An intense hunt led home

A couple looked at 80 houses before being charmed by one in Glendora, N.J.

Posted: September 10, 2012

On their way to the Glendora, Gloucester Township, home they live in and love, Colleen and Mark Grady looked at 80 houses. Yes, they kept count.

And on the day they found their home, they were about to take a serious second look at a place nearby. But there happened to be an open house at this one.

"It was in April 2007," recalls Colleen, 42, a native of Saskatchewan, Canada, and the longtime costume designer at the Walnut Street Theatre. "We'd lived in downtown Philadelphia and then in Oaklyn, N.J., and we were definitely ready to settle into the right home."

The house Colleen and Mark bought that day five years ago was built in 1927. Mark, who is the master electrician for the Walnut Street Theatre and a man who knows construction, loved its plaster walls. Colleen, with her penchant for interior design, saw an opportunity to dive in and fill its rooms with pieces she loved. And they both knew the house, with its huge side yard, had "good bones."

Today, the Glendora house is a place that requires not just a second look, but at least a third, to take in all its charms. Though the couple did nothing to change its footprint, they have painstakingly added personality to every room and indulged their joint passion for things elderly, quirky, and unique - sometimes at bargain prices.

Mark, 33, did some of the grunt work. He built the kitchen's island, replaced most of the doors, and reconstructed a front porch.

"But the kitchen tile-grouting project was the hardest thing I've ever done, and I'd never do that again," he says emphatically.

Colleen, who admits to a certain fanaticism about getting colors right, was in charge of painting - and often repainting - areas that needed brightening and lightening. In one memorable instance, near the entrance and stair wall, there were about a half-dozen changes of heart, with the final felicitous result a soft buff color.

But the Gradys left it to professionals to install a sweep of warm oak floors throughout the downstairs, giving the house both unity and grace. They delightedly preserved such original details as an exposed brick wall in the kitchen and vintage bathrooms.

Providing most of the charm are antiques, including some Colleen inherited from her parents, who died two years ago within months of each other.

"Just having their things around me is a comfort," she says.

Her mother's old sewing machine and cedar chest occupy an upstairs room, with Colleen's christening dress hanging nearby. Her architect father's elegant watercolors are now in prominent places. And resting on an antique school desk in a hallway is a license plate from her home province that also happens to come from the year Colleen was born.

Stained-glass windows, including one Mark gave Colleen on a recent Valentine's Day, coexist with old props from the Walnut Street Theatre and from the set of the film The Happening.

Around every corner is something unexpected: fabric hanging from hooks on old shelves; a working 1918 Victrola, once in the home of an RCA executive (an anniversary gift from and to each other); antique silver plates on a kitchen wall; a crocheted framed piece bearing the name Grady (a wedding gift from a friend).

Antique apple-tree ladders are display pieces for favorite accessories. A handsome antique mantel rests against an upstairs wall - no matter that there is no fireplace there. And an antique kerosene heater is on standby.

Then there are the pillows Colleen loves, heaped on beds in upstairs bedrooms and used liberally to soften life - and home.

Leaded-glass windows and old implements, some from the Walnut Street Theatre, mix with pieces from HomeGoods and the Dump.

"We love bargains!" exclaims the costume designer, who has a trained eye for the unique.

Her finds for the dining room include a sturdy oak table that can easily accommodate 10, with Amish chairs, and a chest that might have come from an Amish barn but was actually found new at a local discount store.

"Colleen gathers things and makes them work, and luckily, we both have the collector genes," says Mark, a Texas native.

A favorite hangout for the couple's three dogs, gentlemen Foster and Ben and spirited Katie, is the side yard where the Gradys have created a retreat, complete with Adirondack-style chairs and an old baby bathtub that serves as a distinctive flower pot - or ice holder - when they entertain.

As night falls, the trees in the couple's yard become nocturnal showpieces. Mark has outlined them in blue and amber lights that add a magical quality to the property. Enjoying the glow on a recent evening were Foster, Ben, and Katie, frolicking in their illuminated playground.

"They have a pretty good life here," says Mark.

And here, where creativity and imagination reign, so do the homeowners. Stenciled on an upstairs wall is a motto by which they live:

"Wake every morning with the thought that something wonderful is about to happen."

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