The stately Victorian, vintage 1889, sits proudly on a Moorestown corner, its angles and contours reaching back to an era when less was definitely not more. Elaborately detailed, its stained-glass windows and formal three-story architecture suggest a gilded age of elegance and propriety.
However, its owners, Jane and Ronald "Casey" Brandt, say that above all this is a family home where adult children and grandchildren gather for the holidays and kick back without a worry.
"We truly live in the house, and celebrate every family milestone here," says Jane. "This isn't a 'don't touch' place, and never will be."
During the holiday season, the 22-room Victorian takes on a festive air, with holiday music piped out onto the sweeping front porch. A large, beribboned straw reindeer, affectionately named "Dasher," sits proudly on the huge foyer table.
The Brandts love to tell the story of how they came to own this historic 9,300-square-foot house.
After they missed out on buying another home just down the street, the Brandts, each of whom had been previously married, were still determined to create a home together. They had briefly been living in Haddonfield, but both loved the look and feel of Moorestown.
"So we decided to leave letters in the mailboxes of homes that appealed to us, but were not on the market," explains Casey, 64, an entrepreneur in the industrial import/export world. "It was definitely a bold approach, but we actually got three promising responses to the 10 we'd left."
They purchased the seven-bedroom Victorian, originally owned by members of Moorestown's prominent Stokes family. Jane, 54, who retired from a career in venture-funded Internet start-ups, loves design, and was immediately taken by the home's architecture and its unlikely blend of grandeur and warmth.
Even though the four children of their blended family were already young adults by 1997, when they purchased the house, the thought of being empty-nesters in the vast space didn't faze Casey and Jane.
"We knew there would always be space for the kids to come back to, and even before we moved in, we could picture the holidays here. It's a home that's meant for wonderful gatherings," says Jane, who loves to host them.
It took a full year, and the artistry and vision of the owners, along with Haddonfield architect Tom Wagner and general contractor Larry Legnola, also of Haddonfield, to help the Brandts make the home truly their own.
In the process, and in one of those archetypal homeowner ironies, the couple actually enlarged the home's space to accommodate an improved master bedroom shower. The quirks of that small project led to an entire new kitchen wing below it.
Today, visitors step into a grand foyer with a fireplace, sweeping staircase, restored original wood floors, and, most dramatically, a wraparound mural adorning every wall. Seasoned travelers, the Brandts had Collingswood muralist Monica Kane create images related to their travels to France, England, Kyoto, and even nearby Bucks County.
"The miracle," says Jane, "is that it all comes together so seamlessly."
What also came together for the couple were several serendipitous shopping adventures at the fabled Paris Flea Market, where they purchased pieces that now decorate the home. English tables coexist with French chandeliers and mirrors, just as coordinating prints, checks, and florals make their peace together in many rooms, including the formal parlor.
A handsome library with more modern and Asian touches is a favorite place for the couple to spend time. Down another hallway is the expansive kitchen, with its light wood cabinetry and double everything - ovens, dishwashers, stoves, and sinks. A cheerful sitting area off the kitchen offers views of the home's gardens.
But the showstopper room at the holidays is the Victorian's dining room, entered by pocket doors that reveal the thrifty side of the original owners. Rich mahogany on the "public" side is backed with more sturdy and practical chestnut on the side that guests don't see.
The room, illuminated by an 18th-century French chandelier, is where the family's traditional tree is always set up and decorated on Thanksgiving weekend. This year, Casey Brandt and their 28-year-old daughter, Sara, did the honors, with Jane keeping a watchful eye on the project.
The result is a luminous tree in a soft, off-white palette, with ornaments themed to plants, flowers, fruits, berries, and other reminders of nature. A huge bow sits atop the tree, which is now positioned snugly in a corner of the room. "With two grandsons, 3 and 1, we did need to keep it somewhat out of the way of curious little hands," says Jane.
The holiday table is always set with sparkling Tiffany china themed to Christmas, and antique planters hold dried ferns. "We really try to decorate with a light touch, so that it's the house itself, with its wonderful 'bones,' that stands out," Jane explains.
There is one time-honored family tradition that will unfold today on Christmas. Each member of the family - even an elderly great-grandma - creates an ornament in a fierce competition, the results of which that will be duly recorded on the family "Christmas Cup," a silver trophy with the names of the annual winners.
"We have some very irreverent family members," says Casey. "The basic rule is the zanier the ornament, the better." Contenders in recent years have included an ornament created from unemployment checks, and an angel made from a lowly lightbulb.
"I guess that kind of summarizes our holidays in this house," Jane says. "We have good times, we laugh a lot, and we celebrate being together in a place that creates new memories for us each year.
"And I like to think that we're just continuing this home's tradition, and that the same joy has been celebrated within these walls for the last 120 years."