Building on the Past
By David A. Kostival
Reading Eagle Correspondent
Residents of Shillington always have been aware of the large, century-old former silk mill on Catherine Street.
But recently, some of those people may have noticed a rooftop cabana bar, deck and garden emerge as the focal point.
That's because architect David M. Kleckner - who bought the Fairy Silk Mill property a year ago - recently completed about $750,000 in renovations to create a new home for his company, David M. Kleckner Architects, as well as a new residence for his family.
Kleckner said his company, which has five employees, had outgrown the office space attached to his former home in Muhlenberg Township.
Having done work with the former owners of the building, Roth Renovating, Kleckner said he had been aware of the potential in the building. "I always loved the features in old manufacturing buildings," Kleckner said. "So one day I approached the owners about buying the building.
"It was the right time for everything to just come together."
So, late last year, Kleckner bought a 14,000-square-foot former silk mill that was in a state of disrepair.
"What you saw then was pretty nasty, with lots of roof leaks and broken windows," Kleckner said. "You had to have a lot of imagination to envision anything here. And I just loved the idea of being able to rehabilitate this type of building, where I could create both an office space and my living space."
"My sons thought I was nuts and couldn't imagine what the living space could possibly be like. And my wife did not like the idea of leaving the suburbs. But eventually, she came to love this place."
"Beginning in January, the first order of business was to demolish the building's smokestack and water tower in order to create space for a 17-space parking lot. That was necessary to satisfy borough zoning requirements, but basically, the borough of Shillington has been very supportive of this project," Kleckner said. "They were just so glad to see something happen with this building."
Kleckner said that while the re-use of this type of building is unique in Berks County, it is fairly commonplace in large cities.
"You can find this sort of re-use of a structure in large center-city areas of places like Philadelphia, New York and Boston," he said. "It happens there all the time, but I don't know of anything else quite like this around here."
"Most people would not want the headaches of dealing with old structures when they could get a new building for about the same price."
Kleckner and his staff moved into the office space in April. After that, work began on the 3,000-square-foot residential loft area. "We had to replace all infrastructure and floors, but we did keep the original metal window frames as well as the roof structures and old beams," Kleckner said.
He said one challenge was to cut a hole in the roof in order to construct a staircase to access the roof deck and patio. The result was a unique outdoor living space complete with wet bar and cooking area, and with a patio and garden capable of holding up to 50 guests.
Now that the project is complete, Kleckner said there are still some challenges in dealing with certain aspects of the former silk mill. "Occasionally we are still chasing down some air leaks through the original brick walls," he said. Kleckner said the entire project has received a great deal of favorable feedback from his clients.
"This just adds a degree of credibility to the work this firm can do," he said.