people,” Sara says. “It made sense in my parents’ minds for us to live here.”
The Massies left the house in July 2012, taking the furniture they wanted to live with in retirement and leaving everything else behind, including James’ farm clothes — an old, ripped barn jacket and khaki pants. “The day they left … he went into the house, went to the closet, and hung up his farm clothes,” Sara recalls. Sadly, in October 2013, James passed away and was buried in his beloved barn jacket, a testament to his love of Dungeness.
Once her parents moved out, Sara went through the house and decided what she wanted to keep. The rest of the items she placed into 10 groupings of equal value, then invited the Massies’ 10 grandchildren to draw a number from one to 10 to disburse the family heirlooms equitably. “It was such a fun way to do it,” she says.
Before the Grattans moved in, they enlisted the help of Courtney Ludeman to remodel and redecorate the house to suit the needs of their family. They first met Ludeman, an interior designer and Class-A contractor, when their daughter Frances did an internship with her while a student at Collegiate School.
“When you do all this [to your house], you want to work with someone you know and love,” Sara says. “It’s not just about design — you’ve got to find someone you trust. I knew [Courtney] would try to create my taste and not impose her vision on me.”
Sara’s bubbly, outgoing personality was a main source of design inspiration, Ludeman says. “She is so fresh and fun. We wanted to add Sara’s personality to the house to make it bright and cheerful.
Farmhouse Dining Room
“We used a lot of Sara’s parents old furniture. We wanted to highlight the pieces. They are so amazing. That is the layer of charm here.” An antique secretary that belonged to Sara’s grandmother, Margaret Upshur Brown Massie, is a centerpiece of the living room. The dining table and 18th-century mahogany Hepplewhite serpentine sideboard belonged to her great grandmother, Kate Brown, who once lived in what is now the parish hall for St. James’s Episcopal Church. A cherry game table is new — Stuart made it himself, using wood from a tree on the farm.
An energetic color scheme of orange and turquoise, inspired by a portrait of the girls by Constance Bowden that hangs above the fireplace, continues throughout the main living area, the centerpiece of which is a new kitchen. Here, a corner cabinet that belonged to Stuart’s mother, Martha Townes Grattan, was the starting place for the design. “The whole kitchen was built around it,” Ludeman says. “We measured so many times to make sure it would fit.” A large center island and updated appliances, including a Wolf range and dual Bosch dishwashers, make it an ideal spot to entertain.
“When you live in a place like this, you have to share it,” Sara says. “Every weekend in the summer, we have company here. We do family Thanksgiving here. We do a lot of entertaining all the time.”
A large vegetable garden keeps the family busy during the summer. “Frances is the picker, Stuart and George are the planters, and I am the cooker,” Sara says. “George just loves the farm. He is a little Tom Sawyer and I am Huck.”
A large barn is home to an ever-expanding menagerie including Sara’s horses, May and Lulu, as well as a flock of chickens and turkeys, goats and rabbits.
The Grattans’ remodel included an updated master suite, with large windows and a porch that overlooks the farm. You wake up and see this view and feel blessed every day,” Sara says. “The glory of God is right in front of you.