Haven: The Biesters' reimagined retreat in Brigantine

The Biester's Brigantine home. The former one seemed to shrink as the family grew. ED HILLE / Staff Photographer )
The Biester's Brigantine home. The former one seemed to shrink as the family grew. ED HILLE / Staff Photographer )
Posted: July 02, 2012

It was a wonderful seashore cottage in its time.

But as their children grew up, the original Brigantine house that Robert and Cindy Biester bought in 2001 seemed to be shrinking. And initially, they thought about buying a larger place.

"So we looked into other towns, went to see model homes, talked to about 10 builders, and finally realized that Brigantine was where we still wanted to be," says Cindy, a specialist who administers ultrasounds for high-risk pregnant women within the Virtua Health System.

What the Biesters also realized was that the location of the house they had outgrown was just where they wanted to be: "All roads led right back here," she says.

So they opted to raze the house and create a new one they could enjoy now with their three children (teenagers and young adults), then live in as year-round Shore dwellers when they retired.

Big decisions, indeed, but made only after careful deliberation.

"We actually spent three years planning and designing all the details," says Cindy, a meticulous organizer.

"I really left the major decisions to her, but, of course I had veto power, which I seldom used," says Bob, a urologist.

So organized was Cindy that she began talks with Ralph Busco, of Alison Paul Builders, her builder of choice, three years before demolition began.

They have since become good friends. Unlike those all-too-common horror stories about the process of building a house, this match was made in seaside heaven.

The day before Labor Day 2010, after everything was moved into storage, the teardown began.

"It was a little bit sad — we had good times in that house — but it also was fascinating and exciting to watch," Cindy recalls.

And soon, the Biesters' dreams took shape on a very familiar piece of land. This time, they opted for a more-open floor plan, rather than strictly defined rooms; an extra bathroom; strategies to take advantage of maximum daylight and sunsets, and bedrooms at the quietest part of the property.

"Nobody wants to hear the rumble of trash trucks," says Cindy, the master planner.

Thinking ahead, the couple — she is now 49, he is 56 — chose a first-floor master bedroom suite, for when one-story living would be desirable, and a walk-in shower in the master bath.

Also built into the plan: upstairs bedrooms for their children and a second-floor lounge/rec room for the younger generation, furnished with cozy sofas — all of which provide space within their parents' home, but also apart from them.

The resulting house — 3,200 square feet, with every inch strategized — has proved to be exactly what the family was looking for.

"The minute I drive across the causeway, I start to unwind," says Bob. "I step out of one world and step into another. The town is right for us, and the house is right for us."

So precise was the planning that when Bob pushed for a third-floor deck, their builder actually raised the couple in a cherry picker, to locate the deck exactly where it would provide the views they sought.

Cindy has loved repurposing furniture from their original home, but also scooping up bargains at local consignment shops — like the marble-top table she found for the family room, a steal at $25. But she has the pleasure of living with a treasured china hutch that belonged to her late parents, too, and tries to "buy American" whenever possible.

In keeping with the seashore locale is the home's color palette, from soft exterior beige through the warm yellows and blue-greens indoors. Furnishings are charming, cheerful, and definitely not of the "don't touch" variety.

Favorite spaces include a large family room on the first floor, a kitchen with a U-shaped work area that allows for food preparation with elbow room, and a wraparound front porch everybody loves.

Three decks offer the best of breezes, though at various times.

"Each deck has a kind of microclimate of its own," says Bob, noting that as the sun and wind shift, so, too, can the home's occupants. But his sweet spot remains on that third-floor deck, where he can be found with a book and some lovely views of the bay.

Still being in Brigantine is itself a perk. Its proximity to Mount Laurel, where the family's primary home is, means that trips back and forth average about an hour, give or take a few minutes for traffic. And the town's neighbor is Atlantic City, so the Biesters get to enjoy that fabled skyline at night from their quiet little retreat.

"You get the best of both worlds: If you go to Atlantic City, you've got all that glitter and excitement, but then you come home to your own beach community," says Bob. "You can kind of pick and choose the mood you want."

Though Brigantine has become a "hot" property in recent years, the couple knows that the lavish McMansion-style homes now cropping up there are not at all their style.

"What we love about this place is that it's really a home — a family home," says Cindy. "And we're so glad that it's ours."

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