Jamie and Paul Martin restored their second Moorestown estate to its former glory – with modern touches.

open_DMH6787“Only Jamie!”

Those are the two words Paul Martin picks to explain how he and his wife Jamie chose to devote two years to the rehabilitation of a crumbling estate in Moorestown – and how they survived the experience.

The expression – “Only Jamie” – describes the indefatigable and spirited woman who saw that property with a friend. Initially, they didn’t see it as a home for either of them, but as a potential tear-down for new construction.

But once Jamie stepped inside and saw the remnants of a once-beautiful home, she couldn’t imagine not preserving it. “Tearing it down just felt horrible,” she says, “like a really terrible thing to do.”

So instead, Jamie convinced Paul they should buy it. That was back in 2007.

Today that house, once almost hidden from view by its overgrown shrubs and dying trees, has been transformed into a showplace. It took pluck, determination, commitment and reverence for a bygone era. It also took Jamie, who basic-ally made it her magnificent obsession.

Paul and Jamie Martin met on a blind date, and instead of a romance blooming, a business partnership did. That partnership was based on their mutual commitment to fitness and health, and soon they were running a business dedicated to those pillars of their lives.

Despite the early vibe – all business – what soon emerged was a romance and, in 1993, they married. Paul tends to be the anchor for Jamie’s always-soaring spirit, and together they produce the kind of synergy – and stability – that keeps their lively domestic ship afloat.

kitchen_DMH6668But there was one departure from their usual pattern of shared decisions, both as business and marriage partners.

After Jamie moved to South Jersey from Philadelphia, where she had lived during her physical therapy training at Thomas Jefferson University, the couple settled into a new house in Mount Laurel. There, they developed their physical therapy and sports services company. They soon welcomed a daughter and son.

But Paul, who grew up in Moorestown, was hoping to move back there someday. That day came when he spotted a house on the east side of town. He looked at it, recognized it needed considerable updating and additional space, and bought it anyway.

On his own. Jamie never saw the house before the purchase was made, and she was pretty upset. But she has long since forgiven her husband, who admits he messed up on that one.

Let’s call that Round One.

sunroom_DMH6736The family could not move in right away because this older home, vintage 1920s, was in need of a massive makeover that included adding an entire new back section. They stayed in temporary quarters in Mount Laurel and Moorestown from 1998 to 2000, when they finally moved in.

It was a milestone in more than one way. On the day they finally arrived with the moving truck, their then-toddler son Alexander had a brief conference with the burly movers. “Don’t bring in the cwib,” he told them. And that night he graduated to a big-boy bed.

For the next 10 years, the Martins enjoyed the fruits of their labors in a house that had the charm and grace they sought, but also had modern amenities. And that might have been that. But down the street from that house was the one Jamie and her friend had eyed. The one she couldn’t get out of her mind.

On to Round Two.

The house the Martins now occupy dates back to 1917 and was named, for reasons that are unclear, “Robinwood.”

It was built by the Allen family,  whose patriarch Samuel Allen invented the Flexible Flyer sled. Samuel Allen and his wife were the great-grandparents of Sam Allen, husband of State Senator Diane Allen. A tile depicting the Flexible Flyer lives on in one of the home’s six fireplaces.

What the Martins undertook in the original Allen estate made their earlier project seem a bit like child’s play. The house was clearly uninhabitable, so during the rehabilitation, the Martins were wanderers, renting and staying with friends because their house down the street had sold quickly.

stairway_dmh6658The huge renovation was started by a general contractor, but it was so complex and difficult he left the assignment. That’s when practical and handy Jamie stepped up to the plate, acting as general contractor herself as she supervised the various sub-contractors who had a hand in the massive indoor-outdoor renovation.

Paul readily admits that his wife is the one with the interest, drive and yes, the skills. “She’s unstoppable,” he says.

Case in point: the first floor of the massive home had been divided, over the years, into many small rooms. The exact thing a 21st-century family with two teenagers did not need. An early decision was made to transform that space into a modern kitchen and cozy family room.

