Remodeling a house – top to bottom – is a daunting undertaking. Do it three times – to the same house no less – and people will no doubt begin to question your sanity. “I get it,” says homeowner Nathan Mountain. “To be honest, I would never do this again,” he adds, referring to the latest remodeling efforts. Or, would he … after all, Nathan, who owns Mountain Realty ERA Powered, lives by the mantra, “Everything has potential.”
Nathan and his partner, Glenn Taylor, maintain the nightmares they had to deal with are now but a distant memory. After all, they now have their dream home. Indeed, it’s the sort of property that one could come home to on a Friday night and not leave until Monday morning. It’s beautiful, comfortable and welcoming all rolled into one design.
The saga began in the late ’90s, when Nathan successfully negotiated the sale of a foreclosed property he had always admired in West Hempfield Township. The house (a Four Over Four, aka Pennsylvania German Double Door Farmhouse), barns and outbuildings had once been part of a large tobacco farm. Nathan learned that its owner sold it in order to finance his children’s college educations. Since then, the last vestige of the expansive property, a farmette, had fallen into disrepair.
In 1998, the property was his. Nathan was now the owner of a house that had been thoroughly trashed and had no running water. Outdoors, everything was overgrown. The barns and outbuildings had seen better days. “It was a mess,” he says. It was time to put the carpentry skills he inherited from his father to use. He spent the next year “gutting everything” in the house and building a large addition that contained an open-concept kitchen, living room and breakfast room on the first floor and a primary suite on the second. “People would stop and thank me for saving the property,” he recalls.
For the second go-around in 2013 – this time with Glenn – the layout was tweaked to include a new kitchen and a refaced fireplace in the living room. They removed all the carpet on the upper level and replaced it with reclaimed pine floors. Another addition was built that would hold a much larger dining room. Nathan and Glenn also refinished the original pumpkin-pine floors themselves. “Those floorboards were over 100 years old,” he recalls. What began as a 2,000-square-foot house had grown into 5,000 square feet.
The third installment of remodeling began innocently enough. It was spring 2018. The roof was showing its age and Nathan and Glenn decided to replace it with a metal one. The contractor had removed all the shingles and covered the roof with synthetic tar paper.
One afternoon, a ferocious storm tore through the area. “The rain blew through the paper and under the boards,” Nathan recalls. All he and Glenn could do was watch torrents of water pour down through the interior of the house. Glenn compares the deluge to waterfalls. Ceilings came crashing down under the weight of the water. Walls collapsed. The floors became water-logged. Seals broke on the windows. Furniture was destroyed. The only elements that survived were the slate floor and the stone wall in the newly completed dining room addition. Other than that, “everything was ruined,” Nathan says. “The insurance company considered it a catastrophe. We came very close to having it declared condemned.”
ServiceMaster arrived and broke the news that the two had no choice but to vacate the premises, as the house was uninhabitable. So, they packed up their two dogs and birds and took up residence at the Eden Resort & Suites for the next six weeks. “That wasn’t going to work for the long term,” Glenn explains of having to face the reality that they would be out of the house for an undetermined amount of time.
Fortunately, a former employee at Mountain Realty knew someone who owned a converted barn in the Centerville area. Nathan and Glenn worked out a lease and took up residence in the barn for what turned out to be nearly two years. “We loved living there,” Glenn adds. “We were able to make it our own. It felt like home.”
With the question of where they would live in the interim solved, Nathan and Glenn began to look at the rebuilding process from a new perspective. Because the entire house had to be gutted, creating their dream home became their goal.
For example, Nathan, who is the consummate cook and baker, had always felt restricted by the parameters of the kitchen. He went to work designing his dream kitchen with the staff at Rojahn Custom Cabinetry in Dallastown, York County. The resulting custom design is twice the size of the previous kitchen and includes two large multi-functional islands. “We do a lot of entertaining, so a large kitchen was essential,” he says.
They also were able to eliminate the traffic jam that always occurred in the kitchen area by moving the back-door entrance so that guests now enter into a more foyer-like area – located between the kitchen and dining room – that includes a powder room and coat closet.
