Haven: Polishing a S. Jersey gem in the rough

The master bedroom has dining room furniture - two buffets and a china closet. A plaid spread covers the bed, and cross-stitchings adorn the walls.
The master bedroom has dining room furniture - two buffets and a china closet. A plaid spread covers the bed, and cross-stitchings adorn the walls. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 19, 2014

From the street, the brick Cape Cod appeared rundown, hiding behind an old chain-link fence and an overgrown thicket.

"The outside was really a mess," remembers Tom Leonard, who, with his wife, Kristina, toured the house in February 2007.

Said Kristina: "The house was known in the neighborhood as the 'creepy home.' "

Yet, once inside the corner, four-bedroom dwelling, the couple became smitten with its quaint character and knew this was the house that would be theirs as they started a life together.

Situated in the Tavistock Hills section of Barrington Borough, Camden County, the early-1950s house had been recently renovated, further sealing the deal for the Leonards. The original owners sold the house to a couple in 2006, who, before flipping it to the Leonards, installed new heating and air-conditioning systems, updated the electrical system, and remodeled the kitchen and main bathroom.

Tom and Kristina, who married in July 2012, met online in 2005, after Kristina's friends - with her blessing - registered her on a dating site.

On their first date, the couple, who share a love of islands, beaches, and the sea, went to a marina in Camden, where Tom, an avid boater, bought a 36-foot Pacemaker.

"She was a rough boat that liked the water," he says, gleaming at the memory of the vessel he has since sold.

For years, South Jersey had been home for both Tom and Kristina. During their search for a house, Kristina, 49, wanted to remain close to her job at a Cherry Hill law firm. And the youngest of her two sons, Jesse 14, was still in grade school, which was also nearby. Son Jordan, 23, who is training to be an officer with the Camden County Police Metro Division, also lives with the Leonards.

Tom, on the other hand, has more flexibility, working from home as a project manger for IBM. But Barrington appealed to him, too, with its easy access to pubs and lounges for a quick bite.

"One of our favorite places is the Old Rail Tavern," says Tom, 51, who has a daughter, Alli, 25, and a son, Tommy, 27.

The decor in the Leonards' house reflects a casual boho styling, with lots of collected art, crafts and objects.

"My mom had a house like this," Kristina says, gesturing to the eclectic mix of furnishings from past and present. "I always loved my mom's taste."

The living room is anchored by a cocoa-colored sofa and chair and draped with colorful fabrics. A rustic wooden chest serves as the coffee table. Across the original parquet floor is one of the home's two black-iron gas fireplaces.

Hanging on the wall are cross-stitchings crafted by Kristina's mother. A vintage sled built in 1931 by Tom's grandfather also hangs nearby.

White cabinets and appliances surround the kitchen. Tom, who's been known to handle a few tools, built the island from an old farm table and trimmed the room with a chair rail. He also built the side deck three years ago.

You'd never know it to look at it, but the first-floor master bedroom has been decorated with dining room furniture - two buffets and a china closet Kristina kept from the first house she owned 30 years ago. An orange-and-yellow plaid spread sweeps the bed, and more of her mother's cross-stitchings adorn the walls.

An antique church pew, a storage bin from the old Bell Telephone Co., brass plates, decorative mirrors, a braided rug, and Americana stars are more samples of the folkloric whimsy decorating the remaining bedrooms and the three bathrooms.

Tom also renovated the lower level into a cozy family room, with a flat-screen TV and another gas fireplace. It is where the couple lovingly hosts "crockpot Sundays," when family and friends gather for feasts of meatballs, stuffed shells, or chili.

Down a hallway lined with family pictures is Tom's office, where a shelf holds his collection of straw hats - his most recent is from a trip to Jamaica.

What of the wild foliage that was part of the Leonards' first impression of the house? It's long gone, except for one tree.

"Soon after we moved in, we had a tree company rip out about 15 trees and shrubs and the ivy," Tom says.

"I told them to save the holly. I'm glad we did. It looks pretty out there."

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