When something in life isn’t working out, sometimes you have to try a new direction.
Bill and Kim Martin learned that lesson quite literally about five years ago when they got their hearts set on purchasing the old railroad freight depot on Water Street in Lititz and turning it into their home.
The Martins, along with others in Lititz, made numerous attempts to save the 1921 brick building, but in the end Norfolk Southern deemed the depot unsafe and had it torn down.
“We were heartbroken,” Bill says. “Every couple of days we drove down past (the depot) because there was a contract with the demolition company. ... One day, we decided to turn left on North Lane and thought, ‘What is this?’ ”
“This” was a lifeless, two-story brick building between Water and Locust streets. Its windows were boarded up and it was nothing to look at, but the Martins saw possibilities.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the North Lane building originally housed a bustling early 20th-century factory, where Lititz resident Milton Weitzel breathed new life into discarded second-hand flour bags.
Now, a century later, with that one unexpected left turn, the Martins had found a new home to capture their hearts, and the old bag factory found its own new lease on life.
Fulfilling a dream
Fast forward five years and the Martins are now living in that once-downtrodden old factory, only it’s now a bright and spacious homage to its industrial past — exposed original ductwork, white-washed ceiling joists and brick walls combined with a healthy dose of charm and character.
The Martins are no strangers to designing a dream home, whether for themselves or others. Bill has had a lifelong career in the building industry and is currently the architectural designer for Alden Homes.
The couple built their five previous homes themselves from the ground up, including an 18th-century Victorian inspired by trips to Colonial Williamsburg that was authentic right down to the summer kitchen fireplace.
More than a decade ago, the Martins, who are the parents of four and grandparents of five, decided that once they were empty-nesters they wanted to move into Lititz Borough.
“The quaintness of Lititz was something we always liked,” Bill says.
They were looking at older homes to restore when they came upon the railroad depot, and then the property on North Lane, which in later years had served as a furniture factory and machine shop. When the Martins discovered it, the building housed excavation equipment.
“We liked the character and the backyard,” Kim says, referring to the peaceful, shaded outdoor retreat that extends to Lititz Run. “I’m a private person. I like to be secluded away and be in town.”
Two other features drew them to the North Lane property: the towering 9-foot mahogany double front doors and, in the backyard, a massive 4-by-11-foot stone-slab table cut from the side of a mountain in Cornwall.
The Martins may have been sold on the property, but there was still the little matter of convincing the owner to sell.
Over the ensuing months, they struck up a friendship with the owner and soon discovered they had a shared vision for the building — to honor its history and transform it into a home.
“We were willing to restore it and make it into a home, which was her plan,” Kim says. “We were willing to follow her dreams.”
A true DIY
To say the transformation of 325 North Lane began with a blank canvas would be an understatement.
Once the excavation equipment was removed, the Martins were left with two totally empty floors. “No bathrooms, nothing,” Bill says. “Nothing, nothing, nothing.”
Not even indoor stairs to get from the first floor to the second. For that feat, they used rickety wooden stairs on the outside of the building, which Bill has since replaced with metal stairs from a salvage yard.
They bought the house in April 2015 and soon after began living in a camper in the backyard until they could make the second floor inhabitable with a makeshift kitchen. They completed the living area and kitchen on the main floor in November of that year, just in time for Thanksgiving dinner.
Today, the home is a reflection of the Martins’ practicality, creativity and ingenuity.
While the foyer still has the first floor’s original 12.5-foot ceilings, the Martins raised the rest of the main living area by 3.5 feet to make the home cozier and to bring the windows to a more comfortable height.
An interior staircase now wraps around a small powder room installed in the foyer and leads to the main living area, where another set of stairs leads to the second floor.
Bill bought wood from an Amish barn builder to create the open-tread staircase. He designed the industrial-style metal railing from PVC piping.
“It would look corny in a new house, but it works,” he says. “Our styles have changed so much. What’s nice about this (house) is we can mix modern, urban, industrial. It all plays well together.”
So along with the barn wood, PVC piping, lights strung from cables and the vintage red Challenger bicycle hanging from the foyer ceiling, you’ll find a thoroughly modern kitchen in the Martin home, featuring a sleek chimney range hood, chrome cabinet and drawer pulls, and a walk-in pantry with double glass doors.
The main-floor great room includes a built-in desk and cabinetry, and a European-style, wood-burning fireplace they found on Craigslist.
“We burn that thing almost every evening,” Bill says. “I’m a nut for wood-burning fireplaces. I love to see stacked wood. It’s all natural art.”
The second floor features an office area and two bedrooms, including the master suite, where exposed rafters reveal an 8-foot ceiling fan. Past meets present literally in the master bath, where Bill installed a modern glass-enclosed shower in a corner, right up against the original exposed brick wall. The bath also includes a large, free-standing tub and a space-saving floating double vanity. The Martins also added a large walk-in closet to the master suite.
For as much work as the couple put into the home’s interior, they count the home’s backyard as one of their favorite features.
“We’re blessed with outdoor living,” Bill says. They hosted their youngest son’s wedding in the backyard this summer, and the setting is just right for entertaining the “grandbabies.”
Where there once was only pebble stones, the Martins created a two-level patio. The upper level, with an entrance to the kitchen, is concrete that they treated with acid and stain to make it appear aged. Bill also built a free-standing fireplace from cement blocks covered in stucco. The Martins hope to eventually enclose that portion of the patio to create a three-season room.
The lower patio features man-made flagstone and that large table the Martins fell in love with when they first saw the property.
Other than landscaping, the couple changed very little on the exterior.
“Outside, we didn’t have to do anything but put windows in,” Bill says. “It had its own character and charm.”
They now have to replace the slate roof with a more budget-friendly standing seam metal roof. And they did add a few extras — a driveway made from cobblestones that once paved Philadelphia streets (another Craigslist find) and a very modern glass garage door. One more mix of old and new.
And just for fun: a 100-foot working air hose on a reel mounted next to the garage door, along with a sign for “free air.” Stop by any time if your tires are low.
So, has this home journey that began at an old train depot reached its final destination?
“A brick building is timeless,” Bill says.
That may be so, but they’ve also recently purchased a lot on North Broad Street.
Only time will tell.