Vast improvements had to be made on all of the home’s systems, from HVAC and electrical to shoring up some parts of the foundation.

With Paul already involved in a national business venture as founder and president of Martin Healthcare Advisors, a company that specializes in guiding mergers, acquisitions and exit strategies for healthcare businesses, Jamie was center stage.
“I think if I were working as hard as I am now, I might never have undertaken redoing a house,” Jamie admits. “But it was during a time when I was not as involved in work outside our home.” Today, Jamie is a partner at Strive Physical Therapy, where she often puts in 50-hour weeks.

But her days as the overall point person for the home project, a period that stretched over two years, knew no hours. It was alternately thrilling and trying, exciting and distressing, to modernize a nearly century-old home without tampering with its basic integrity and uniqueness.

One of its many challenges: light.

Dark beams and dark woodwork, along with light-stealing shrubs, had robbed the house of its cheer. By lightening the beams in the living room to a soft off-white, the overall atmosphere changed in that very special room.

living-room_DMH6697Today its inherent grace is highlighted by cozy sofas facing one another, a spectacular mid-grand piano, classic tables and timeless accessories. The walls are pale gray, and the floor is covered by an Oriental carpet in muted tones. There’s even a touch of whimsy – a throw pillow simply reads “Relax,” and another pillow, a nod to daughter Gabrielle who attends Lehigh University, reads “It’s Hard to be Humble when you’re from Lehigh.”

Enhanced by tasteful period pieces, the living room is inviting and warm.

An ideal example: a charmingly simple sampler framed on a living room wall is perfectly combined with formal art.

Spectacular stained-glass windows in a magnificent palette of lavenders and pale greens adorn the dining room. Their preservation was a critical decision made early. Both Paul and Jamie made a commitment to maintain the features in the house that honor its era, and that bank of windows above a built-in curved, window seat was high on that list.

A handsome round table encourages social interaction at gatherings. It can extend to comfortably seat 12.

Modern life is not complete without a home office. In the Martins’ case, it’s a shared space, one used by Jamie, 17-year-old Alexander and Gabrielle, when she is home from college.

lightA grand staircase in the foyer leads to a second floor that once housed eight small bedrooms, reduced now to five.

Jamie and Paul staked out a large, sunny suite, which they decorated in a lush, pale palette, and turned a “sleeping porch” into an expansive closet. “It’s the best of both worlds,” Paul says. “We love the old charm of this place, but we also love comfort.”

Ask Alexander about his favorite part of a house with so many wonderful spaces and he doesn’t miss a beat. It’s the third floor of the Martin home, which has been transformed into what they affectionately call “the loft.” Where squirrels once frolicked – one even jumped in one window and out another when the couple was giving a tour of the house, pre-renovation – there is now ideal space to kick back.

“It’s been especially great for the kids – away from us but under our roof, and just a perfect bonus space,” Paul says. “Sometimes, the generations need a little separate time.”

master-bath_DMH6741Jamie and Paul’s rambling house is often the site of memorable parties and fundraisers. This month, the home is a highlight on the annual Cooks Tour of Holiday Homes sponsored by Virtua Memorial Auxiliaries.

Summertime allows for pool time. The home is believed to have the oldest pool in Moorestown. It has been modernized, and the grounds around it have also been brought to life with some hard work and a little help from the Moorestown High School football team.

“We asked those kids to give us a hand,” says Jamie, who can’t rave enough about how these brawny guys helped with the extensive project. And yes, they got pool privileges.

While sharing the historic home with others is always a pleasure, Jamie and Paul see it as a haven for a busy family. “Sure, there were about 150,000 times when we were a bit overwhelmed,” Jamie admits. “From removing the dead animals that were our ‘guests’ when we got here to removing the asbestos from the pipes, it was a pretty huge project. But the more we did, the more the house came alive and opened its arms to us.”

December 2014
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