Many remodelers have a project that stands out in their minds, whether for the story behind the project, challenges overcome along the way, or a notable part of the final result. For Dale Ressler, owner of the Elizabethtown, Pa., location of DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen, a kitchen remodel of a historic home in Bainbridge, Pa., has all three.
Ressler’s family has a special connection to the 1880s-era farmhouse where the renovation occurred: The property borders the farm where his father grew up and is across the road from the former one-room schoolhouse his father attended. “It’s just kind of a unique thing,” Ressler says. “As I was working there, I felt that I was really working in history in a lot of ways.”
To bring history up to modern standards and restore the home to a single-family layout after previous owners divided it into three apartment units, an almost total demolition of the interior was necessary. The homeowners took everything “down to the original stone walls,” Ressler says, which meant they were starting with a blank slate. So Ressler broke the project down into two phases: He first worked with the homeowners to design their dream kitchen and then built the space to fit. “We probably went backward from conventional thinking,” he admits, “but it felt like it was the smartest way based on what we had in front of us.”
Starting from scratch meant considerable options but also considerable work—especially due to the age of the building. “There’s just nothing flat, straight, plumb, or level,” Ressler says. “There’s only so much you can do to make plumb and level when it’s an old structure like that, so our focus became more about flat.”
His team had to level the ceiling, a process that took a few tries after they discovered that their original plan of laying 2x4s across and flattening with a shim would make the space too tight to fit cabinets around the clients’ oversized refrigerator. The challenge was amplified by the fact that work on the floors entailed installing several layers, including a heat map underneath the new tile. Ressler decided to sister in new beams alongside the existing joists, a more time-consuming but ultimately more successful approach. The team also needed to reframe the exterior wall to accommodate cabinetry and install all new wiring, insulation, and drywall.
From there, Ressler worked with the homeowners to create an appealing and functional space. The client is an avid cook and canner, so ample storage and counter space were priorities, Ressler says. He created a large island as the main prep area; a long galley-style wall behind it holds the cabinets and the appliances, with a 48-inch gas stove as the centerpiece.
Many of the final choices, including the light colors and natural finishes, were requested by the client to recall the kitchen her mother, who had passed away a few years previously, had at her beach house. “It’s always interesting to me what is behind a customer’s desire, because we all have motivations that way,” Ressler notes.
Though the palette was inspired by the beach, a key feature keeps it connected to its rural surroundings: an original interior stone wall, which Ressler brought in a stone mason to professionally clean and reseal. That wall, he says, is his favorite part of the finished project. “The kitchen would be a beautiful kitchen without it, but when you step back and you look at the whole thing with the stone wall, that incorporates the history.”