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A toast to Christmas past

The Kennedys of Moorestown treasure the trimmings, both architectural and holiday, of bygone days.

Decorations on the Christmas tree in the living room of the Kennedy home, Moorestown.  (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
Decorations on the Christmas tree in the living room of the Kennedy home, Moorestown. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)Read moreDavid M Warren / Philadelphia In

In the Christmas season, Bob and Eileen Kennedy don't resist the pull of the past - they embrace it. The holiday trimmings of their Moorestown home, like its architecture, reflect deep devotion to old-fashioned charm.

In the living room, a swag of apples, pinecones, and greens adorns the fireplace. A towering tree, decorated in tones of off-white, white and gold, occupies a front corner.

In the library, with built-in cabinetry, a smaller tree finds a home near the entry. A painting with a wine theme by California artist Thomas Arvid reflects Bob Kennedy's interest and expertise; he's the wine writer for Jersey Man magazine.

But most important to this couple is what happens within the walls of home. And at the holidays, when nearly every area glows with Eileen's collection of carolers and small trees illuminate treasured furnishings, that means a nod to old traditions, and some new ones.

The Kennedy family's daughter recently married, so a new son-in-law will be celebrating with them.

An additional tree, a live one from a nearby tree farm, will be decorated with ornaments, including school-made crafts proudly carried home by the children years ago.

Located just off a country road in Moorestown, the home features a tall stone facade. Inside, the Kennedys have created a blend of elegant and cozy, exactly what they hoped for when they started to build.

"We wanted a livable home, not a showplace, but we wanted it to echo a different time period," says Bob, who, with Eileen's help, set about to painstakingly re-create the mid- to late 1800s in their domestic world, down to the precise size and construction of the moldings and the windowpanes.

"I carried around a huge notebook for months, and rode around in a car loaded with samples of wood," says Eileen, who shared not just her husband's vision, but also his commitment to getting things right.

While Bob served as general contractor during construction, Eileen was seeking the right furniture, fabrics, and something less tangible - the feel of an estate home that might have been in the Mid-Atlantic region in the past, but one that could still make a modern family (including four young adult children) happy and comfortable.

So for 19 months starting in 2004, the Kennedys strove to establish the architectural look and feel of another century: elliptical arches, a reception area, 11-foot ceilings, and a stairway with wider stair treads than are seen in modern homes.

They were so attentive to detail that they interrupted construction in an upstairs area when they discovered a decorative vaulted barrel ceiling style that would be historically accurate. Workers started building that area all over again.

"It definitely made the construction longer. It took us a year just to get the precise stone we wanted from a Pennsylvania quarry because Villanova University had first claim on most of it. But it was worth the wait," said a man with a passion for architecture who consistently sought like-minded artisans whenever possible to work on the home.

Bob Kennedy, 56, grew up in a family of 10 children in a Bellmawr home that had three bedrooms, one occupied by his parents. "It was absolutely nothing like this one," he quickly confirms. "My shared bedroom was carved out of a converted hallway."

Eileen, too, came of age in a far more modest home in central New Jersey. She met Bob at college at La Salle College (now University) and the two lived in a tiny apartment in Lindenwold after they married in 1980.

Bob ultimately joined his father in the family business and is now president of Kennedy Companies, a wholesale distributor of underground utility products. That background gave him the expertise and confidence to handle issues in the building of the Moorestown home.

The key to keeping the home livable and family-friendly, Eileen and Bob Kennedy suggest, was to keep things in scale. While spaces are large, they are not overwhelmingly so, and they flow logically: a small paneled library-den and a larger family room fan out on either side of the kitchen/breakfast room, the heart of the home.

Tradition will guide the December calendar. The Kennedys will make their annual trip to see a local production of A Christmas Carol, and to New York's Rockefeller Center to see the tree and the skaters. Peter Nero/Philly Pops' concert is also on the calendar.

"This year, we'll also be hosting the Seven Fishes dinner, something we rotate every year in Bob's family," says Eileen, who is unfazed about presenting that Christmas Eve dinner for over 50. There will be other meals with Eileen's family and close friends.

Most of all, they'll celebrate the simple, profound pleasures of being together in a home they love.

And for Bob and Eileen Kennedy, that's about as good as it gets.