"No way" was Brian Celhar's first reaction in 2008 when he and his wife, Rebecca, were shown the circa 1910 American Foursquare while house-hunting in Moorestown.
"We saw a lot of bad houses, but this was the worst ever," recalled Brian, 41.
He couldn't get past the pink and green carpet, the bathroom door directly behind the refrigerator, and other eyesores.
Rebecca, 38, had a clearer vision. "I was going for something a little more fresh and open but that also held on to the character of a turn-of-the-century home," she said.
She persuaded Brian to buy the 1,800-square-foot house and immediately set out to make it lighter and brighter with a better flow. That involved moving a few walls to expand rooms and add closet space, ripping up the carpet to unveil beautiful hardwood floors, stripping wallpaper, painting most rooms white, and inviting in a DIY TV show to overhaul the kitchen.
After an interior design overhaul, the Celhars love their home, and Brian is amazed at his wife's vision.
"There were all the bones to a good house — a lot of character, four bedrooms for a home office and 2.5 kids," Rebecca recalled, laughing.
Most of the house is white — walls, sofa, bookshelves, accessories — with splashes of accented color. "The couch can be bleached and walls wiped down with Magic Eraser," Rebecca noted.
Chronicling every detail on her home DIY blog, Rebecca is all about making each space comfortable and rich-looking, but on a budget.
Knowing that the kitchen would be an expensive renovation, she set out to find a TV show that would do the work and shoulder some of the expense (the Celhars had to pay for labor). After applying to several shows, she was accepted by the DIY Network's Good, Better….Best.
"The idea of the show was that you got three kitchen designs," she says. "One was good, one was better, and one was the best. I got to describe my dream kitchen, but I didn't get to actually pick anything. Everything was done within 14 days."
Overall, the couple was happy with the finished product, though they did redo certain things, most recently painting the backsplash white. One small section of the earlier version remains, where she first tried peel-and-stick tile but didn't like it and is still working to remove all the adhesive.
Son Finn, 4, and daughter Liev, almost 2, needed to be out of the house for the two days it took to prime and paint the existing tile because of the smell, but "the cost was amazing — just the cost of the paint," she said. "If budget wasn't a factor, I would have gotten a new backsplash. But to save money, that was a great option and ended up working out really well."
The kitchen is the heart of the home, where guests seem to always gravitate. "It's the biggest room with the most access to everything," Brian said.
Rebecca transformed a small room off the kitchen into an adorable playroom, outfitted with an animal-print teepee, large chalkboard with homemade clay letters (DIY), and an array of toys, which keep the kids busy but in ear and eyeshot of the adults.
To fill the space above the half wall separating the playroom from the dining room, Rebecca found an old window at an antiques thrift shop.
The couple met at Moorestown High School, though their three-year age difference meant they didn't often interact. At a New Year's Eve 2003 party in Philadelphia, they connected, though drama among his friends kept her skeptical. When he asked for her number, she said no, but he tricked her to get it anyway.
"He said there was something wrong with his phone and asked me to call it to see if it was working," she recalled, though now she can't believe she fell for it.
They married in 2008, and with both their families in Moorestown, they chose to live close to home. "I had such a great experience growing up here. I wanted my kids to have the same opportunities," Rebecca said.
Because the house is small and their guest list large — at times more than 20 extended family members — parties often spill out onto the home's side deck or expansive backyard. "That's another reason we bought the house," Rebecca said. "The backyard is so deep that if we decide to stay here, we can add on."
In the meantime, she keeps her décor fresh with DIY projects. "There are just so many easy ways to revamp your home and fall in love with it all over again," Rebecca said.