The phone call came in the middle of dinner, and just a simple sentence was said: "I think I've found your house."
That was in 1986, and Frank and Dottie Giordano, then living in Cherry Hill, were in their 10th year of searching for a home in Moorestown. The Giordanos were determined - it had to be a special house in a town where they wanted their children in school.
Something in the real estate agent's voice gave them a sense that perhaps their search was finally over, and they headed to the address that night.
Upon seeing the brick Georgian colonial with its front columns and portico, there was, indeed, a this-is-it feeling.
"Fifteen minutes later, I knew that we'd finally come home," says Frank.
Built in 1901, the house has three floors, six fireplaces, a grand staircase, and a prominence - with its sloping lawns and permanent gazebo, it sits on a corner of Main Street - that has made it a local landmark. It was once such an expansive estate it had polo grounds.
But when Christmastime comes, the home's stature grows even greater. Family members gather ("Our adult married kids alternate Thanksgiving with their other families, but Christmas," says Dottie, "is ours"), and so do friends.
For more than a decade, Frank and Dottie hosted an annual place-themed Christmas Eve party - Hong Kong, Venice, Hawaii, Paris, London - that began, simply, with inviting just a few neighbors for a small gathering and that expanded to include more than 150 guests.
Like Hollywood on Oscar night, the arriving cars pulled up en masse, guests in themed attire. When the theme was Scotland, the request was for guests to wear a touch of plaid. Bagpipers greeted people as they arrived, and the menu was a nod to the region.
For Christmas Eve in Venice, a gondola was parked on the Giordanos' front lawn and guests celebrated at a masked ball. In Hong Kong, Dottie wore a kimono and sought the help of a prominent Asian chef for the menu. London prompted Victorian decorations.
And always, before the evening ended, there was carol-singing around the piano in the foyer, where wooden soldiers stand as sentries. "We moved the piano into the foyer years ago and decided to keep it there," Frank says. "Singing around it always makes parties wonderful and special."
No matter the year, the decorating starts with two trees that go up in early December. One, which is formal, sits in the living room with its pewter-colored walls, off-white textured sofas, and a cushioned window seat. On that tree, the Giordanos place ornaments like the tiny teapot they discovered in London, and other treasures from travel and family history.
In a casual family room off the kitchen, with floral motifs and a garden feel, is the "family tree," decked out with the three Giordano children's early art projects and, now, photos of the next generation of Giordanos: two baby granddaughters.
In recent years, as their own commitments grew, the couple have simplified holiday life. Frank serves as president and chief executive officer of the Philly Pops, is heavily involved in the Union League, and is president and chief executive officer of a family trailer-leasing business in Shamong, Burlington County, begun by his family in 1949.
Dottie supports the Coriell Institute, Camden's famous science research facility; Opera Philadelphia; and Philadelphia's Studio Incamminati art school.
So time for the couple is a precious commodity.
Still, the Giordanos continue to open their home to causes they support, including throwing a champagne-and-dessert event for the West Jersey Chamber Music Society, parties that celebrate the efforts of the Mann Center for the Performing Arts, and July pig roasts for Frank's Union League Club.
The home provides a stately backdrop, but it also reflects the Giordanos' sense of whimsy and fun. Frank has been an avid collector of unusual martini glasses, and a built-in corner cabinet in the dining room brims with his finds. On another wall, in the study, there's a giant portrait of a gorilla that's hard to miss. "Frank fell in love with it," Dottie says, "and it has a permanent place with us now."
Some years back, Frank bought a ceramic frog that seemed to reflect his family status: It was a papa frog, with three little ones on its back.
"People, including our own kids, instantly figured I'd become a collector of frogs," he said. Now, frogs of all sizes and descriptions rest on shelves, tables, and other surfaces, especially in the wood-paneled study with its well-used rolltop desk and books.
In the same room, a Union League stained-glass plaque hangs side by side with the photograph of Frank and his friend U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
A favorite space for Dottie is the dining room, which she loved at first sight in 1986. For the holidays, the table is set with Christmas china, candles are everywhere, and rows of poinsettias flank the windows that overlook the back lawns, which these days cover 21/2 manicured acres.
In any season, even in this grand home, the kitchen is its heart and soul. The design was inspired by Frank's "two-stepper philosophy," Dottie says, which means in an efficient kitchen, nothing should be more than two steps out of reach.
A hand-painted country-style table and chairs provide an informal eating area, and the original pantry still acts as workhorse, especially during big parties.
On Christmas Day, though, the Giordanos are strict with their guest list - only immediate family. Everyone gathers for brunch, pajamas permitted, and gifts are opened in stages in the living room. By midafternoon, there's a snack, followed by a dress-up dinner in the dining room.
The day never ends without some singing.