Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, I worked for a high end running and cross training apparel manufacturer called Moving Comfort. One of the co-owners of Moving Comfort was Elizabeth Goeke; one of the most high energy and dynamic women that I have ever known.
After running a successful apparel business for over 25 years, Elizabeth decided it was time to pursue another passion. Her next path had been building for decades. Elizabeth loves to throw parties and has had a lifelong affinity for architecture, design, and gardening. It had long been a dream for Elizabeth to open a bed and breakfast. Having spent much of her time on travel for work and pleasure, she had come to know the essentials in comfort when staying away from home and aimed to bring that to her guests at the 5-star rated B&B Inn at Westwood Farm located in Orange, VA.
Elizabeth and her husband and business partner, Jay Billie, are innkeepers of their beautiful bed and breakfast. The house is super comfortable and not one bit stuffy or formal. But expect to find the finest finishes and furnishing throughout.
The couple met at their 25th high school reunion, and began dating 5 years later. Jay’s background is in market research, but he always wanted to renovate old houses. It was a match made in heaven. (Or should I say, INN heaven. LOL. I couldn’t resist.) They bought Westwood in 2004 always with the intent of making it a bed and breakfast, and opened for business on September 14, 2007. Says Elizabeth, “We finished the 18 month renovation, we hung the last paintings at 12:30 pm, and the first guests were to come at 4.”
I am fascinated by why or how people going down an entrepreneurial path are able to make the leap of faith to pursue their dream. Elizabeth has had the great fortune of not only going after one dream, but two! I asked her what she thinks allows her to put herself out there and go for it. Her answer, “Each time the opportunity presented itself, my passion for the experience outweighed the guarantee of a secure future. Not a decision one would necessarily make if they were raising a family or taking care of a dependent parent.”
When further discussing her “no guts, no glory” approach to life, Elizabeth shares, “Both dreams have been a lot of work, but were great. I’m a lucky woman. I feel very fortunate that I’ve lived the dream. It really is hard work, but I guess it’s just like anything else. It’s what you put into it.” But Goeke adds, “It’s a gamble. There is no sure thing. And there were times when it was scary. Having your own business is not an easy thing to do. It’s not easy, but I always wanted to do this.”
Built in 1910, Westwood is a fabulous house on a picturesque lot of 15 acres. It’s got a north facing front door and wonderful windows that brighten the space even on the darkest day. The house has four guest rooms with private baths and guests can enjoy a library and sitting room on the guest floor as well as a shared living and dining room on the main level. Outside there are several porches that provide wonderful views and an excellent environment for a nap. There are plenty of seating areas scattered around the property for guests to take in a sunset and enjoy a glass of wine and a charcuterie plate. Best known for their attention to detail, great food, and wonderful concierge service, the innkeepers will give you as much attention as they sense you would like and all the space in the world if they sense that.
Elizabeth and Jay are fortunate to know a good bit of the history of Westwood. The original owner, Robert Dabney Browning, grew up on a neighboring property called Oakley. One of four sons, Robert was the only one of the Browning children interested in farming. Since 1910, the property has been known as Westwood deriving its name because it was the woods WEST of Oakley. Browning farmed the property until the late 50s when he passed away. The farm remained in the family until the 1980’s, last owned by the original owner’s grandson. Elizabeth and Jay have come to know Browning’s grandson who stays at the Inn at least once or twice a year.
It was a couple that purchased the property in the late 90s who renovated the original part of the house and created an addition on the side of the home. When Elizabeth and Jay bought Westwood, the addition consisted of a two car garage with a second story under roof, but never built out. A huge part of their vision for the house included renovating the unfinished addition. Jay and Elizabeth spent 18 months building out that section of the house. It was imperative to them to make sure that there was no discernible difference in style or aesthetic, as you climb the steps from the original downstairs space to the newly renovated upper level. I can tell you first hand, there is not. It is seamless and lovely.
It was only in the late 1920s that Westwood was ever used as anything other than a private residence. Says Elizabeth, “The original owner would rent rooms to city folk from Richmond who would come to the mountains for the summer and the family would move to the attic. When we moved in, we discovered ghosts of partial walls up in the attic.”
Goeke and her husband spent two years of weekends to turn Westwood into the spectacular bed and breakfast that it is today. Says Elizabeth, “We were doing the Northern Virginia commute and we’d work on the property on the weekends. The only thing here was the picket fence but no gardens.” The couple added 12 raised garden beds to grow their own vegetables and flowers, and have taken over one of their two paddocks with the addition of a chicken coup, more vegetable gardens and a small hoop house.
Because Westwood only has four guest rooms, the couple’s plan was to also provide venue space for events and weddings. Wedding season can start as early as March and continue throughout the fall. As site coordinators for all events, Elizabeth and Jay manage the process on the property. They work closely with the wedding coordinators and vendors especially if they have never worked an event on their property previously. They can also be hired to provide the flowers for the tables and aisles. Says Elizabeth, “I actually think I enjoy the planning part of it more than the party. We hold our breath until everybody is in the tent, or the barn, eating dinner. After that, we can exhale.” For Elizabeth, the joy is in the details. She ensures that everything around the family and guests is perfect.
