Berks County “Gothic revival farmhouse…” in the Reading Eagle

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The enigmatic cottage caught the eye of its owner when he was still a boy and living on his family’s Oley Valley farm.
“It was such interesting-looking house,” he said. “I always liked it.”
But the retired physician, who modestly declined to be identified, didn’t buy the house and settle in his native valley until many years later.
Drawn from his roots, he studied, practiced and taught medicine in and around Chicago.
“But my family is still here,” he said. “And I knew I wanted to retire in this area, so I would have someone to squirt WD-40 on my walker.”
In 2001, during a visit with family, he noticed the country cottage was for sale and seized the opportunity. Less than a week later, it was his.
Built in the 1860s for Charles Breneiser, a wealthy Reading cigar manufacturer and self-made man, the cottage was used as a tenant house and, perhaps, a hunting or guest lodge.
Breneiser bought large tracts of land in the vicinity, with estimates of more than 500 acres. The hillside northwest of the cottage, long ago part of the Penn family reserve, is labeled “Breneiser’s Woods” on old maps.
Breneiser helped organize the Oley Turnpike Co. in 1862 and transformed the nearby Ritter farm into the gentleman’s estate subsequently owned by Judge H. Robert E. Mays, who served Berks County for 31 years until his death in 1969.
The Gothic revival-style details of Breneiser’s revamped farmhouse match those of the cottage. And a friend pointed out similarities between the period plantings at the farmhouse and the cottage.
The doctor carefully prunes the legacy lilacs and other aged shrubs at the cottage to encourage blooming and is frequently found weeding and planting in his garden.
“I discovered there is only about an inch of topsoil here,” he said. “Last year I spent two days planting 100 daffodil bulbs, breaking through the rocky soil with a pickax.”
His greatest gardening success has been with summer-blooming day lilies, black-eyed Susans and lamb’s ears.
“I don’t think you can kill them,” he said, laughing.
The gardens creatively enhance a stone retaining wall built when the cottage was enlarged in 2006.
“When I bought the house, I thought I could live in four rooms and continue getting upstairs even at the age of 88,” he said.
He soon realized that was impractical. He needed more space for favorite furniture, books and collections, and he wanted to plan ahead for old age and one-story living. More importantly, he wanted more room for entertaining friends and family.
“A good-size screen porch is very important,” he said. “That was a stipulation of my friends and family when they heard I was adding on.”
With the help of Lancaster architect Richard Levengood, who also grew up in the vicinity, a compatible addition was designed for the diminutive house.
Before beginning, the doctor measured his furniture, made cutouts and used them to determine the configuration of the rooms.
“I ended up adding a couple feet to the north to accommodate the furniture,” he said.
The new open floor plan, which includes a great room with combination family room, kitchen and dining area, complements the more intimate parlor and dining room of the original house.
Books spill from the custom-built library stacks in the parlor to fill every available nook and cranny in the spacious addition.
Sunlight streams through a bank of windows providing natural lighting for a custom computer station and study area.
Opposite, a cushioned window seat the doctor calls “my afternoon stretch-out place” takes advantage of the same sun-warmed space.
Instead of cabinets, the kitchen features open shelves for easy access to dishes and crockery.
Additional shelves built into the kitchen island are laden with cookbooks.
“I had a flirtation with the Barefoot Contessa,” he said. “But lately I rely on Julia Child. She takes your hand, guides you through the recipe, and it ends up tasting great.”
He enjoys cooking for others and hosting friends and family.
Guests feel at ease in the casual atmosphere of the addition, gathering at the long dining table for hearty meals or sprawling around the stone hearth for wine and conversation.
Family, especially, feels welcome and at home here.
His sister-in-law even made the custom draperies and selected the upholstery for the comfortable cottage-style furniture.
His young grandnephews begged camping rights to a rustic outbuilding tucked in the woods behind the cottage.
And if the need ever arises, they’ll be ready with the WD-40.
Michelle Napoletano Lynch is a former editor of the Historical Society of Berks County’s Review. She is a partner with Susan Speros in a Berks-based historic preservation and research consulting firm. Contact her at Berksgal@live.com.

