Roland Park Presbyterian Church's historic sanctuary features Gothic architecture, a dark interior, and classic red doors, but modernizing the rest of the church is what Clemens and the Murphy & Dittenhafer team are working on.

Roland Park Presbyterian Church's historic sanctuary features Gothic architecture, a dark interior, and classic red doors, but modernizing the rest of the church is what Clemens and the Murphy & Dittenhafer team are working on.

Sitting next to the York County Prison is an unassuming, 1700s-era farmhouse that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The Strickler House is a historic property — part stone, part brick — slated to become the new home for the York County Coroner’soffice,” says Lisa Clemens, Senior Interior Designer with M&D Interiors.

Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects was chosen to convert this unoccupied former residential structure into a functional place of business. Once the firm’s Architect had finalized the floor plans, Clemens brought her interior skills and creativity to the table. And if you think there may be some challenges in transforming a historic farmhouse to a place of business, you’re right.

“One of the requirements of this project,” she says, “is that the general public needs to come in through an enclosed entry without having immediate access to the rest of the building.”

So, what does installing a glass vestibule right next to the front door do to your interior design?

“It definitely changes the flavor a little bit,” she says with a laugh. “But, to me, the essence of good design is figuring out how to do that in a way that speaks back to what was there originally.”

Growing M&D Interiors

“It’s a very exciting and active time for our interiors division,” says Frank Dittenhafer II, FAIA, LEED AP at Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects.  “It’s great to have Lisa leading that effort with me.” 

Anticipating that growth is what prompted M&D to open a larger dedicated interiors space last year, next door to their York Architectural Design location.

“It’s a place where Lisa and others in our office can meet with clients and show them various design resources, such as material samples, fabrics, accessories, artwork or furniture,” he says.

“We’ve been doing a lot of adaptive-reuse projects,” Clemens says. “We’re taking older properties and figuring out how to make them more relevant for how you live today and how you work today.” 

Accommodating hundreds of clients

Valleybrook at Chadds Ford Apartments, in Brandywine Valley, is a luxury apartment complex for those in the market for well-appointed amenities. It’s a place hundreds of renters call home.

M&D Interiors' involvement with these older buildings covers everything from clubhouses and public spaces to hallways in need of an upgrade.

“Sometimes, that’s just furniture, paint, and art; other times, it’s knocking down some walls or pulling some trim off,” she says.

It’s essential, of course, to know your craft, but understanding the needs of the space is equally important.

“I’m a very spatial person,” she says. “When I walk into any new space, I’m immediately picturing the users of that space, how best they’re going to operate in it, and how things are going to flow.”

Roland Park Presbyterian Church

Roland Park’s historic sanctuary features Gothic architecture, a dark interior, and classic red doors, but modernizing the rest of the church is what Clemens and the Murphy & Dittenhafer team are working on.

So, how do you gracefully go from a dark, Gothic tone to a light, contemporary atmosphere without shocking those who walk through the doors?

“I look for something elementally that I can bring from the old space to the new – a shape, a color, or a wood,” she explains. “The pews are rustic, dark walnut and the contemporary gathering space just outside the door transitions naturally by adding some walnut panels to the walls.”

That primary gathering space leads you into another, more open gathering space with new carpet and a bit of the stained-glass look of the sanctuary.

“Both newer spaces speak back to the architectural elements of the old, without trying to copy or mimic it,” she says.

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Updating history 

Historic church projects like Roland Park or Old St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Baltimore all seem to have one thing in common.

“They all desire to reach across the generations and make the design of the space meaningful to everyone,” she says.

Maintaining a certain amount of tradition while appealing to a younger group, younger families, is a challenge. For Dittenhafer, it’s all about whether people want to spend time in the finished space.

“When it’s all said and done,” he says, “the furniture, walls, colors, fabrics, the floors, even the tiles in restrooms are the elements that are critical to whether a project achieves total success.”

“It’s tricky,” says Clemens, “but that’s the kind of thing I really enjoy.”


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