John Spence used to dream of living in Windsor Forest. As a kid who grew up in Williamsburg and had many friends who lived in the pastoral community, he wanted to live there, too.
“It was such an attractive place, and it seemed like there was a closeness that everyone in the neighborhood had,” explains John, now a fifth-grade teacher at Matoaka Elementary School. “There are alot of neighborhoods that are built with the houses stacked on top of each other, but Windsor Forest is one of the few places in Williamsburg where the lots are very private and wooded.”
In 2002, John realized that dream by building a two-story Colonial style home in Windsor Forest for his young family of four. He chose a 2,180 square-foot, 3-bedroom,3-bath home with a large living room featuring a gas fireplace, a spacious kitchen with breakfast bar open to the dining area, and a bonus room above the garage.
“Like most families, we’ve tended to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, which has views to the backyard,” John notes. “We’ve done a lot of watching TV and doing puzzles at the dining room table.”
The bonus room started as a guest room but morphed into a music room where John and his band, The Dog Street Boys, sometimes practice. “We get together once a month and play music in New Town. I also play acoustically around town at various restaurants and other places.”
“That’s the thing I was most excited about when we built the house,” John explains. “It’s a wooded lot, almost an acre in size, that backs up to the Ford’s Colony natural protected area. The land behind us can’t be built upon, so it just goes on forever behind us.”
Creating an Outdoor Oasis. Although the Spence home is lovely, with generously sized rooms and plenty of windows for natural light, it’s where John built the home that was key for him.
That lush, private setting inspired John to create a meditative haven – and entertainment oasis — in his back yard. “There weren’t really any must-haves when we built our house, but there have been a lot of must-haves afterwards to complete it,” John notes. “We typically did a project a year to make the house into what we were looking for.”
John’s projects began with building a large back deck and screened porch accessible via the living room. “The backyard was really the centerpiece of where we wanted to add onto the home in many different ways,” John points out. “The deck and screened porch were clearly a place where we were going to spend the majority of our time.”
The deck was upgraded in 2009, when John added a fire pit and an outdoor kitchen featuring a built-in grill and refrigerator. The outdoor kitchen was updated in 2017, with tiling, electrical outlets, and extra storage space for cooking necessities, recycling, and other items needed for backyard entertaining.
“We’re constantly grilling out. We do a lot of smoking on the grill, a lot of smoked salmon and steaks. When friends come over, we just put all the beverages in the refrigerator,” John notes.
The fire pit is another draw. “We’ve used the fire pit to roast oysters, and I have a lot of memories of the kids making s’mores after we’d had dinner on the deck,” Johns reminisces. “Sometimes, after dinner, we’d all sit around the fire pit and listen to music. It’s so nice just looking at the natural area in the back. It’s a perfect house for relaxing and for entertaining.”
John further transformed his large back yard by adding a retaining wall to flatten out some of the gently sloping terrain where it was difficult to grow grass, creating another useable backyard area. He also built a lower deck with a trellis above it that is covered with honeysuckle and wisteria to create a flowering canopy. “It’s a really nice place for a hammock,” he notes. “I like to lay there and take a nap or read.”
Finally, John put in a koi pond. “It was something I’d always wanted. Now we have beautiful koi and goldfish, and the kids go down there and see the frogs. We also have a resident turtle who lives down there every year.”
The Spences’ most enticing backyard visitors are a family of barred owls. “They’ve been coming to the back deck for ten years now,” John notes. “My girls and I used to go out on the deck at night and wait for them. Now the owls come up almost on a nightly basis.”
“Whenever I have friends come over, we sit on the deck and I start playing a little owl call on my iPhone, and the owls come into the trees,” John adds. “People will be talking while the owls just sit there above the grill. Friends and family who come over are just amazed at how close the owls come when we’re out on the deck.”
John says such experiences are what makes his home so extraordinary. “I think it kind of symbolizes the house itself and its connection with nature. It’s a dream paradise for kids who want to get in the backyard and catch animals. Having this sort of property has been very, very special.”
A Walking Place. The Spences’ yard accesses the Ford’s Colony natural wetland preserve — replete with turkey, frogs, deer, and other critters — about 200 yards beyond his property. The preserve includes a boardwalk where John often walked with his daughters when they were young. The girls also used the boardwalk to ride their bikes to their elementary school.
“The neighborhood itself is an amazing place if you like to jog or walk because it has a variety of different landscapes, some hilly and some flatter,” John says. “That’s what I see people in the neighborhood doing most: walking or riding their bikes.”
Community Ties. The Spences, whose girls were on the community swim team, often walked to the Windsor Forest community pool and
John points out that neighbors also socialize with each other outside HOA events. They’ve had Christmas parties, New Year’s Eve parties, and “last party of the summer” get-togethers, and John sometimes joins neighborhood friends to watch Sunday football games.
“Windsor Forest is a wonderful place to have kids because they all know each other,” John says. “When my daughters were younger, they just rode their bikes to a neighbor’s home because it’s a very, very safe neighborhood.”
“That open sort of friendship that everybody has here, that great sense of family and community, is probably the greatest thing about this neighborhood,” he adds. “And that’s especially attractive as the parent of young kids. Then as mine got older, I knew somebody would let me know if they were doing something they shouldn’t, or driving too quickly through the neighborhood.”
The HOA also uses a Facebook page to connect neighbors. “It’s where people post things like ‘I have so-and-so’s dog and you can come get him,’” John says. “It’s where everybody looks after each other.”
Shopping and Restaurants. John spends much of his time outside the neighborhood in nearby New Town; some of his favorite places to eat there include Paul’s Deli and Center Street Grill.
“The nice thing about our neighborhood is it’s really close to a lot of things. We have a lot of grocery stores nearby and the Prime Outlets are right up the street. We Uber to a lot of places if we’re going out for an adult night because it’s just pennies to get to a lot of these places.”
Changing the House …But Not the Neighborhood. John’s family situation has changed, necessitating that he move to a larger home. He hired John “Mr.Williamsburg” Womeldorf to help him find a new home as special as the one he’s leaving.
“John [Womeldorf] lives in the neighborhood just around the corner; we’ve been friends and neighbors for a long time and I also taught his son,” John says.“His track record speaks for itself. I wanted to choose someone I knew would help me find a home with those certain things I could not live without — and one of them was having privacy and a wooded lot behind me. John was someone I knew would make that happen, and not compromise on that.”
John Womeldorf did come through, helping John to find a Windsor Forest home with a similar layout and the “irreplaceable environment” that was his first priority.
“Windsor Forest has been a really great place to raise my kids, to have family memories and build friendships. Living here has absolutely realized my dream, and that’s why I don’t want to leave. That’s why it was such a priority that my next home also be in the neighborhood.”
Psst, Mr Williamsburg is a different sort of real estate agent.
This post was authored by local resident and REALTOR, John Womeldorf. John is known around town as Mr. Williamsburg, for both his extensive knowledge of the Williamsburg/ Hampton Roads/ Richmond VA area and his expertise helping buyers and sellers in the local real estate market.
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