After Mike Swank and Rachel Bucher Swank refinished the hardwood floors in their home and rehabbed their kitchen, they finally could take a break.
“’This is so nice. There’s no more work to do,’” Rachel recalls. “And Mike was like, ‘I’m bored. Let’s buy a farm.’ ”
It wasn’t just any farm. Rachel’s parents were ready to retire. She and Mike aren’t farmers, but Rachel saw the importance of preserving the space for future generations. Mike likes the country and tackling projects.
So while the timing wasn’t perfect, they purchased the 118-acre farm. In less than a year, Mike and Rachel updated the 185-year-old home, mainly on their own. The farmhouse now has modern upgrades like a dishwasher and private bedrooms. It still has details from the past and stories to share with the fourth generation: their daughters Annika, 7, and Quinn, 2.
‘Once in a lifetime’ chance
Rachel grew up in the farmhouse and Mike grew up about a mile away. The two went to Annville-Cleona schools where she was into music and he was into sports. They didn’t cross paths until they later went on a blind date. They got married on the property in 2010. Rachel’s now a seventh grade music teacher at Manheim Township School District and Mike’s a civil engineer who’s part of the team at Byler Holdings.
The couple renovated a home in Annville before deciding to buy Rachel’s family farm. The farmhouse there was built in 1833 by Daniel and Elizabeth Siegrest. Rachel’s grandparents, Leroy and Sara Bucher, bought the property in 1957 and ran a dairy farm. Her parents, Stan and Cindy Bucher, took over the farm in 1977. When they were ready to retire, Mike and Rachel both saw the property’s potential.
“How do we preserve this for a future generation, whether we stay here five years or 50 years,” says Rachel, who wouldn’t mind living overseas again.
The home was still a place for the extended family to gather.
“I think we also knew if we didn’t buy it, we were never going to have the chance at it again.” Rachel says. “It was a once in a lifetime chance to have. If my parents had sold it, there was no way we were going to be able to afford it five years from now.”
The couple spent eight months renovating the home before moving in with a toddler and a newborn. The house is about 5,000 square feet with one-third of the space in a separate apartment that’s rented.
Rachel handled a lot of the design, fixtures and materials. Mike handled tasks from demolition to rewiring, often putting in hours at night after dinner.
They brought in professionals to handle things like plumbing, drywall finishing, flooring and the replacement windows.
Downstairs, the damaged pine flooring was replaced with white oak hardwood by Premier Hardwood Restorations, Palmyra. They peeled away wallpaper and then Dale L. Kreider Construction, of Lawn, skim-coated the walls to make a surface smooth enough to paint.
The kitchen saw the biggest overhaul. In 1968, Rachel’s grandparents added cabinets that are still sturdy. A budget-friendly update added hidden hinges (drilled by a local cabinet company), white paint plus new hardware. Mike cut out cabinet space to install a microwave and dishwasher.
New countertops are an eco-friendly material made with recycled glass and seashells.
A stamped white Corian backsplash from Henry H. Ross & Son in Lititz gives the look of subway tile without the mess and discoloration of grout.
A new layout upstairs
Upstairs, a new layout transformed the space. The area used to have four bedrooms and a bathroom. To get to the back rooms, you needed to walk through the front rooms. At one point, the tenants in the apartment shared the bathroom.
To add some privacy, Mike and Rachel removed one bedroom and added a hallway. Each bedroom now has just one door. That opened up space to add a laundry room and second bathroom.
To frame the new bedroom doors, Mike added molding found in the attic and garage. Ginder’s Wood Specialties in Lititz matched the trim to make the missing pieces.
Pocket doors in the laundry and new bathroom save space in the hallway. The doors to these new rooms have some history. They were found in the attic. At some point, Rachel and Mike would like to refinish them but that’s one of the projects that can wait.
There’s also an outdoor bake oven they’d like to repair and bake bread and pizza. The front porch needs some work. The barn could use some new siding and the outbuildings could take a new coat of paint.
In the meantime, there’s a less-involved project almost finished. A tarp on a field near the creek is prepped to become an ice skating rink.
They’ll have even more memories on the rink once the temperatures drop.