Story by Rob Swenson
LANCASTER, PA. – Details matter in restoration work, especially when a historic home is being remodeled. So David Rader typically begins design work by reviewing old records.
“The one thing I really like to do, when customers are open to it, is to spend time researching and finding as much information about a house as possible,” he says. “Then you can work forward.”
Rader sells kitchen cabinets made by Showplace Wood Products and two other companies through Lasher & Associates in Pennsylvania and New York. He also does design work on the side. When friends Stacey and Lois Rawlings asked him for help in extensively remodeling a vacant but potentially elegant farmhouse they had purchased, Rader headed to the courthouse to research property records.
Lancaster is a city of about 60,000 residents in south-central Pennsylvania. It’s the home of James Buchanan, the nation’s 15th president, and part of a region rich in U.S. history.
Although the brick house acquired by the Rawlings had been built about 1875, records dated the overall property back to at least the mid-1700s. The property included the house, which hadn’t been occupied for several years and needed a lot of work, plus two barns and a garage. The buildings sat on about 10 acres of land.
The Rawlings, whose active household included three teenagers, sought Rader’s help in remodeling the kitchen. They wanted to update the kitchen but also preserve some of the historic look and feel of the room. “What we wanted to do in the renovation was reflect some of the time period,” Stacey Rawlings said.
Property records provided some interesting and useful insights to complement Rader’s observational skills. Early in its existence, the kitchen area had featured a large fireplace for cooking and an elevated tub that held rain water. That was about it. Through the years, features such as modern plumbing and appliances had been added. A stove had been moved into the fireplace area, for example. Laminate countertops that appeared to be at least 30 years old would have to be replaced to give the kitchen the desired look.
Changes that had been made in the kitchen over time reflected historic and social trends as well as a chain of ownership that once included at least one well-known local family. At one point, the house apparently had a detached summer kitchen, also known as a servants’ quarters. But the two structures had been linked by a hallway, probably in the early 1900s. That presented one of the initial challenges for the homeowners and Rader.
Rader suggested that a wall separating the two parts of the kitchen be demolished to create a bigger, more open kitchen area, and the Rawlings liked the idea. Removing the wall more clearly exposed another issue: The floor was not level. There was more than a 4-inch difference in the height of the floor from one part of the expanded kitchen to the other.
The upside of tearing out and replacing the old floor was that the Rawlings got the opportunity to install new plumbing and electrical infrastructure, including radiant floor heat.
The entire kitchen area essentially had to be stripped down to the shell and rebuilt, Rader and Rawlings said. Stacey Rawlings did a lot of the demolition work himself, and seeing parts of the house get torn apart was difficult for him and other family members. Conversely, seeing the new kitchen come together was exciting. The new, bigger kitchen area is roughly 22 feet by 30 feet.
To give the kitchen the desired look while also providing modern convenience, Rader suggested using a semi-custom line of inset-style, oak cabinets from Showplace Wood Products, a respected national brand. Inset cabinetry is built in a way so that the door fits within the face of the frame. “Showplace just has superior products, and they best fit the need,” Rader said.
Rader showed the Rawlings samples of the cabinets, which are manufactured by Showplace in a plant at its headquarters in Harrisburg, S.D. The Rawlings agreed that inset cabinets with decorative, finial hinges were a good fit, and an order for cabinets and moldings was placed with Jemson Cabinetry in Ephrata, Pa.
“A major renovation was going on in the rest of the house – all new electric, water, sewer. We needed to stay on schedule, and the cabinets arrived on the exact day they said they would, and it all fit, which was remarkable,” Stacey Rawlings said. “When it was all installed we said, ‘Wow. That’s amazing!”
The old countertops were replaced with soapstone, a product that has been available since the 1800s. When treated with a small amount of mineral oil, chalky grey soapstone turns into a beautiful, dark stone with white veining, Rader pointed. The Rawlings also had custom-made windows installed to complement the historic design of their house.
Work on the kitchen and the rest of the house is finished. The Rawlings have moved on to restoring other buildings on the property.
Scott Korsten, director of marketing at Showplace, got an opportunity to tour the Rawlings’ restored home while on a business trip in the region. Although the family had only recently moved in, they graciously agreed to show their house, including the kitchen area and the newly installed Showplace cabinets, Korsten said.
“The fact that our cabinets can be custom-built to fit exacting spaces was especially important in the remodel of this historic property”
“It was especially gratifying to see how well our cabinetry fit their goal of maintaining the historic appeal of the home. The fact that our cabinets can be custom-built to fit exacting spaces was especially important in the remodel of this historic property,” he said.
Assisting with the remodeling was an especially satisfying project for Rader. He appreciated what the Rawlings wanted to accomplish and that they were open to his suggestions. “It was a pretty special project,” he said.
The extensive remodeling of the kitchen was a positive experience for the Rawlings, too. “I would and have recommended Showplace to other people. It was a great experience,” Stacey Rawlings said. “We are enjoying the kitchen and the cabinetry.”