Wednesday, August 16, 2017  

Southern Comfort

Driving to my first meeting with Art Lang at his estate just outside of the town of Kilmarnock, Virginia, I wondered what he would be like. I knew he was an incredibly successful entrepreneur, but I knew very little else about him. Art Lang had told me to call him when I arrived at the electric gate on Ditchley Road so he could arrange to have it opened. Once inside the gate I started my trek along the paved driveway which winds its way through manicured woods. Driving along the nearly mile long driveway I could see acres of lawns and freshwater ponds one of which is spanned by a 50 foot bridge.

Then around a turn and through a stand of manicured woodlands the house suddenly came into view. My first thought was this is what author Margret Mitchell must have had in mind when she described the house at Tara Plantation in her incredibly successful 1936 novel Gone with the Wind. Mitchell modeled Tara after local plantations and antebellum establishments, particularly the Clayton County plantation on which her maternal grandmother, Annie Fitzgerald Stephens, the daughter of an Irish immigrant and his American bride, was born and raised.

The massive white home is built in such a way that it seems to be giving the arriving visitor a welcoming hug. Just in front of the entrance there is a circular fountain that jets water into the air. Before I reached the door just inside a columned portico, a younger than I expected Art Lang was there to greet me with a big smile and hearty handshake. He ushered me into the foyer which features a custom painted mural of the property, a curving oak staircase, a marble floor and a 22 foot ceiling. Art Lang is a warm outgoing man who loves a funny story and obviously loves people. Art Lang pointed out a hidden image in the upper right corner of the antebellum style mural. There hidden in the trees was a tiny space ship I would have missed if Art Lang had not pointed it out. I wondered if Art Lang had Tara in mind when he chose the design for Southern Comfort. Before I got around to asking the question, Art Lang introduced his hound dog named Scarlet O’Hara Lang.

Art Lang explained that he had, in his words, been very lucky in life. Over 30 years ago he started a company called Insituform East Inc. which developed a process for repairing decaying water and sewer systems. He retired at age 39. Art Lang purchased an 88 acre tract of what at the time was an overgrown pine tree farm and in 1991 built Southern Comfort. The completed estate is breathtaking. Art Lang said he visited plantations and homes up and down the coast in search of ideas to include into his plans for a home that would be impressive.

To the right of the foyer is the formal dining room in which there is a modest print Art Lang has a lot of fun with because it was one of his first purchases when he was a young man without much money. Art Lang has fun fooling people into assuming the print is very valuable when in his words it is not, but has great sentimental value.

Through a stately pair of arched doors there is a state of the art kitchen with a breakfast area. The counter tops are Cambria tan and black quartz. I was struck by the bright and airy feel of the kitchen. Massive windows at the rear bathe the area bringing in light even on overcast days. Just off the kitchen there is a small bedroom, bath and study which could be used by kitchen staff. Through an archway leading out of the breakfast area there is a massive 37 foot by 16.6 foot family room featuring hardwood floors and a beautiful natural oak wood bar. It has a 12 foot coffered ceiling and struck me as an ideal place for young children to play, adults to party and to bond. Massive Palladian windows admit light through the loggia to the rear.

Off the family room is the formal living room with a fireplace and 22 foot ceiling. It too has arched doors at its three entrances. Art Lang said he got the idea for the arched doors after visiting the home of Yoko Ono Lennon in Virginia. Toward the rear of the living room there is a balcony that leads to a sitting room then into the master bedroom which is massive at 22 foot by 18 foot. The balcony is open to the living room below. I can’t recall there being a single lamp turned on. The home is designed in such a way that every room seems to be bathed in natural light.

In the north wing there is a beautiful 15, 000 gallon heated pool with a cathedral ceiling, exercise area, bath and changing room. In total the pool area is 2,480 square feet. There is a sauna, hot tub and a wet bar as well. There is plenty of room for guests; the house has 7 bedrooms and 6.5 bathrooms with a 2 bedroom apartment over the 5 bay garage. If you are in the mood for a game of pool after a grand dinner, there is a billiard room with all the necessary accoutrements. While there, I imagined my self sipping a fine cognac, smoking a good cigar and playing billiards.
The stately house is only a part of the grand picture of Southern Comfort. A short distance from the house is 4,200 square foot stable with room for 7 horses. The barn has a washing stall and foaling stall, office, tack room, feed room, full bathroom and security system. It is geared for some serious equestrian activities. There are front and rear attached paddocks, an oval shaped show ring, 3 pasture run-sheds with a total of 1,650 square feet of protected area for horses. The barn features a 2 level hay storage area, PVC vinyl fencing and a separate well. Southern comfort is truly a horse and horseman’s paradise. As a horseman myself, I was impressed by the manicured riding trails that wind throughout the estate.

The rear of the house looks out at Lawrence Cove just off Dividing Creek. It is just 2 miles by boat from the Chesapeake Bay. There are 3000 feet of shoreline. Art Lang is a boater and has installed facilities for boats with multiple slips and a nearby gazebo. There is in addition a par 4 golf hole on the property which is manicured to compare with the best golf courses in the country.

A walk through the grounds is like a walk through a fairyland. The level of thoughtful design and care can only be compared to the high standards of the best resorts. Details like the ponds being stocked with bass, brim and catfish and the brick paver walkways are stunning. There is also a 100 yard outdoor shooting range for those who would indulge in gun sports. Art Lang loves hunting and takes great pride in his collection of guns. There is an 1800 square foot guest house with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths along with a 300 square foot deck and 2 bay detached garage. Sports like baseball and football are among Art Lang’s many interests. Coach Vince Lombardi is one of his lifelong heroes.
I asked Art Lang how he could leave such a beautiful estate especially since it is the product of his fertile imagination and a great deal of his time and creative effort. Art Lang confided that some health issues and changes in his family have brought him to a decision to move to Florida. He said: “It is time for me to go.” I could sense that Art Lang was saddened by his intended change, but at the same time eager to move on to new challenges. I don’t believe for a minute that Art Lang will settle down to a rocking chair on a porch somewhere. His mind is always working with new ideas, new projects and new challenges. His energy has no bounds. His work is done at Southern Comfort, his work elsewhere is about to begin.