Kreider & Diller Article

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Kreider and Diller Builders, Inc. is one of the premier Lancaster County second-generation companies, with the third generation currently “learning the ropes” and dedicated to their role as full service builders. Kreider and Diller has a devoted team ready to design and build any project from space planning, interior and exterior planning and execution to initial site layout through the final punch list. New commercial construction, renovation and adaptive-reuse comprise approximately 50% of the organization’s volume. Churches, restaurants, banks, fire companies, apartment buildings, clubhouses, student housing, retirement housing, shopping centers, offices and historic restoration are among the variety of projects the company enjoys completing for its clients.

Recently, Kreider and Diller Builders, Inc. received the award for the Whole House Remodel Division V. The project was the renovation of 900 square feet of existing space and adding another 900 square feet of new space. A complete makeover of the exterior was done, including a new entryway and a cover over the front porch. The kitchen renovation included removing the rear wall of the existing breakfast area to open up the area to the new breakfast/sunroom space that replaced the existing screened porch. A new screened porch was added to replace the existing deck at the rear of the family room. The stairway to the bonus room above the garage was removed to add the new mudroom/powder room in the garage area. Double doors were added the rear of the garage leading to the flagstone porch covered by a pergola. A covered porch was constructed between the pergola and screened porch to accommodate the hot tub. The entire exterior of the house was upgraded with a new architectural shingle roof, new cement lap siding, new soffit, fascia and gutters and new stone veneer. The brick was painted to match the siding, new shutters were installed and new flagstone patios were created. The HVAC system was replaced by a new high-efficiency heat pump, zoned to provide controlled temperatures for the sunroom and, the balance of the first floor as well as zone one on the second floor. A second unit was added to handle the new second floor master bath, walk-in closet, dressing area and office. The property owners were delighted with their “new residence” and commented, “meeting the guys at Kreider & Diller was like hitting a home run. They were there for us every step of the way … I ended up going from loving what they suggested to absolutely loving what they did.”

The well-oiled system at Kreider & Diller Builders, Inc. that produces these results did not occur overnight.  The company was established in 1959, by a partnership formed by Arthur Kreider and Donald Diller, Sr. after both gained valuable experience working for another quality contractor. Their small business prospered engaging in mostly residential construction and remodeling.  The company grew to the point of incorporating in 1964, becoming Kreider and Diller, Inc. and expanded to include commercial construction.

In 1983, Donald Diller, Jr. bought the business and changed the name to Kreider and Diller Builders, Inc. The love of the business was instilled in Don as he worked as a construction laborer during the summers and studied architectural drafting at Willow Street Vo-Tech. Don gained additional hands-on experience while working in the company’s office full-time after high school. This is how he learned the “nuts and bolts” of what it takes to operate a construction business. With this background, he successfully took over the management of the company and continues maintaining its reputation for high quality, personal and professional competence.

Winning a major award in the Remodeling Awards of Excellence with the BIA of Lancaster County this year is not an unusual feat for Kreider and Diller Builders, Inc. Fine quality workmanship and attention to detail have won Kreider and Diller Builders awards in the Building Industry Association of Lancaster County’s Renaissance and Parade of Homes events many times.  Their projects have also won numerous C. Emlen Urban Awards for preservation and adaptive reuse as presented by the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County. The company believes every project in every price range deserves the best quality materials and craftsmanship that is available.

Kreider and Diller Builders, Inc. realize that when clients make a decision to remodel or build they not only consider their needs, but also need to consider the investment. Kreider and Diller believe in their ability to maximize the investment return on dollars spent by their clients. Kreider and Diller tout 40 years plus of building experience, work with clients’ designs or design for the client, catch problems and solve them before they begin, make full use of exterior space on the lot and capitalize on the view and lighting advantages of the placement, help plan interior space to incorporate every aspect of the client’s desire, attend to small details that take the home from “average” to breathtaking, manage the construction with the client’s budget in mind and finish the job on time and within budget.

