Haven: Warm cottage is perfect fit

The cottage's exterior, with its prominent front porch, meant love at first sight for owner Susan Schroeder.

Back in August 2007, when Susan Schroeder went to look at a home in Hainesport, she got out of her car, took one look at the front porch, and told the Realtor there was no need to go inside.

"That porch did it for me - it just felt like this was the place I'd been searching for," Schroeder says of that life-changing moment.

She did go inside, of course, and was delighted by what she saw in the Craftsman-style cottage: It was in pristine condition, and a prior history-buff owner had painstakingly chronicled its past, right down to the colors of the rooms.

"It felt like I knew the house before I had lived in it," says Schroeder, who had always dreamed of a home of her own. When she showed the place to her father, Jim Schroeder, former longtime mayor of Plumsted Township, N.J., he shared her enthusiasm.

"That was reassuring - Dad has good judgment, and it's wonderful to know that he's nearby," she says.

Schroeder, 57, has been an adventurer, leaving South Jersey in her 20s to see some of the world.

"I guess I'm pretty strong and independent, and because I grew up as a country kid, I'm used to being by myself."

Still, being close to her roots - and close to her office in Moorestown, where Schroeder is longtime administrative assistant for the New Jersey Education Association - is a plus.

"I like the fact that this area is still mostly rural. I don't have to deal with turnpikes or major highways between work and home," she says.

As for the house itself, Schroeder was drawn to architectural details from the era in which it was built, probably between 1919 and 1921, when its builder created a kind of colony of cottages.

The exterior appearance has changed very little since then. The home's written history suggests that one minor change is evident from old pictures: The original pale-yellow paint was replaced by a charming white with green trim around 1938.

Scalloped striped awnings, part of the original exterior, make an appearance in spring and summer, and sometimes into fall.

The property's original garage was presumably built to house a Model T-sized car, but has been replaced by a more updated version, complete with workshop.

Schroeder is delighted that the original floor plan remains largely intact, with a living room at the front of the house, a dining room opposite, and a kitchen at the back.

One mystery she has not yet solved is why what we would call a pantry was designated as a "cooking room," despite no evidence of extensive plumbing or heavy-duty electricity.

Today, a working kitchen with a sassy black-and-white tile floor is efficient for the 21st century, and the "cooking room" has morphed into pantry space.

The wood flooring, redone in 1959, is in remarkably good condition.

You can't be in this home long without noting the leading decorative theme: Turtles are everywhere, Schroeder's passion since childhood. A large specimen welcomes visitors on the outdoor porch, smaller turtles climb the stairs, and around every corner, on tables and shelves, turtles are in evidence. The collector long ago lost count.

Another unmistakable part of the home's charm is its color palette, with rich, warm cranberry tones on walls and wallpaper borders adding cheer.

Upstairs, Schroeder chose a cooler color scheme for her bedroom: a mix of soft blues and greens.

In another upstairs room are family photos, including some of her late mother that are especially precious.

Among the possessions Schroeder cherishes is a painting done from a photograph of the house's exterior and given to her by her work colleagues. It hangs on the stair wall and is a daily reminder of her pride and pleasure in the place she loves.

Sure, like most homeowners, there are things yet on her wish list. She would love to have a sunroom as an extension of the kitchen, and someday, central air-conditioning. But those can wait.

"This is where I want to be, the place I really love to return to every day."

A simple sign on a living room wall says it all in a single word:

"Home!"

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