It will probably always be known in Moorestown as the "Stokes Estate," although the Stokes family first occupied it nearly a century ago.
The brick home set back from the street on expansive grounds was the wedding gift to Lydia Babbott from her father, when she married Dr. S. Emlen Stokes in the mid-1920s. Prominent Quakers, they were among Moorestown's leading citizens for decades.
Today, the home retains its early grandeur, but with the imprint and vitality of a modern family.
Five years ago, Jim Gertie and his wife, Pam, and their daughters began looking for a home in South Jersey, particularly Moorestown. The family had moved often because of Jim's career as a banking executive. They were leaving an old home in Cincinnati that they had restored. "We do lean towards older homes," Jim said, "and we actually enjoy working on them."
In some ways, the job change also marked a homecoming. Pam is from the Philadelphia suburbs, and Jim grew up in Cinnaminson, Moorestown's close neighbor.
So it seemed a match made in heaven, or actually, on the Internet, when the couple spotted an advertised home in Moorestown that suited their geographical needs and, to a degree, their aesthetics.
"The house definitely needed work - the heating system was in need of replacement, there was no air-conditioning, and the kitchen was not what we wanted. But we loved the look and feel of the place," Pam said.
Luckily, the Gerties, both 53, agree on what they're willing to do for home-sweet-home. So when they became the proud owners of the Stokes Estate, they began making it their own. It took months of work, endless decisions, and the ability to be unflappable amid change. And it was all absolutely worth it, insist these veterans of home restorations.
These days the home radiates a warmth that's always there, but with holiday glow added. The family's philosophy of decorating for Christmas matches its philosophy about how a home should look and feel: inviting, lived in, with no "don't-touch spaces," and in harmony with their style. No designers or decorators were involved in the interior. Even in the vast kitchen remodeling, Jim Gertie himself drew up the plans.
Eight years ago the house was a hospital designer show home when the former owners turned it over to a large contingent of designers. Very few traces of their handiwork are left because the Gerties prefer a far less fussy environment.
It all begins in the foyer, large enough to be furnished with two facing sofas, welcoming enough to still feel cozy. That feeling continues through the downstairs rooms, and up a stairway garlanded for Christmas, where the landing holds illuminated miniature houses and beloved stuffed animals and toys.
In an 11,000-square-foot house, intimacy can be elusive. The Gerties have found it by dividing and conquering space with color, well-placed furnishings, and, in the formal living room, touches that make a huge expanse feel homey.
Step into this golden-yellow world, the color of sunshine on the walls, and it's easy to forget how huge the room is. The original teak floors, in pristine condition, are the background for two coordinated Oriental rugs.
"By using a coffered ceiling, we made the height feel less imposing," explains Jim, who also designed bookcases at either end of the room to create the illusion of less "acreage."
Since they have had homes in Oklahoma, New York, Ohio, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, the Gerties have lots of furniture - and they have recycled most of it into this nine-bedroom house. "It's amazing how quickly space fills up," says Pam says.
Plump sofas in off-white, and two deep armchairs, one floral, one oyster white, create a large conversational grouping near a graceful marble hearth and fireplace.
Draperies and swags from a former house found a home in the living room, with deft adjustments making them look custom-designed for the new windows.
At Christmas, the family tree stands proudly in one corner of the "yellow room," as the Gerties affectionately dubbed the living room. It holds ornaments that are loved, those collected over years for their sentimental value, including some of those fashioned by daughters Grace, now a senior at Wake Forest, and Alexis, a freshman at Boston College. "I wouldn't think of not using them," says Pam, noting that they're the first tentative efforts created by earnest little nursery school and kindergarten hands.
Jim is delighted that after looking in vain for an appropriate living room chandelier, and almost settling for a reproduction, he spotted a handsome antique chandelier, its brass in need of a cleaning, at an estate sale in nearby Riverton. It was a bargain, and perfect for the space.
Pam Gertie also loves a bargain. She found one when she was browsing in a consignment store in Cincinnati, the family's last home. A walnut dining table with carvings, in excellent condition and with accompanying chairs, gives the dining room the richness it deserves. Burgundy walls warm the space, an Oriental rug adds texture and color, and Pam's grandmother's breakfront occupies a place of honor in the graceful room.
But the showstopper is the completely redone kitchen area, which soars to two stories and is the place where as many as 100 guests gather at Gertie parties. "I try to get them into other rooms, but kitchens seem to be a magnet," Pam says.
Breaking through the ceiling and into what was once a servants wing, the space is wide open, as utilitarian as it is inviting. Cooking, eating, and lounging spaces coexist.
Faux-painted pale coral walls add interest; Jim Gertie himself directed the start of that process. "I was leaving for work in my suit one morning when the painter and I got busy on the procedure. He was a bit hesitant, and I'm definitely a hands-on kind of guy, so we worked well as a team."
The redone kitchen adjoins the home's original one, with old sink, stove, and butler's pantry intact - a reminder of bygone days and the home's timeless feel.
Best of all, Pam Gertie doesn't just look at her spiffy modern oven. Throughout this month, she uses it, baking endless batches of cookies to the delight of family and guests.
And cookies are themselves timeless treasures.