Just past a quiet residential neighborhood in Delanco in Burlington County, the mighty river appears. The Delaware is undeniably the scene-stealer along this narrow street, but it's not the only intriguing attraction.
Set against that vast river backdrop is a home that announces itself with quaint shingles, interesting angles, and a charm easier felt than explained. A restored gas lamp near its roof glows day and night.
That home, tiny in square footage but mighty in appeal, is the pride and joy of its owners, Peter and Kathryn Canton and their 2½-year-old daughter, Charlotte.
The home is deeply personal for good reason. It grew out of the imagination and vision of Peter Canton, who happened to be renting a small home several doors away during his single years. When he learned that the neighbor's house was for sale after the death of the elderly owners, he quickly bought it and certainly not for its pristine condition. Quite the opposite, in fact.
"The original idea was that I would renovate the house, using its original foundation," recalls Peter, a member of the well-known Moorestown family whose building company bears their name.
That would not be possible, Peter and his future wife soon found out. As they surrendered hope of a restoration, Peter undertook the task of creating a new home on the riverfront property. Kathryn, a native of Bethlehem, Pa., gamely signed on to help.
"I grew up in a traditional house, knew nothing much about building, but I was ready to learn," she said.
And learn she did. Novice Kate got her first taste of mixing concrete, a skill she is not particularly eager to use again.
There were, of course, challenges during this ambitious project. One was the strict supervision by the state Department of Environmental Protection, particularly involving concerns about the flow of Delaware River beneath their future home under certain conditions.
Another was the limited size of the house. By the time they moved in, 2½ years after starting the meticulous planning and construction, the riverfront cottage would have three occupants: Peter, Kathy and the baby they were expecting, who arrived just one week before the two-story, 1,200-square-foot home was finished.
The first floor consists of a great room, combining a living area, kitchen, dining area and powder room — without a wasted inch. Over it all are massive ceiling beams that contribute to a rustic look.
On the second floor are two bedrooms: a master and Charlotte's magazine-perfect nursery. Hidden away in an upstairs hallway is a stacked washer and dryer, and connecting the bedrooms is a full bathroom.
The word salvage became a part of the couple's building vocabulary. Because the Canton building firm is active throughout South Jersey, leftover and discarded materials to repurpose in the little house were plentiful — from a discarded wood-burning stove to a cherry tree from Pete's brother's yard. The tree was transformed into a magnificent countertop in the great room, bark and all.
Another family presence: The kitchen table where Peter Canton, the youngest of three siblings, remembers sometimes playing.
Commander-in-chief for most of the interior decor and color palette was Kate, who used soft gray/blues mixed with pale yellows and other mellow tones.
On a back great room wall is a series of photographs of working oyster boats from the 1920s. But the real show is nature's ever-changing sky and water just beyond, with abundant windows and sliding doors providing visual and actual access.
A nearby shed, complete with a cupola and finished to match the house, was created by Peter's 95-year-old grandfather. It's sometimes a home for the motorboats, kayaks, and other accouterments of the family's leisure and water sports passions.
Not to be forgotten, little Charlotte has her own special toy area built into the stairway wall, well used and well loved.
A tiny sink, with it own unique charm, is a focal point in the powder room, which also boasts a sassy black and white patterned floor.
The second-floor master bedroom wins, perhaps, the "most dramatic view," but it's a tight competition since every window seems to reveal nature's gifts. "We absolutely love the sunrises and the sunsets," Kate says.
One more delighted member of the family is Bay, the Chesapeake Bay retriever who has made the Delaware River her playground. The breed is particularly water-loving, Kate and Peter note, and endowed with powerful endurance.
Lifetime outdoorsman Peter says rewards of life on the Delaware include visits from "neighbors" like blue herons, mallards, and an occasional bald eagle, as well as other wildlife.
"I can't think of a more magical place for Charlotte," says Kate, "and I think that she already knows that she's a very lucky little girl.
Indeed she is.