Family and Fairytales: At Home with Joan and Bobby Foster
Joan and Bobby Foster’s home on Woodland Avenue is known around the neighborhood as “the gingerbread house” thanks to its abundance of decorative exterior “stick work”—delightful ornamental wooden details on its porches and gable ends. Although the plaque on the front of the house dates the home to 1910, Joan and Bobby’s story in this historic house began 14 years ago.
If the home’s outward expression doesn’t adequately indicate that fairy tales
can come true in this cheerful home, then certainly, a tour of its interior will.
Joan, a former schoolteacher, has a knack for vivid storytelling. So, with a twinkle in her eye, she explains, “Technically, it’s called an Eastern Stick-style house. It’s a particular type of Victorian architecture that features all those decorative exterior wooden details seen…or imagined…on storybook cottages.”
Besides telltale ornamentation, stick-style homes are also known for having terrific porches and the Fosters’ is no exception. Joan says that during the neighborhood’s centennial celebration a few years ago, they learned that in the 1930s, the residents of Woodland Avenue used to meet every Friday afternoon for informal “porch parties.” Neighbors would share refreshments and take turns with the hosting duties. Joan says, “We all loved the idea so much, we brought back the porch parties! We get together every Friday, from about May to September. It’s a great way to share a neighborly spirit.” When it’s the Fosters’ turn to host, they welcome neighbors to their back porch, which overlooks a large, sloping backyard where their daughter’s wedding reception was held a few years ago.
It’s no surprise that Joan would help spearhead such a fun activity for her neighborhood since around town, this former mayor, vice mayor and current member of city council (now entering her fourth four-year term!) is known for her talent in bringing people together through community-wide events.
In fact, her home has often been used as the site where many such events are either planned or held. Joan likes to entertain and says she especially enjoys treating folks from the various civic groups she’s involved with to a big, home-cooked Italian dinner. She says, “I like to think of our house as the community’s house, where people are welcome to come and share their thoughts or concerns. I’ve always found that within the casual atmosphere of a home, and especially over a meal, people relax, let their guard down.”
Bobby is also known for helping the members of his community, in a different but no less important way. Bobby is a longtime pharmacist, these days working at the Walmart pharmacy on Ward’s Road. An avid collector himself, Bobby says that he and Joan have always enjoyed collecting things together, and their home is indeed a showcase for their many collections. Almost every item in it has a special story and memory attached to it. Above all, it’s a happy and loving family home with that perfect blend of beauty, style and warmth.
If you’ve ever visited Colonial Willamsburg during the holiday season, you’ve no doubt admired the traditional holiday decorations that use fresh fruits, vegetables and native greens to decorate entrances to homes as a prelude to the holiday spirit to be found inside. The Fosters’ front door features such a wreath, covered with the apples and other items from the local fall harvest, hanging on their front door. Joan says she used to buy her wreaths from Colonial Williamsburg but when she learned that the Farm Basket makes the same style of wreaths, she made a switch. Joan jokes, “The squirrels used to tear my old wreaths apart, but they haven’t bothered my Farm Basket wreaths. That’s certainly a case for buying local!”
On the walls in the foyer, Sonny Harlow of Appomattox painted a mural of a pastoral scene depicting Long Mountain in Amherst County near the place where Bobby and Joan lived prior to moving to Lynchburg. Joan explains that she and Bobby purchased a home and a drug store in Amherst County when they were in their late 20s and they lived there for 23 years. If you look closely, you can even see a hedgerow of pink “Sweet Briar” roses.
A regiment of colorful nutcrackers stand sentry for one final Christmas atop a beautifully inlaid antique bow-front chest that Joan purchased from her friend and former neighbor Mary Brockman, owner of Enchanted Antiques in downtown Lynchburg. Joan has been babysitting the nutcrackers while her son Robb and his wife Samantha have been away pursuing advanced degrees and internships. With new degrees in hand, the couple has now returned to Lynchburg and Joan says Robb, Samantha and the nutcrackers will celebrate Christmas this year in their new home in Lynchburg.
To the right of the foyer is the large, comfortable dining room. Several large windows feature their original “wavy glass” windowpanes, while polished hardwood floors gleam underfoot. Blue and white toile slipcovers on the dining room chairs draw your eye to the center of the room, providing a lovely contrast against the other wood furnishings in the room.
The arrangement on the Fosters’ dining room table perfectly exemplifies the way Joan and Bobby like to integrate their collectibles into their décor. Mixed among beautiful antiques are simple, homey touches and the effect is sentimental and gracious. Joan’s talented friend Lindsay Keith helped her set the antique dining table that sits beneath a sparkling crystal chandelier. Among the antique linens, sterling silver and a prized collection of vintage glassware called “candlewick glassware” is Joan’s set of imitation-Spode holiday dishes that she purchased on layaway from Rose’s department store when they were newlyweds and Bobby was still in pharmacy school.
Joan says, “The greenery is from my daughter Hilary and son-in-law J.B.’s 50-acre farm in Bedford near The Sedalia Center.” Hilary and J.B. just moved back to the area from Washington State. Joan says, “J.B. and Hilary are the proud parents of a new baby, my first grandson, Wyatt, born on City Council Election Day. I had a lot to celebrate that day!”
A small tilt-top table is one of the Fosters’ oldest antiques, dealer-verified as dating back to the early 1700s. Joan purchased the pair of tapestries hanging on the wall as well as the antique breakfront chest in the corner from Mary Brockman.