Hundreds of central Pennsylvania families and business owners call on Kreider and Diller Builders for their construction design and renovation needs. Kreider and Diller remodels and renovates residences as well as commercial buildings. They provide free estimates and consultations, provide space planning that ensures efficient use of every inch of space, provide interior and exterior planning and produce custom millwork in their shop.

Some recent noteworthy Kreider and Diller Builders, Inc. projects include Lancaster Newspapers restoration of storefronts to historical accuracy on two Lancaster Newspapers properties on West King St. in downtown Lancaster. Millersville Bible Church was completely remodeled in the former Youth for Christ building near New Danville in Lancaster County. Kreider and Diller worked with the church’s architect to create a new sanctuary, multipurpose room, kitchen, classrooms and offices. Kreider and Diller offered complete design/build services to combine an addition with substantial interior renovations, including the addition of an ADA accessible elevator for the new AAA of Lancaster County facility at James and Prince Streets in downtown Lancaster. Manos Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Services, Inc. chose Kreider and Diller as general contractor for the huge challenge of completely renovating and restoring a former “crack house” next to its facility on South Prince St. in Lancaster City. This formerly blighted property has been completely restored to historic splendor and is an effective facility. The Manos House project was awarded the C. Emlen Urban Award for outstanding preservation efforts. In 1998, by winning a competitive bid, Kreider and Diller was awarded the first phase of a four-phase project to build new off-campus housing for Millersville University students. The first phase involved construction of three new 5,000 sq. ft. buildings and cosmetic renovations to three existing buildings.

Kreider and Diller Builders, Inc. are members of the BIA of Lancaster County, the Remodelers Council, the Pennsylvania Builders Association, National Association of Home Builders, Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County, Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

For additional information, visit their website www.kdbuilders.com.

When Linda talks about her family’s newly renovated Hempfield Township home, she minces no words about her impressions of Lancaster-based Kreider & Diller Builders: “They were first class, all the way.”

To illustrate her point, she quickly recites numerous examples of their premium quality of work, from Kreider & Diller’s meticulous attention to details (even details that Linda and her husband, Rich, couldn’t see) to the upfront planning that was given to the project. “We knew exactly what we were getting from the beginning—consideration of our needs that was consistently above and beyond.” Linda and Rich discovered Kreider & Diller through Rich’s company as they were going through a bidding process to find a builder to add to their footprint. Though the company’s project was put on hold due to economic factors, Rich had such a favorable impression of Kreider & Diller Builders that he immediately called the owner, Don Diller, to discuss his residential construction needs.

“Meeting the guys at Kreider & Diller was like hitting a home run,” laughs Rich. “They were there for us every step of the way… I ended up going from loving what they suggested to absolutely loving what they did!”

Linda and Rich started their renovation journey as many couples do. They were new to the experience and thus spent a great deal of time weighing their options. “We loved where we are located,” explains Rich. “We considered building somewhere else or moving to a different home, but we liked it here. We liked the neighborhood.  So we felt that investing in our current property made sense.”

“We started going to open houses and looking in publications,” adds Linda.  “We needed ideas and possibilities.”

Their issues with the house they’d lived in since 2000 were wide-ranging, but not insurmountable.

▪▪ There wasn’t enough natural sunlight inside the home, causing it to feel unnecessarily cramped and dark.

▪▪ The entrances (both back and front) led directly into living space. When their children ran in and out, they inevitably brought dirt with them.

▪▪ The family’s hot tub was relegated to a corner of the garage, as it had no specific niche outside.

▪▪ The porch in the back of the house was nothing short of dilapidated.  Consequently, no one could enjoy it.

▪▪ The master bath and master closet were crammed into an attic truss space.

Before the design phase began, Kreider and Diller sought assistance from the Lancaster engineering firm of David Miller Associates to review and identify potential flood plain issues. The report was favorable for the project to move forward.

To help the couple begin to envision how a renovation could completely change the flow and feel of their residence, Kreider & Diller brought in Kevin Bollinger, Principal, Quality Design & Drafting Services. Explains Don Diller, “Kevin and his team did all the design and engineering work to make the project a reality. Their creativity in making space where no space previously existed was ‘thinking beyond the box.’”

