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Grace's House: Plainfield show house pits high design against cancer  

Grace's House, a show house open until May 19 at 950 Hillside Ave. in Plainfield, benefits the Valerie Fund

The renovated 1870 home, in Plainfield's Hillside Avenue Historic District, retains many original features of its Second Empire architecture. Photo by Kimberly L. Jackson 

The house showcases the work of local artists, with numerous custom features conceived by area designers. Decorative items are being sold, with 15 percent of each sale going to the Valerie Fund. Room designed by Swati Goorha. Photo by Kimberly L. Jackson There are four good reasons to go and see a designer show house in person.

The first, of course, is to support a worthy cause. The second is to get ideas, often from top interior designers, that can offer insight into the use of color, the latest materials, and the possibilities for blending custom furnishings with well selected antiques, artwork and imaginative “off-the-shelf” pieces.

The third reason is the insights a show house can offer into renovation of an older home, or the options for new construction.

At Grace’s House, a show house open Thursdays through Sundays through May 19, the fourth reason is perfectly illustrated: the opportunity to enjoy a visual feast of jaw-droppingly gorgeous home design.

About a year ago, this property at 950  Hillside Ave. in Plainfield’s well-manicured Hillside Avenue Historic District was a distressed house on auction. It still had a crushed roof from a tree felled by Hurricane Sandy, and it had been vacant for five years.

Dan Reichard, a Berkeley Heights builder, happened to be looking for area investment properties to restore and sell. A pre-bidding walk-through revealed the fine features and strong, but challenged bones of an 1870  house with more than 7,000 square feet in its three floors of living space.

In many rooms, the house retained original parquet floors with hand-laid patterns in small, carefully placed strips of richly patterned oak. Key areas of the house were full of natural light, and its sturdy plaster walls framed rooms with limitless potential.

Around the time that Reichard and his fellow investors learned their bid had won the house, a cancerous mass was found in his granddaughter Grace Eline’s brain. It was through her treatment that Reichard learned of the Valerie Fund, whose specialists at Newark Beth Israel Hospital cared for Grace and her family — not only in treatment, but in relieving them of many stressful tasks associated with a cancer diagnosis. Grace, now 10, is still undergoing regular tests, but the cancer was in remission.

Reichard wanted to express gratitude to the Valerie Fund for its role in saving Grace’s life, and so an idea to make the Plainfield property a fund-raising show house began to develop.

The idea evolved to include 22 hand-picked interior designers, one of whom is Montclair-based HGTV Design Star Blanche Garcia.

Participating designers would donate their time. They would work their suppliers for donated or discounted materials, furnishings and objects to outfit the rooms while also paying an entry fee. In exchange, Reichard and his crews would renovate rooms to their exacting specifications. Many individuals and businesses donated goods, money or labor to polish the Second Empire-style home’s interior and exterior. The plan came together.

“The way I look at it, is like I’m producing a Broadway show,” Reichard said in an on-site interview before the show house opened to the public. “I want that ‘wow’ factor. This is the ultimate staging of the house.”

Because the work of designers would be showcased for visitors who might someday become customers, Reichard says he had to rebuild the house to the highest standards. That meant this show house would go beyond the dressing of rooms.

In the kitchen, the design by New Providence interior designer Swati Goorha would require a load-bearing wall to be torn down for a floor plan that more efficiently uses the space. A beam concealed in the ceiling now helps to support the house.

On the second floor, original cabinets were removed in the meditation room, revealing plumbing issues that required repair. Often, floor plans were reconfigured to update various spaces with the benefit of designer insight into current consumer preferences.

Before and After: A period-appropriate bathroom update by Anew Kithen & Bath Design. The original claw-foot tub was restored for use in another renovated show-house bathroom. Promised materials didn’t always come through, and there were challenging surprises, but designers and contractors helped keep things on track. ANEW Kitchen & Bath Design in North Plainfield came through with emergency plumbing fixtures donated by Villeroy & Boch for a third-floor bathroom, Reichard said.

And when refrigerator columns that were supposed to be stainless steel arrived needing custom doors, MCM Custom Furniture of Linden rushed panels to match their previously crafted kitchen cabinetry. The finish, with a golden glaze by Ariana Hoffman, was completed Easter Sunday, days before the show’s April 25 opening.

Many designers worked on the house with Grace in mind. New Providence interior designer Swati Goorha designed the kitchen with cabinetry in green, Grace’s favorite color. Julie Liepold When a supplier sent the wrong refrigerator, emergency door panels were made by MCM Custom Furniture. The Linden company crafted cabinetry for the kitchen designed by Swati Goorha. Photo by Kimberly L. Jackson of Liepold Design Group in Millburn conceived a garden room that reflects Grace’s love of butterflies. Fine paper replicas of them, made by Ariana Hoffman, flutter on the ceiling, while metal ones are incorporated in a custom light fixture.

Cranford interior designer Tammy Kaplan, of Images in Design, spent time with Grace to create a playroom the Gillette youngster would enjoy. The spacious window seating around the room's perimeter  conceals massive ductwork for two air conditioning units Reichard installed in a room nearby to serve the second and third floors of the house. (the first-floor unit is in the basement).

Kaplan designed the seating and display space with chalkboard panels. Herself a breast cancer survivor, Kaplan had young Valerie Fund patients make inspirational art on the chalkboards for a room that celebrates Grace, her interests and her art, which she is selling to help other kids with cancer. The third-floor room has photos of Grace on the fabric of custom-made pillows. It’s full of stuffed animals, games and toys. Most important, it showcases Grace’s art and the interests that make her unique.

Artwork by Grace will be sold during the show, with 100 percent of each sale going to the Valerie Fund. Additionally, many pieces in the designer rooms are available for purchase, with 15 percent of each sale going to the non-profit started by Ed and Sue Goldstein in 1977 after they lost their 9-year-old daughter, Valerie, to cancer. The organization operates seven cancer treatment centers for children at hospitals in New Jersey and the Philadelphia area. Their first center was opened at Overlook Hospital in Summit, where it continues to operate.

Paper butterflies skim the ceiling of Grace's Garden Room by Julie Liepold. Photo by Erica Moffitt/Naki StudiosVISITING GRACE' HOUSE

The show house is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends at 950 Hillside Ave. in Plainfield. Admission is $35 at the door.

If you go, look up for hand-painted ceilings above the parquet floors. Don’t miss the pink mink rugs in the bathroom with the ostrich feathers chandelier, and the clear tray table over an original, but relocated, claw-foot tub.

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