A decade ago, artist Susan Lankenau had a thriving interior design practice and shop called The Red Door on Robinson Street. Then one day she and her husband, Harry, went looking at properties in Albermarle County and in less than a week they had bought an 80-acre estate. So Lankenau prepared for her biggest project to date: restoring and decorating the 1895, 5,500-square-foot Ramsay, along with its guest cottage, farmhouse, barn, hen house, two garages, potting shed, playhouse υ and — most dear to her heart — an artist's retreat in the gardens. "My husband promised that if we moved here I would have a place to go, a folly or a studio," she says. After unsuccessfully trying to move an old smokehouse from another part of the property, Susan started over, designing a 400-square-foot cottage using recycled materials found on the property, at her family's farm in North Carolina and elsewhere. She worked with a team of craftsmen for eight months on the folly. She now jokingly calls it "The Cuckoo's Nest" because of all the trials encountered during construction. "It about put me out; I wanted to board it up and quit," she says. Today, the trials are but a memory and the resulting structure is a peaceful retreat full of personality. Lankenau aimed to give the studio, nestled in the estate's perennial garden, a greenhouse feel. The deep-barrel sink out front makes it easy to fill watering cans or wash off muddy boots. Soapstone slabs were gathered from old paths on the property and used as floors, speckled with delft tiles Lankenau brought back from Belgium. "I wanted a much less formal place, but it just got to be nicer and nicer once we got into it," she says. During the estate's 10-year restoration, Lankenau found little time to paint, and instead used the space for other projects like découpage, scrapbooking, sewing and making gifts. After her son goes to camp this summer, Susan plans to concentrate on a return to painting. "No telephone, no computer. I love spending days there."
After failed attempts to move an old smokehouse from elsewhere on the estate, former Richmond interior designer Susan Lankenau drew up plans for her new art studio. The Chippendale-style front door came from Caravati's Inc. Gardens were designed by Mike Kucera, who helped Lankenau with her Richmond garden on River Road. The bay window was built from old storm doors found in the attic of the main house and French doors from her parents' farm were reborn as pocket doors. Lankenau couldn't find a suitable vintage sink for the powder room, so she painted this new Kohler sink cabinet to lend it cottage appeal. The wainscoting was pulled off of the smokehouse, which would have become the studio had the structure been salvageable. "Everything in the building was recycled," says Lankenau, who repurposed the Brunschwig & Fils drapery fabric in the sitting area. "That was my first major purchase of designer fabric," she says, "It was very expensive for me at the time, and I've recycled it at least three times." Artist and designer Lankenau enjoys the escape of her studio. She found the soapstone sink in Nelson County. It had been a New York school's art-room sink, and coincidentally, the stone was mined in nearby Schuyler, Va.
The Lankenaus bought the Classical-Revival Ramsay, here seen from the rear, from the Langhorne-Gibson family, which had owned it for 100 years. "Gibson Girl" Irene Langhorne Gibson spent her retirement in its guest cottage, where the Lankenaus lived during the main home's two-year renovation.
Sarah Walor photos