It was time to buy: After living in Collingswood for several years, Jenna and Ryan Tickner were expecting their first child and definitely needed more space.
On their wish list was a house in Moorestown where Ryan grew up. It was familiar turf for Jenna, too, who had lived in nearby Delran. The two met, in fact, at a popular sports bar that borders both towns. So the Tickners did what most couples do: They began searching the market.
Everything changed, though, when they got a call from their Moorestown Realtor, Naoji Moriuchi, who had been approached by the HGTV show House Hunters and invited to participate in it with clients. He thought the personable Tickners would be the perfect couple to share their quest with millions of viewers.
"At first, we just found the idea of house-shopping in such a public way kind of strange," recalls Ryan, 35, a financial planner with a Philadelphia firm. In the end, however, both were game.
So in January 2009, the Tickners surveyed three Moorestown properties with a camera crew in tow, recording their observations as they explored each house.
One was clearly not right. The other two had definite possibilities.
And then the Tickners - on camera - chose the one that was, alas, the most expensive but also was in the location they sought. A 1963 Colonial, it was within walking distance of Moorestown's Main Street, near schools, in a quiet neighborhood, and had a floor plan they loved.
As is customary with House Hunters, the crew revisited the Tickners several months later, this time as they were settled into their home with baby daughter Reagan. Today, it's also occupied by 4-month-old Wyatt and their beloved Boston terrier, Sam.
"This has turned out to be a wonderful home for us - even better than we'd hoped," says Jenna, who remembers waking up and going downstairs after their first night in the house and feeling instant comfort. "It was as if we'd always lived here."
There were, inevitably, adjustments to be made. For example, one early decision was not to create a formal living room - just yet.
"We fell in love with the family room from the start," Ryan says of the expansive room, with its dark paneled walls, its beamed ceiling, and the rustic look and feel of a ski lodge.
"We thought about lightening the walls at first, but then realized that they actually worked for this space," says Jenna, 37, a temporarily sidelined math teacher who put her artistic touch on all of the wall colors and furnishings.
A raised brick hearth and large fireplace form the focal point of the room, and the couches are the massive, comfy, leather kind that beckon you to sit or recline.
A barrel table serves as a liquor cabinet, and the room houses such family treasures as the rolltop desk used by Ryan's paternal grandfather, an old church pew contributed by his parents, and a wonderful coat rack that magically fit one wall exactly.
In the dining room, Jenna and Ryan eliminated bright blue on the walls, opting instead for a soft pale green. The table, made of old floorboards, accommodates 10 and matches the rustic spirit of the house. Simple brown leather chairs surround it.
Their kitchen is the sort that might be found in a mountain retreat, complete with knotty-pine cabinetry, a freestanding pine breakfront left by the former owners as a housewarming gift, and lots of old-fashioned charm.
One addition: A blown-up photo of the 1976 Land Cruiser that Ryan once owned and loved now decorates a kitchen wall. The couple also have framed maps of special places in their lives as wall art.
If there was one feature Jenna and Ryan wanted to change, it was the yard. And in the summer and early fall, they did.
"It was the most exciting project, and it went unbelievably smoothly," says Ryan, who had daunting experiences with his Collingswood fixer-upper. He knew this redo was a job for professionals.
To revitalize an area once defined by an aging brick patio that had seen better days, ivy run amok, and weary shrubs, the Tickners worked with Dan Bailey of Young's Landscaping of Cinnaminson.
Just beyond the family room and stretching into an adjoining, but formerly unused, outdoor space is a new backyard retreat. Stone pavers create a larger patio, with a scene-stealing water feature by Aqua Bella that the Tickners initially weren't even sure they wanted.
A fountain erupts from a handsome vase, designed with lights playing on the water. "Kids who were trick-or-treating for Halloween were absolutely amazed," Jenna says. "It seemed like magic to them."
A curved low brick wall offers both utility (it's a great place to sit) and pleasing aesthetics. New plantings include dogwoods, azaleas, and rhododendrons.
The House Hunters segment starring the Tickners still runs occasionally. They can always tell when it's been shown.
"We still have old friends calling from wherever they are to say that they couldn't believe it, but they actually saw us buying our house on TV," Jenna says. "But we did - and we love the place."
Is your house a Haven?