On the sideboard next to a pair of handmade gingerbread houses is a special collection: Margaret Furlong porcelain ornaments, given to her by her children as gifts, starting in the 80s when the children were young and still living at home.
Joan explains that she loves to decorate gingerbread houses and Christmas cookies with her granddaughters—eight- year-old Grace, and six-year-old twins, Lily and Annie—every year to help them get excited about the holiday season.
Joan’s newest collection is the porcelain nativity set. Now adults, Joan’s children are giving her these figurines to help her complete her set. Joan says, “They no longer make the Margaret Furlong ornaments, but this nativity set reminds me of them. I love that my children are helping me build a collection once again.”
In the kitchen are several historical items of personal significance. The kitchen is at the back of the house, just beyond the dining room—a roomy, square-shaped space with a cozy spot for everyday dining. It has the feel of a vintage kitchen that might have been original to the home, but is outfitted with modern-day appliances and amenities.
The wooden red A&P bin in the kitchen would have originally stored coffee, and now serves as a nice reminder for Joan, whose parents both worked for the A&P Company. Sitting on its top is a miniature nativity scene of French Santons. A small aluminum tinsel tree is decorated with antique cookie cutters and kitchen tools.
In the office, tucked into a vestibule between the kitchen and the living room, is a collection of antique apothecary items, of obvious interest to Bobby, given his vocation. A Lionel train collection reminds Bobby of his grandfather, who worked for the railroad. In fact, the lanterns displayed nearby actually belonged to his grandfather.
The Fosters’ favorite story of all might be the one involving the vintage Hopalong Cassidy toy gun. Joan said that Bobby used to wistfully talk about the Hopalong Cassidy toy guns he and his brother got for Christmas when he was about nine years old, and how sorry he was that the toy guns had been lost. So, when Joan ran across an authentic Hopalong Cassidy toy gun in an antique store, she knew she had to get it for Bobby. She says, “It’s like it was Christmas of 1955 all over again and worth every penny.”
The Christmas tree stands in front of the street-facing windows in the formally decorated living room. There is a delicate antique settee as well as beautiful antique tables in the room, and a comfortable wing back chair positioned to admire the fireplace. Upon the tree are many special ornaments, including several made of clothespins during Joan and Bobby’s “lean, newlywed years.” There’s an ornament of a fireman that Joan says reminds her of the first responders at Ground Zero on September 11, and an American flag that honors the soldiers who fought during Desert Storm.
Carved wooden dolls from Russia sit atop an antique tea caddy—its lock a reminder that tea was once so precious, it had to be kept under lock and key. A beautiful antique miniature Christmas tree sits atop the coffee table in front of the fireplace, and from the mantel, a nativity scene made of Byer’s Choice handcrafted caroler figurines appear to announce the happiness of the Christmas story.
Joan says she has a special appreciation for the handiwork involved in the row of needlepoint stockings that hang from the mantel. She says, “My hobby is a kind of needlework called crewelwork. Although I didn’t make the stockings myself, I can certainly appreciate what all must have been involved.”
The Sitting Room
The sitting room is Joan’s favorite spot in the house because it is surrounded on three sides by large windows, allowing a maximum amount of natural light into the room. She especially likes the unique, vintage floor lamp standing in the corner. She explains that it is made out of a dentist’s office dental tool sterilizer, its drawers still filled with a full set of dental tools! Joan says, “We bought it at an antique store downtown and took it to Thorne McCraw of McCraw’s New and Used Furniture to work his magic on it and turn it into a floor lamp for us. The shelf is the perfect height to catch my coffee cup when I’m reading the paper in the morning.”
This room, once an outdoor porch, doesn’t have a working fireplace but the Fosters added an old mantel from a house in Amherst County to the wall to create a focal point in the room and to hold collectibles. Of special note is the collection of a miniature lead cannon and tiny hand-painted lead soldiers. Joan explains that their son-in-law Andrew, daughter Janna’s husband, is a graduate of VMI and that they began collecting these military items with him in mind. Joan says, “One day, the soldiers will go live with Janna, Andrew and their three daughters—our precious granddaughters.”
The Children’s Suite
In no other area of the house does Joan’s skill in storytelling come more alive than upstairs in the room where their three granddaughters stay when they come for frequent sleepovers.
The children’s room is located on the same level as the master bedroom suite and two additional bedrooms. Even though Joan and Bobby’s adult children have local homes of their own, the grandchildren love coming to spend the night with Grandma and Grandpa, and it’s easy to see why.
The children’s suite is a wonderland of antique toys and furnishings. Children and dolls alike may play games and host tea parties at child-sized (and doll-sized!) tables. Bookshelves are filled with beloved children’s books and vintage celluloid toys. Joan explains that celluloid is the pre-plastic material that toys were made of until about the late 1930s.
A child-sized vintage Santa sweater hangs on the back of the bathroom door to help decorate the room for the season. Joan is a former member of the Junior League of Lynchburg and she purchased it at Bargain Mart—an indoor rummage sale that the Junior League hosted as its premier fundraiser for many years. Joan says that all three granddaughters have taken turns wearing the sweater during the past few Christmas seasons.
The Fosters’ home is full of collections, each one telling a unique story that starts with the storybook beginning when Joan and Bobby met on a blind date while they were students at Lynchburg College. There’s no doubt that a strong sense of community spirit has defined them, both as individuals and as a couple.
The Fosters know how to create—or, shall we say “foster”—that community spirit of sharing goodwill with all those who enter their home.