It wasn’t an easy search: more than a year and about 25 houses before Cynthia and Art Guerra found their real estate holy grail.
With the kids gone from the 145-year-old Haddonfield home and maintenance costs piling up, the Guerras were looking for a smaller, newer place convenient to her part-time job at the Haddonfield public library and husband Art’s endodontist practice in Cherry Hill.
“We didn’t want to spend money renovating an older home,” Cynthia says.
But the house also had to be a place where she could indulge her quirky decorating tastes without spending a fortune on renovations and where she could store items for resale on her online Etsy shop.
When she saw the traditional two-story Cherry Hill house in early 2016, “I knew when I walked in that my things would fit. “ The only compromise was lower ceilings than she would have preferred.
Her “things” are eclectic indeed, many harvested from flea markets, estate sales, and, in one case, the curbside a step ahead of the trash collectors. “I’ve always loved flea marketing,” she says. “It’s been a passion with me.
“Many items in our home I made. I love to ‘upcycle’ old grain sacks into pillows and re-upholster ottomans."
“I have what I like," she says. "There are no rules. I call it farmhouse modern. I think of it as curated, not cluttered,” a term that fits with her previous experience in New York museums, including the American Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Fashion at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
When the Guerras bought the home, many renovations had been completed by the previous owners, who had “flipped” it. Cynthia liked the wooded “New England feel” of the ¾-acre property set back from the main road.
“We gutted out the original bath and closets,” she says, “and I reconfigured the space and sourced Facebook marketplace and discount showrooms to save money on fixtures.
“The coffee area/hidden laundry in the kitchen I designed to match the existing kitchen.”
When she was growing up in the Boston suburbs, her father was a cabinetmaker, and she always liked the feel and look of wood. The dining room table is one example, opening out diagonally so the size can be increased without adding sections.
Two themes that recur through the 2,684-square-foot house are multiples of things and items from commercial establishments repurposed into home decorations. In the sitting room, for example, four pre-Samsonite suitcases sit atop one another.
An old factory cart sits in the living room and a box of typewriter ribbon cases with advertising on the tops makes an unusual mosaic. Library card catalog drawers from about 1910 make an offbeat decorating touch, as does a cabinet that originally held printing press letters.
Above the living room fireplace is a “pharmacy” sign that Guerra made herself to look like an antique.
A fireplace is walled off to allow a space to be used as a walk-in closet. A real estate firm sign works well as a wall decoration. A small radio is draped around the neck of a vintage seamstress’ dress form, and an animal-hide rug is in the master bedroom.
The stacking laundry machines in the kitchen are hidden behind an antique sliding door she found on Craigslist. “It was a screen door,” she says, “but I changed the screen to a chalkboard with chalkboard paint and plywood.”
One wall contains floor-to-ceiling paintings by Guerra’s father from age 17 to 97.
But the ultimate scavenging prize in the house is the set of school cubbyholes from the Kingsway Learning Center on Kings Highway, tossed out to the curb.
"I had a Subaru wagon,” Guerra says, “and I was able to fit it in.”