A country jewel in Forestville
Carole Lansdown poured substantial artistic gifts into cottage
Published: Friday, May 24, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 24, 2013 at 11:20 a.m.
San Francisco philanthropist and designer Ann Getty inhabits a Pacific Heights mansion with an interior lavish enough to please a prince.
With its sumptuous fabrics and elaborately painted and gilded screens, trim, floors and furnishings, it looks inside like a European palace.
It couldn't be more different from Carole Lansdown's curiosity-filled cottage in the country outside Forestville. And yet it is Lansdown who created so much of the breathtaking faux work mixed with priceless art and antiques in Getty's famed and frequently photographed home. Like a magician, this decorative artist with sleight of brush can transform any plain surface or object with finish and paint.
With her skills at imitating almost any look, Lansdown could have made her own country home into her own Versailles.
And yet it is airier, with plain walls that set off the carefully selected furnishings and accents, many Lansdown created herself.
Asked why her own home is so free of fussy embellishment she declares, “I think I got tired of it. I wanted to do something else.”
There is a faint whiff of the French countryside however, to her house, evoked by the pine floors, tall casement windows, French doors and formal gardens of potted topiaries and a series of parterres ringed with Japanese boxwood and filled with slender, understated Italian buckthorn.
Even at 81, Lansdown doesn't lack for projects on the three-acre compound she shares with her daughter, fellow decorative artist Tina Wainwright, and her family. The Wainwrights live in a Craftsman bungalow steps from Lansdown's 840-square-foot cottage. The two women share a studio, connected to the cottage by a covered loggia adorned with white wisteria.
The pathway is typical of the charming detail with which Lansdown has personalized her little artist's retreat. It is a mosaic of pebbles she designed and set herself, stone by stone, then repeated in a secret garden off her studio that is enclosed by tall Texas privet and fragrant with lavender.
Lansdown for years worked with San Francisco's best designers — John Dickinson, Anthony Hale, Val Arnold. She still does work for Thomas Bartlett, one of Napa's leading designers. As a decorative painter, she would create from their drawings a three-dimensional work of art, from fabrication to finishing.
Born into an artistic family — her mother and grandfather were artists and her uncle was the famed American West painter Maynard Dixon — Lansdown said she “always expected she would be an artist.” But after finding herself a single mother of three, she was forced to be resourceful with her talents, turning to antique refinishing and then developing into an expert faux finisher who can transform any surface.
Finally tiring of the city, she retreated to the country 13 years ago and set about gutting a rundown old house into a winsome cottage with formal gardens.
“It was just a bunch of unattractive little rooms. It was all redone,” she says. The attic was punched out with a series of dormers into a loft-style bedroom and sitting area. The kitchen looks like a classic farm kitchen with open shelves, pine floors and wood-burning stove.
Her own artistry is in evidence in the many details, like a corner shelf with a tortoise-shell finish that mimics the real tortoise shell displayed on it. Everywhere in the house is Lansdown's work, from mirrors to frames. She made the fireplace herself with rocks she poured into concrete. Above it is a display of antique shoe forms.
Lansdown designed the garden herself with a formality that demands a lot of grooming. Like the house, the intrigue is in the details — a fountain made with bits of salvaged columns like a Roman ruin, a rustic pergola constructed of unfinished logs and covered in ornamental pear trees.
European-style poplars border the garden, which is abloom with obelisks of trumpet vine and clematis, and a breathtaking stone bench covered in white roses.
Lansdown, who spends four months a year living near her son in a little stone cottage the two refinished in southern France, confesses that she rarely sits down in her little gazebo to enjoy what she created. But as an artist, the appeal for her is in the creation.
“But when I come down I just see something that needs doing. God knows,” she said with a chuckle, “a lot needs doing all the time.”
You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 521-5204.