Tom and Diane Rhoads: Building The Perfect “Downsize” House
“This is just the perfect downsize house for a retired couple,” says Tom Rhoads of the custom, 3 bedroom/3 full bath Cape Cod that he and his wife, Diane, built in The Settlement at Powhatan Creek in Williamsburg VA. Diane agrees, with one proviso: you don’t have to be retired to love their open concept, perfect-for-entertaining house or the Settlement’s friendly, active, and amenities-rich adult community.
Tom and Diane, former business owners originally from Indiana, moved to Williamsburg in 2009 to be closer to their three grandchildren in the Washington, DC area. Diane had warm memories of Williamsburg from her childhood visits here. “My Dad was a home designer and his signature homes were Williamsburg Cape Cods, so he and my mother used to come here often,” she says. “I have some fond memories of wandering around down here.”
The couple wanted a college town with excellent healthcare options (nearby Sentara Hospital was named a Top 100 Small Hospital in the US), and loved that Williamsburg’s many attractions made it a destination city that would appeal to their grandkids living several hours away. “We wanted to be close to our family, but not so close that on Friday nights our children would come by and drop their kids off,” Tom jokes.
The Settlement at Powhatan Creek, in the heart of Williamsburg’s Historic Triangle, was then in its Phase 1 development, a neighborhood of custom-built homes. When Diane drove through in 2012, it brought her close to tears. “I fell in love with this community…. I told my husband I felt like I was going back in time because the designs were so much of what my Dad did. ”
The Rhoads liked the community’s convenient location just 5 minutes from I-99 and a mile from shopping at Monticello Marketplace. They liked the security of living in a gated community, and the low maintenance of having an HOA that maintained both common areas and residents’ private yards. And, they loved the proximity of cypress-lined Powhatan Creek and the community’s emphasis on green space. “I like the way it is kind of nestled in, with trees along the neighborhood so you don’t feel like you’re in a cornfield,” Diane notes.
Tom and Diane chose a lot backing up to a protected preserve, and Wayne Harbin Builder, Inc. to take their dream home from concept to construction. Wayne Harbin, whose company was named Southern Living’s 2015 Custom Builder Member of the Year, lives down the street from the Rhoads’ place. “That tells you something when the builder lives in your neighborhood,” Tom points out.
Top Quality Construction. “We came from a beautiful home on a golf course in Indiana and we wanted another beautiful home,” says Diane. “We told Wayne we wanted a smaller house, but a quality house. “
The couple decided to build their 1900+ square-foot home on a sealed, conditioned crawl space instead of a slab. “Some homes in this neighborhood are built on slabs, and it’s cheaper, but I didn’t want that,” says Tom. “When you build on a slab, you have to put the air vents up above. Our vents are in the crawl space, so air rises, and our floors are warm in the winter. I don’t think I’d ever had a home without a crawl space or a basement because I like warm floors.”
A ventilating fan keeps the crawl space air constantly circulating at about 10 degrees cooler than the house. The Rhoads took full advantage of that by creating a wine cellar out of a walk-in closet accessible from the 2-car garage. The crawl space, in conjunction with an outside French drain, also helps keep water from getting into the house.
Choosing a crawl space also allowed installation of ¾ inch red oak floors similar to those in the Rhoads’ Indiana home. The builder matched the richly hued color to a board the couple brought from their Indiana home, and finished the floors on site.
The Rhoads’ home meets the construction standards of EarthCraft building, a green approach that focuses on energy, water, and resource efficiency. “It’s very cheap for our utilities, and the house is always comfortable,” Diane points out. “I’m sure that has a lot to do with the construction.”
One of the toughest construction decisions for Diane was whether to include a whole-house back-up generator. “At the time I thought, ‘Whoa, we are spending 10 to 12 thousand dollars! Are we crazy?’”
But within months, the value of the expensive add-on was proven at a surprise birthday dinner Diane had planned for Tom at a Williamsburg restaurant. “On the way, the weather got bad and it started to pour. When we got there, our friends were there yelling ‘Surprise!’ but they were standing in the dark in the lobby because all the electricity had gone out,” Diane recounts. “At first I’m saying, ‘What can we do?’, but then I said ‘OK guys, no problem, we have a full-house generator, so come back to the house.”
Diane had pizza delivered for the 15 guests and some helpful neighbors made salads. “We put an extra leaf in the dining table and sat around eating pizza and salad, and all I can think of is ‘Thank God for that generator!’”
That dinner was only one of several the couple has had courtesy of their generator investment. “When the electricity goes out, we often invite neighbors over for dinner,” Diane says. “It is a real security blanket to know you have a back-up for everything.”
Modern Living Design. Diane, who has done design work with her designer sister, wanted “a very open house that was conducive to entertaining because we love to entertain.” The couple also wanted plenty of storage space, a feature often missing in smaller homes, and careful attention to details.
With modifications to the builder’s Yorktown II model plans, the Rhoads created a 3-bedroom, open concept design with the master suite and a guest bedroom on the main level. The master suite includes a bath with a low-maintenance, walk-in shower, eliminating glass doors and the need for a squeegee. The main-floor guest bedroom is set up as a study, with hardwood floors and French doors, but includes a double closet to allow alternate use as a bedroom. The second-floor guest bedroom has an en suite.
The custom kitchen, which is open to the vaulted–ceiling living room, is modestly sized but very efficient, with deep drawers and two granite countertop bar areas. “It’s amazing how efficient the kitchen is, and it’s nice the way it is L-shaped, and we have the breakfast bar,” Diane notes. “When we have company for dinner, I use the higher bar almost like a buffet, and the lower bar for hors d’oeuvres.”
