Rick and Kathy Hoff fell in love with Haddonfield right after they got married.
The couple - both grew up in Berlin, but they didn't meet until a Rutgers University Halloween party - rented an apartment over a storefront on Kings Highway while Rick Hoff, now 36, clerked for a Camden judge and Kathy Hoff, now 35, worked as a nurse at the former West Jersey Hospital. They liked the quaint downtown, the shady trees, the small-town feel.
Even when they bought in a Berlin development, they had Haddonfield on their minds - and let people know they were looking. What they found was a small, oddly shaped lot with a bungalow. They tore that down and in its place built a pretty, blue, four-bedroom, 21/2-bath house that is smaller than what they had in Berlin, but has the charm and space they were looking for.
"By the time you found a house with four bedrooms, you were buying a house that was 100 years old, and they're difficult to maintain," said Rick Hoff, a real estate lawyer with Flaster/Greenberg P.C., of Cherry Hill.
The Hoffs learned about the property, a narrow yet deep lot, through a friend last year. The sale almost did not go through because they had a difficult time selling their Berlin home. They had even taken down the "For Sale" sign when someone knocked on the door and made an offer.
While Tim Schaeffer Communities, a custom-home builder, worked on their new house, the Hoffs rented a place nearby so their daughters could start school in Haddonfield. They moved in a week before Christmas.
The lot's odd dimensions - 50 feet wide by 175 to 185 feet deep - presented a major challenge. The couple's first resource was not an architect, though. They created an outline of their new house at Houseplans.com, which offers nearly 30,000 designs.
"It was the genesis of the house," Rick Hoff said.
They plotted out the house and a detached one-car garage, then ordered the plans and hired an architect to tweak the layout. They wanted the house to fit into Haddonfield, known for its historic properties, yet be modern inside, with wide doorways and plenty of closet space.
They made sure they would have a formal dining room, but nixed a formal living room in favor of a study and play area for Hannah, 9; Julia, 8; Kevin, 3; and Max, their 2-year-old puggle dog. (The playroom can be converted into a first-floor bedroom someday.)
Outside, the house does not look very different from its neighbors. The mahogany front porch is ringed by a white railing that matches the detailed white trim around the rest of the building.
Inside, the Hoffs used a mix of long-lasting and recyclable materials. Downstairs, Bruce premium hardwood flooring was installed because they liked its worn look and durability - Kevin uses the front hallway as a drag strip for his toy cars and trucks. In the family room, they leave the hardwood exposed except for a small rug, so it needs to stand up to shoes, children, and playthings. Carpeting made of recycled materials covers the stairs and floors in the upstairs bedrooms.
Hannah and Julia decorated their rooms. Julia chose taffy-pink walls and a rock-star-themed bedspread to go with pictures of the Jonas Brothers. Hannah opted for plum-purple walls with purple and pink polka dots to match her polka-dot comforter.
Kevin's room, a dark tan, has his favorite things decaled onto the walls: cars, and a picture of Spider-Man.
Kathy Hoff's favorite part of the property is the backyard, which is deep and shaded by old trees. She and her husband can sit on a porch and watch the children play on a recently added swing set.
They plan to put in a garden behind the garage that will serve two functions: As well as being aesthetically pleasing, it will suck up water. Another feature already in place combats flooding: All the gutters on the house and the garage drain into a dry well, which serves as an underground basin that redistributes water so it does not accumulate.
Work on the house is not complete yet. The dining room and master bedrooms are still unpainted, and the attic space is unfinished. But a white fence now encloses the yard, so Max can run free and the children can play without Kathy Hoff's worrying that anyone will wander off.
Leaving Berlin was not an easy decision for the couple. Rick Hoff's best friend lived two doors away from their former home, and both of their families still live in the area.
"We knew everybody," Kathy Hoff said.
But their Haddonfield house is just a short trip from Rick Hoff's office in Cherry Hill, and they like walking downtown to Gracie's for ice cream.
It's virtually what they dreamed of for their family from that first above-the-store Haddonfield apartment.