Elizabeth and Brian Litten, both 44, had lived in a 150-year-old Victorian in Riverton, and then in a modern luxury home in Moorestown. "But as the kids got bigger, the house got smaller," says Elizabeth, an attorney with a Lawrenceville firm.
So the search began for the ideal home for a growing family - the couple have two children, Paige, now 15, and son Graham, 12 - that would suit two busy professionals. Brian, an attorney, is vice president of strategic and external affairs at AmeriHealth New Jersey.
But there was more. The couple also had become avid travelers over the years, sharing a special passion for Italy after two trips there, one in 2002 and one in 2007.
Arguably the most romantic of Italy's provinces, the Tuscany region's rolling hills, rich culture, and homes that magically blend rustic with classical design had taken hold of the Littens.
Finding such a home in Moorestown, a town known for its colonial and Victorian charms, was a stretch.
Yet an Italian-style home already was under construction in Moorestown, created by Philadelphia architect Steve Bonitatibus, founder of Bonitatibus Architects, and third-generation Moorestown custom builder Gub Maines.
Bonitatibus had sketched a home based on Villa Giulia, the country estate outside Rome built for Pope Julius III in the 16th century.
The Littens learned of the unfinished house and expressed interest. Eventually they realized that Maines' late father, Steward Maines, had built the Riverton brick Tudor in which Brian had grown up. "That connection felt meaningful," Brian said. And although the home had begun with another buyer (that person dropped out of the project), there were enough unfinished spaces to enable the Littens to truly make it their own. The house was completed in June 2005.
Step inside the home, located in the small neighborhood carved out of former farmland, and there is an immediate bath of light.
The kitchen the Littens created shows the strongest Tuscan influence. Sunny yellow covers the walls, and the ceiling has white wood milled beams. "On our trip to Tuscany, we actually rented an old farmhouse, and we loved the feel of the kitchen," Elizabeth explains. "We tried to get that in our own home."
An adjoining family room, where the golden walls continue, also has touches of white, including the fireplace wall, a dramatic contrast with an expanse of gleaming wood floors. Plump sofas invite lounging, and sunshine spills from windows and doors overlooking a terrace.
Because love of travel has been an ongoing theme in the lives of the couple, there are reminders of that wanderlust throughout the house.
The dining room, for example, has a decidedly Asian feel. The wedding gift from Elizabeth's sister, a professor of Asian literature, hangs on one of the pale green dining room walls: On delicate rice paper are Chinese symbols spelling out a message about love and commitment.
On an adjacent wall is a photograph of a smiling Vietnamese woman by San Francisco-based photographer Michael McDonell, who has chronicled Vietnamese life for decades.
On an upstairs wall hangs a self-portrait by the late Anthony Quinn, and in Brian's home office, with its handsome desk, is a huge sign in gold leaf that boldly reads "Books Bought and Sold." The couple found it at a New Hope construction site.
Also hanging on their walls is the menu from a restaurant in Scotland, where the Littens honeymooned. An antique map of London turns up in a first-floor powder room. "I like the idea of collecting antique maps from places we've been," says Brian, who also likes to collect wine from those places.
"This is a home that's lived in," Elizabeth said. "We don't even have a large living room because life revolves around the kitchen and family room. It's a lifestyle we love, and which the house allows." I
Sally Friedman is a freelance writer based in Moorestown.