The front rooms of the original farmhouse were also addressed. The first remodel saw the area become dedicated to a dining room, an office and what essentially became a catch-all room. “It really didn’t work,” says Glenn of the divided spaces that were really too small for their intended purposes. Now it’s a wide open space that does triple duty as a sitting area, office and display area for Glenn’s expansive collection of nutcrackers. A fireplace adds to the ambiance.
Nathan also was given the opportunity to replace the staircase he never liked with a design of his own.
Upstairs, the ceilings in the guest rooms were vaulted in order to make them look more spacious and feel more welcoming. “I always wanted to do that,” Nathan says.
Fireplaces throughout the house were also enlarged.
Nathan and Glenn also took green living into consideration. “All the insulation had to be removed and we replaced it with foam,” Nathan notes. “We also tried to recycle what we could.” Unfortunately, the pumpkin-pine floors could not be salvaged. However, original floor boards – circa 1900 – were able to be saved and were used on the ceilings. Original beams taken from the floors were transformed into fireplace mantles. The floors were replaced with rough-cut white pine that was milled in New England and installed using square-head nails and a tongue-oil finish.
Being only 15 minutes away allowed Nathan and Glenn to visit the house and check on progress several times a week. Finally, the day they had been looking forward to arrived and Nathan and Glenn were able to return to their home in summer 2020.
Since then, they’ve directed their attention to the barns and outbuildings. What had been a corn crib and wagon shed is now a garage. The milk house has been transformed into an orchid house and potting shed. Nathan and Glenn are both avid gardeners and have transformed the beds and gardens into works of art with help from Kelsey Skworch at Tudbink’s in Conestoga. “We overwinter a lot of our larger plants at Tudbink’s,” Glenn notes. Plans call for transforming another barn into a party barn, complete with a theatre, kitchen and wine cellar. The third barn is being eyed as a gym. Another item on their wish list is a greenhouse.
Nathan and Glenn’s home is also known for its seasonal décor. By seasonal, I’m referring to every holiday on the calendar. The house is decorated inside and out. Fall kicks off with a back-to-school motif (Glenn is a former teacher), which is replaced by Halloween on October 1 and then transitions to Thanksgiving in early November. Christmas, which features eight themed trees indoors and four outdoors, takes over in early December and transitions to Winter in early January. Valentine’s and St. Patrick’s days provide the inspiration for February and March’s décor. Spring and Easter get their due in April and May, after which Memorial Day and Fourth of July are saluted. As for the decorations, the two are always on the hunt for the unusual. Their latest acquisition is a Columbia Wagon they spied at an antiques store in Columbia. Their pride and joy is a sleigh circa 1700s. “When in doubt, there’s always Amazon!” Glenn says.
The two also pull out all the stops for entertaining. “We love to host birthday parties for our friends and family,” Glenn says. Mention a theme and they are all in, planning the menu, choosing florals and setting the table. “We just enjoy having people here,” Nathan adds. “Oh, and the dogs have a birthday party every year,” he says of their two bulldogs.
Nathan and Glenn’s parents, who live out of the area, are frequent visitors. “We have all the holiday dinners here,” says Nathan, who plans the menu and prepares the feasts. For Thanksgiving, the menu always includes a traditional turkey, stuffing and his grandmother’s cranberry salad.
Dozens upon dozens of pumpkins, gourds, plants and finds decorate the porches and patios in October and November. Nathan and Glenn are always on the lookout for decorative items (for all the holidays) during their travels and name antiques shops as a favorite source. “When in doubt, there’s always Amazon!” Glenn says of the turkey feathers he found on the website that can change a Halloween pumpkin into a Thanksgiving turkey.
With the pandemic in our rearview mirrors, family and friends will be arriving for holiday reunions and to see the sights. Is your guest room ready to welcome them?
The guest room. Often it’s that catch-all room whose door is kept closed. During the pandemic it became your home office or escape room. The question is, would you want to sleep in that room? According to several lifestyle gurus, that’s where you need to start in order to create a welcoming guest room – spend a night in your own guest room and see how you feel the next morning. Take note of the comfort factors. Has the mattress seen better days? Do the blinds/drapes provide adequate privacy and filter out the early-morning light? Can you hear conversations, a TV or music from another room? Is there adequate storage space for your clothing? You might be surprised by how unwelcoming your guest room is. If that’s the case, it’s time to remedy the situation.
