There are so many houses in the world that you're unlikely to land as a grown-up in the place you called home as a child. But that's precisely what happened to family-medicine specialist Ben Blank, who now occupies the house his parents built, where he and his three siblings lived until they scattered to college and young adulthood.
It's there, on a heavily treed street in Moorestown, where Susie Blank, a family medicine specialist as well as Ben's wife, will celebrate Mother's Day. Fortunately, she loves the house she heard so much about back when she and Ben met during their first year at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. They married as they went into their residencies.
When they were a young couple looking for space large enough to accommodate the four kids they dreamed of having, the thought was to redo an old Victorian. Then along came an opportunity that would change everything.
In 1983, Ben's parents, by then empty-nesters, had sold their two-story custom-built dream house and moved within Moorestown to a rancher they designed. And that might have been that.
But in the randomness of fate, Sarah Blank, Ben's mother, by chance met the owners of her former home and learned it was about to be listed for sale.
"She rushed home and called us," recalls Susie. "And we were definitely interested."
"I had wonderful memories of the home, and Susie fell in love with it, too, especially when she saw the bedroom I had grown up in," says Ben.
Susie's first impression: "It was a very warm, beautiful, livable house where I could easily see raising our kids." Even though it meant waiting a full year until the sellers were ready to move.
This Mother's Day, that house is filled with their four sons — Max, 17; Nick, 15; Harry, 13; and Remy, 12 — along with three beloved dogs.
"The biggest adjustment for me, was to move into my parents' master bedroom," Ben says. "That really felt weird."
Though the property itself had been changed little by three previous owners when the second generation of Blanks moved into it in 2002, inevitably some things were different. The bones of the house were the same, however, with lots of open spaces, a soaring spiral staircase, an elegant formal dining room and living room, and lots of more casual spaces, including a first-floor family room with the warmth that rustic wood paneling brings.
"It took us years," Susie says, "but we finally redid the kitchen last summer." In homage to his late father, who did so much handiwork himself, Ben spent long hours tearing down walls and readying the space for a totally functional, beautiful kitchen. One of its highlights is a set of barn doors Ben made to enclose storage space. A huge granite counter provides the perfect space for family meals.
Susie is particularly pleased with the copper-clad sink, and adjoining the kitchen is another of her favorite spots: the garden room the elder Blanks created, which still serves as a casual gathering space adjoining the kitchen.
"I think we both wanted to preserve what was Ben's original home, but also make it truly our own," says Susie.
Unchanged is an expansive basement recreation room. Past meets present here, too, as the late Dr. Bernard Blank's creations are preserved and cherished: a handsome bar, its parts created from an old Philadelphia pharmacy, and a shoeshine stand. Also in the mix here: an antique barber's chair and, yes, some modern technology/gadgetry.
A personal decision Susie made years ago has particular resonance on Mother's Day: Despite her years of training and residency in family medicine, she chose to be a full-time stay-at-home mom.
"It was not an easy commitment to make, and initially I tried to make part-time arrangements, but that didn't work out," she says. "But with Ben's encouragement, for now I'm doing what feels so right for me. And I feel really blessed."