The formal dining room, which features detailed millwork, is separate but not cut off from the rest of the house. “I didn’t want to have a house so open that when you have dinner with friends you sit there looking at the kitchen counter,” Diane notes.
At Tom’s request, the living room has Surround Sound audio, along with wiring through the walls to place the television above the living room fireplace mantle without wires showing.
One of the Rhoads’ most desired features was a screened porch that allows maximum enjoyment of the wooded back yard. “It’s such a beautiful porch; it backs up to the preserve behind us, a protected area of the Chesapeake Bay watershed,” says Diane. “It’s like a little tree house, maybe 10 feet from the trees, and very secluded. We live out there.”
The porch, accessible via French doors from the living room, is where the couple and their two Shih Tzu dogs eat breakfast every day. Tom and Diane also play cards on the porch and get up-close-and-personal with the neighborhood’s abundant wildlife.
Floor plans for 3612 South Square
“We have two hoot owls that sit out around 5 pm,” Diane explains. “And we have a lot of tree frogs. Sometimes we have deer come up.” Many types of birds, from hummingbirds to herons, are seen throughout the neighborhood, to the delight of the community’s many bird watchers.
Tom and Diane are proud to point out that after their home was completed, their builder had a photographer do a full photo layout of their home, which he used to sell seven other homes similar to theirs.
A Community With So Much to Do. The Settlement has many amenities: walking and biking trails, swimming pools, tennis, a luxurious Residents’ Club with a billiards room, fitness center and spa, and is affiliated with nearby Williamsburg National Golf Course. It also has a full-time activities director and numerous programs, from bridge to book groups, many of them held at the clubhouse located just a block from the Rhoads’ home.
The couple also enjoys the community’s beautiful green spaces and extensive walking/biking trails, which connect with the Virginia Capital and Greensprings Interpretive trails. ““When it’s really hot, it’s so nice to be in the woods,” Diane says. “We can take a 45-minute walk on a gravel trail all the way down to a little bridge.”
“This is a very active community,” Diane adds. “We have pickle ball, a cycling club, a walking group, a dining out group, bridge groups. You name it, we have it. The people here are not just sitting around twiddling their thumbs. We have a nice mix of people, retired and still working. It’s not a neighborhood with all old people.”
The Rhoads note that the community includes many who volunteer with local organizations. Diane, who is retired from her own corporate leadership training business, is a docent at Colonial Williamsburg’s St. George Tucker House. Tom, who was a partner in a fluid power distributorship company, volunteered at the orthopedic clinic at Sentara Hospital and has a therapy dog that he now takes to visit elderly residents of a local nursing home.
Neighborhood Fun for the Grandkids. All those amenities that draw residents also have had a huge appeal to the Rhoads’ grandchildren.
“Our grandchildren have loved coming down here because it was like a Grandma-Grandpa camp,” Tom says, laughing. “One time, in January – it was cold — we were in the indoor pool and I told the grandkids I’d give them each a quarter if they would go out and jump in the outdoor pool…. They did, and then ran back and jumped into the hot tub. Then they told me, ‘We’re not gonna do that anymore unless you give us a dollar!’”
Diane fondly recalls their first New Year’s Eve at The Settlement. “My daughter called that day, and said they were coming down with the children for New Year’s Eve…. We went to a show, we went to Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner, and then we all came back and went to the Clubhouse, where we have this beautiful outdoor fireplace. We roasted marshmallows and made s’ mores, and it was the best New Year’s ever!”
That Important Intangible: A Community of Great Neighbors. About five months ago, Tom had a health scare when the couple was at church, and he had to be taken to the hospital. The couple’s neighbors, after hearing Tom was in the hospital, immediately responded. “Our neighbors just swung into gear,” Diane says. “One said, ‘I have a key, I’ll go let the dogs out and feed them.’ It was so wonderful to have that feeling that everything was being taken care of. Then, when we got home, we were exhausted, and our friends across the street brought us a shrimp jambalaya dinner. That’s the kind of neighbors we have.”
Those neighbors aren’t just there to help in tough times, but also to share the good ones, and the Rhoads have done a lot of entertaining. “We are part of a neighborhood wine tasting group and have entertained as many as 30 people in the house,” Diane notes. “And, for a while, I mentored a lot of people at bridge and was part of a large bridge group that would meet in each other’s houses. So, we’ve hosted bridge groups here, too.”
Moving Back to Indiana. The couple has decided to move back to Indiana to be closer to sisters there. “Our grandchildren here are in their teens now and, with all of their activities, the Grandma-Grandpa window is slowly closing,” Diane explains. “Plus, my daughter noted that it would take less time to hop a plane to Indianapolis than to make the commute from the DC area to Williamsburg.”
Tom and Diane have asked John “Mr. Williamsburg” Womeldorf to help them sell their much-loved Williamsburg home. “John got us into this house; he’s the one who introduced us to [our builder],” Diane notes. “And, although we were 11 hours away by car, he made the process more pleasant, sending us photos of the house as it was being built. He’s just a delight to work with.”
The couple faces an exciting move back home, but it’s hard for them to leave their neighborhood and their first retirement home.
“I love that our neighbors are very, very caring; if you have an issue, they are right there,” says Diane. “And, if we could just put this house on wheels and bring it back to Indiana with us, we would. It has been the perfect home for us.”
Why the stories? Because these aren’t just houses, they’re homes. We trust these stories will assist you in finding your way home.
Want to tell your home’s story? Or find your dream home/ neighborhood in the area Contact John “Mr. Williamsburg” Womeldorf at (757) 254-8136 or John@MrWilliamsburg.com and we’ll get you started.
To schedule a visit to see this home or others in the Williamsburg or Hampton Roads VA area call/text 757 254 8136 or email John@MrWilliamsburg.com