1. Delete. Furnish the room with only the necessities: a bed, a night table(s), a dresser, a comfy chair (or two) and a bench for luggage (empty the top of the desk and it can do double-duty). Everything else can go.
2. Welcome. You know what they say: a fresh coat of paint is the most cost-effective way to change the look or mood of a room. Maybe it’s time to bid adieu to that shade of ’80s mauve and go with a soothing coastal color. In this post-pandemic era, it’s probably a good idea to purchase bed and bath linens expressly for this room. Also, if the mattress is “iffy,” a plush mattress pad might atone for that.
3. Isn’t That Special. Stock the bathroom with heavenly soaps and soothing creams/lotions. Be sure to provide a water glass and bottled water so that meds can be taken in privacy. Fill a basket with necessities (that might have been forgotten) such as tissues, toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, hair products, etc. Add a plant (or two) or a vase of fresh flowers to the room. Provide extra blankets and pillows.
4. Give Them Space. Nothing is more frustrating than opening the closet only to find it stuffed with clothing, sporting goods, seasonal decorations … Or, there’s plenty of space for your items but there are no hangers. Ditto for dressers; make a drawer or two available. Living out of a suitcase is not fun!
5. Let Us Entertain You. A TV and reading material are always appreciated. A basket filled with snacks would also be hospitable. (Don’t forget a wastebasket.)
6. Tech. Check. Be sure to leave an outlet free (and easily accessible) for recharging devices. Place a note in the room (maybe beside the TV) that lists the WiFi code and instructions for operating the TV and remote.
7. Let There be Light. Nothing is more frustrating when you’re about to doze off than having to get out of bed to turn off an overhead light. Top the night table with a lamp. A nightlight that leads the way to the bathroom is a thoughtful addition.
After working in the restaurant industry and owning a retail shop, Nathan Mountain took Realtor Marilyn Berger’s advice and became a real estate agent in 2001. Nathan, who has owned Mountain Realty ERA Powered for the last 10 years, offers his observations on where the market stands.
It’s said that opportunity knocks but once. In Nathan’s case, he was fortunate to be given the opportunity to become associated with the ERA Realty Group the second time the offer was extended. The first time the offer was made was when Nathan was associated with Castellum Realty. Now, as the owner of his own company, Nathan saw the advantage of becoming associated with a nationwide company. “We’re powered by ERA,” he says of taking advantage of such services as training programs and expanding social media and Internet reach. The merger became official in the fall of 2021. “It’s gone really well,” Nathan reports. “We’re looking for a larger office in Lancaster and the goal is to open offices in York, Reading and Maryland.” Currently, 21 agents – many of whom are bilingual – are associated with Mountain Realty ERA Powered. Glenn serves as the company’s administrative assistant.
While the market has cooled somewhat, Nathan reports that buyers are still on the hunt and with the baby boomers downsizing – according to Nathan, 55+ communities are the hottest thing in the housing market – real estate is still sizzling. “The last two years have been crazy,” he says of the housing market. “Buyers were offering sellers all kinds of incentives – sports tickets, vacations, dinner at an expensive restaurant – to get sales done. Now, with interest rates going up, the market has calmed down somewhat. More negotiating is taking place.” According to Nathan, time will tell whether or not houses continue to sell within an average of two weeks on the market and close within 30 to 60 days. “It’s still a seller’s market,” he declared in mid-September.
Whether you’re a buyer or a seller, Nathan has advice to make the process go as smoothly as possible.
Sellers: Nathan stresses that it’s imperative that you put your “best foot forward” and make certain that your home “presents well.” That means eliminating clutter – “clutter equates to small,” he says – as well as cleaning (thoroughly) and making repairs. “Today’s buyers are looking for move-in-ready homes,” he notes. Curb appeal is also critical. “Paint your front door,” he says, noting that a freshly painted door makes that all-important first impression. “People notice things like that.”
Buyers: Nathan says that buyers should by all means shop with pre-approved mortgage commitments in their pockets. “One advantage to that is often times you can get a guaranteed rate lock,” he says of the fact that interest rates are on the rise. “And, shop around; everyone has different programs.” He also encourages buyers to deal with local mortgage brokers. “The local brokers have access to nationally recognized companies and programs,” he points out.
For more information, visit eramountainrealty.com.