Rich couldn’t agree more. “We had tried working with a previous architect, but it wasn’t a good fit. Don brought Kevin over to our house for a walk-through. During his visit, he asked numerous questions. Linda and I shared with him the articles and pictures from magazines that illustrated what we wanted. He was then able to turn all that information into a very appealing design.”  Bollinger created photo-realistic, three-dimensional views to better demonstrate how the house would change when 900 square feet of the existing space was renovated and 900 square feet was added.

Notes Rich, “I am very much into detail.  They put so much care into everything, right down to presenting us with Quality Design and Drafting’s 3D examples. Kreider & Diller’s and Kevin’s philosophy of doing business and work ethic matches my own. They worked extremely well together… and with us.”

Through the six months of construction that ensued, that Kreider & Diller characteristic was evident morning, noon and evening. Though they were without a kitchen for half the time, the family lived in the home during the majority of the project. That meant daily interactions with the Kreider & Diller team, all of which were positive and friendly. And despite one of their children’s asthma, Linda and Rich report that there were no problems (including complications with dust) beyond normal, minor inconveniences associated with renovations.

Besides, no matter what, Linda resolved to have a good attitude throughout the adventure. “I said to myself, ‘I’m not getting stressed out’ about this. And I didn’t,” she says with a grin.

Linda’s high spirits and optimism paid off in the end; today, the couple’s home is a livable showpiece with a number of attractive, and functional, attributes.

At the heart of the redesign is the kitchen, living area and sizable breakfast nook. These spaces beckon family members and visitors to relax, especially with the richly hued African Sapele Mahogany flooring.  Arched entryways and columns gracefully echo a theme of contemporary traditionalism. Neutrals, shades of light blue and generally warm tones add welcoming touches of charm and nostalgia.

The screened-in porch is no longer falling to pieces; in fact, it’s the centerpiece of many impromptu family and friend gatherings. Using a unique method of embedding the screen material into the cellular pvc frames, the room feels as if it’s actually outside. Thus, the intrinsic beauty of the creek side backyard is essentially brought directly into the porch. “We wanted this room to be our focal point, and it is,” notes Rich. Adds Linda, “This is our ‘ahhhhhhh’ room… the kids absolutely love it!”

Off the formal living space are a mudroom and bath, ideal for shoes, boots, backpacks, coats and the like. A catch-all, this room serves its functional purpose well and keeps the rest of the house free from unnecessary debris without limiting the youthful freedom of Linda and Rich’s children and their friends. There’s also a sentimental touch to this area; above the doorway is a piece of support beam from Rich’s grandfather’s 19th century home which is inscribed with his grandfather’s favorite quote:  “Excelsior! Climb though the rocks be rugged.”

Upstairs, Linda and Rich have a master bath that’s downright spa-like. The roomy space boasts a double vanity, private toilet area, whirlpool tub and an open steam shower. Next to the master bath are spacious, plush-carpeted his and hers walk-in closets and a bonus room which is destined to become Rich’s at-home office.

At the back of the house, the hot tub now has its own special niche.  And at the front of the home, a new ThermaTru fiberglass door and portico greet guests. The entire exterior of the house was upgraded with an architectural shingle roof, cement lap siding, stone veneer, shutters, flagstone patios and more. To finish the effect, Brad Groff of River Valley Landscapes & Pools incorporated flora to enhance the finished project.

In order to heat and cool the home efficiently, Kreider & Diller re-zoned the old HVAC unit and added a separate one to address the additional space created by the renovation.

Don is proud of the work his company has done. He also appreciates Linda and Rich’s down-to-earth attitudes about the process.  “They were so easy to get along with,” he says.  “They made decisions on time and kept the project moving. It’s so satisfying to see the results of such a major transformation.”

As with all projects, there have been some unintended—but wonderful—outcomes. For Linda and Rich, one of the most rewarding is the way their children have responded to the experience. “I definitely think they treat the home more respectfully,” states Linda.  “They know—as do we—that it’s something special.”
 
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