In her previous career at the apparel company, every product that they made had to look good and have a purpose with their foundational principles of people, product and presentation, dictating choices and performance. That philosophy translates perfectly to the inn. Says Elizabeth, “It’s all about the people, without them we’re nothing, the product that you serve them and the presentation there of.”
To her, setting a table is an art and color is important. She says, “Most people really don’t understand why they feel good in a certain environment, they just know that they like it. Do they have the appreciation for how much time went into selecting the color of the wall so it doesn’t fight the environment or their senses, or the rug on the floor or the furniture in the room? Probably not. But they step in and they can feel it.” The spectacular rugs came first and were the inspiration of the color throughout the house.
Each of the guest rooms are appointed with soft white robes, down comforters and pristine, white, French bed linens, which Elizabeth has been collecting for some time. The bathrooms contain large soaking tubs, hand milled soaps and comfy towels that will make you feel perfectly pampered. Although the couple’s personal taste is way more contemporary, they have an eclectic blend of furnishings that appeal to them as homeowners, but also honor the era of the house.
And then there is the food. Each day starts with coffee and tea service at 7 am on the guest floor. Because she did so much business travel in her past career, Elizabeth shares, “A great stay, for me, was always better with great coffee and if I was in a hotel that had room service, it was coffee at my door, a newspaper and never seeing a soul. So here, we do early morning coffee and tea. Nobody ever sees us. Whenever they awake, I don’t care what time it is, it will be there.”
Breakfast is served in the main dining room, or on one of the porches if weather permits, from 8 am to 9:30 am. There are several breakfast entrees to choose from, but none more famous with their guests then their signature Eggs Westwood (a unique and tasty twist on Eggs Benedict) featuring Westwood Farm fresh eggs and Jay’s own recipe for his killer hollandaise sauce. They honor their farm-to-table concept by taking advantage of the local farms, as well as their own, for fresh products.
There is so much to do around Westwood. Guest can visit cute little towns like Orange and Gordonsville. There are over 250 wineries in the Commonwealth and some really great ones just a short drive from the Inn; Barboursville Winery, Keswick Winery and Early Mountain Winery, to name a few. Be sure to set aside some time in the afternoon for a wine tasting.
There are fantastic you-pick-it farms, stores and markets, and kayaking in the Rappahannock River two miles away with a highly recommended and knowledgeable guide. And then you have the most popular historic attraction in the area; James Madison’s Montpelier. It’s a one mile walk from the front door of Westwood to the main gate at Montpelier which sits on 2600 acres.
If that was not enough, Inn at Westwood Farm is only 22 miles from Charlottesville, VA, that hosts a large assortment of great restaurants and shopping. Need more? Have the concierge (aka Elizabeth and Jay!) book spa treatments at a nearby salon. Or how about a sunrise or sunset hot air balloon ride? The balloon picks you up right on the Inn’s lawn!
Or never leave the property. Stay and walk the grounds. Soak up some sun or shade and sit for a long read. Says Goeke, “Often times people walk out and say, ‘Next time, I’m not going to spend all Saturday out and about. I’m going bring my book, read and take a nap.’”
Elizabeth and Jay take great pride in their impeccable concierge service. From providing some bubbly and berries for couple celebrating an anniversary to supplying some late arriving guests with a tray of great cheeses, the giver benefits equally as the receivers. Elizabeth enjoys surprising and delighting their guests. She calls on how she would want to be treated and sets their standards very high to ensure an amazing experience. The couples’ mantra is that it isn’t luxury unless you get to experience it and doesn’t have to be fussy; it just has to be wonderful.
Westwood houses an impressive lending library where guests can check out a book. And don’t be afraid of not completing the book before you leave. Thinking of every detail, the innkeepers will provide you with a mailing envelope to take home with you and use when you have finished your read.
But my favorite service provided by the concierge at Westwood is their picnic basket delivery to Montpelier. If their guests want to walk to the mansion, the concierge will drop a picnic basket off at the visitor’s center for guests to pick up and enjoy. When done, they can return the basket to the visitor’s center to be retrieved, freeing the guests of the burden of carrying it back should they decide to walk back to the inn.
Elizabeth shares, “We have the most wonderful guests. They get it. They don’t want a place that puts rose petals on their bed at night. (Never on my French linens! There are so many chemicals in those things! LOL!)” Elizabeth and Jay have discovered that their guests share a respect for the environment and love the outdoors. Guests come to hike, kayak, walk the trails, and take in Montpelier. They return time and again to be pampered in the simple, but luxurious accommodations. Elizabeth and Jay have created a wonderful, peaceful existence that they want to share. Says Elizabeth, “We just think it’s a little bit of paradise and so do people who visit.”
Inn at Westwood Farm: 12256 Montford Road, Orange, Virginia 22960
1 Photo cirque 1915
2 Photography by Karen Seifert