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Grace Eline: From Show House to White House

Writer Marirose Krall  |  Photographer Kate Eckert  |  Location Plainfield, NJ


Grace’s House, a Designer Show House Restoration in Plainfield

In early January, Design NJ Publisher Tammy Keck and Assistant Editor Marirose Krall had the privilege of meeting a very special little girl. Grace Eline is a fifth grader who’s dealing with something no 10-year-old should have to endure. Diagnosed with cancer last year, Grace faced her treatments with strength well beyond her years and with the help of The Valerie Fund, a New Jersey organization with a mission to provide individualized care to children at medical centers close to home.

  • Grace with Publisher Tammy Keck.

     

  • Cookies — yum!

     

  • Very excited about them!

     

Last night, Grace was a guest of First Lady Melania Trump at the State of the Union address, and the bubbly personality so evident during our visit was on display for the nation. Here’s the amazing story of Grace, of the grandfather who moved heaven and earth to help her, and of the New Jersey design community who wholeheartedly supports the cause. Design NJ magazine is proud to have been selected as media sponsor for this special event.

Grace at the State of the Union Address.

 


Grace Eline, Graces house, the Valerie Fund

Dan and his granddaughter Grace on the staircase.

When Dan Reichard met with the Historical Commission of Plainfield to discuss his plans for the 1893 Colonial Revival home he’d just purchased at auction, he assured members he wasn’t going to tear it down. Nor was he going to subdivide it into apartments. Instead, his intention was to restore the mansion at 950 Hillside Avenue. “I’m looking to put it back the way it was,” he says. “I’m not here to change the world.” Reichard, a general contractor and owner of Berkeley Heights-based ER Development Inc., is a history buff, and his interest in vintage homes led him to this particular diamond in the rough.

Grace Eline, Graces house, the Valerie Fund

Grace’s House.

And it was rough. “Hurricane Sandy did a job on it,” he says. The roof was crushed and there was water damage; but Reichard saw beyond the flaws. “I opened the door and saw a parquet floor. I said ‘if nothing else, there’s a parquet floor.’ It was in pretty good shape.” But there was more. “The lights were on. I said, ‘Okay, I’ve got electricity.’ There was an old Wolf range in the kitchen. As I walked by it felt hot and the pilot lights were on. I thought, ‘Okay, there’s gas.’ I was starting to feel better.”

In addition to functioning utilities, the home featured built-in cabinetry and detailed millwork, features that would be extremely expensive to incorporate into a home today, Reichard notes. Planning to make the most of the home’s original attributes, he began the restoration.

Grace Eline, Graces house, the Valerie Fund

Dan Reichard and his granddaughter, Grace Eline, at the under-construction Grace’s House Designer Show House.

 

Shortly thereafter, though, Reichard received devastating news. His then-9-year-old granddaughter, Grace, was diagnosed with brain cancer. Reichard sprang into action. “We did what we could to help,” he says, including accompanying Grace to one of her chemo treatments at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center’s Valerie Fund wing. What he saw there amazed him. “All these people appeared out of nowhere,” he recalls. “Doctors and nurses were hooking her up for chemo, a child life specialist was working with her with drawings and crayons.” An educational liaison explained to the family that she had already spoken to Grace’s school principal, her teacher, her classmates and their parents to explain what was going on with her treatment and to answer questions they might have.

Grace Eline, Graces house, the Valerie Fund

Reichard calls The Valerie Fund team “magical,” and he was determined to offer support. “I couldn’t cure Grace,” he says, “but I could help the people who are helping her.” Ironically, Reichard’s next course of action was a small step toward actually helping to change the world.

He realized the house on Hillside Avenue might provide a way to support the organization that was supporting his granddaughter.

“It all came together. Grace was diagnosed. I discovered The Valerie Fund, which I’d never heard of before. I had the property and I thought, ‘We need to share it with the community, to leverage it for good in some way. It’s an opportunity. We’ve got the cause. We’ve got the house. Let’s put the two together.”

Though Reichard had never participated in a designer show house before, he was eager to try. “I ran it by the folks at The Valerie Fund. I said ‘I don’t know how much I can raise; but if you’re game, we’ll get a bunch of designers involved. I thought it was a good fit and I said, ‘Let’s try it.’” Reichard’s investors were also on board with the event. “Without their approval and flexibility, I would not have been able to offer the house for use in the fundraiser,” Reichard says. “They deserve a lot of credit.”

 

Dan, his daughter Aubrey and granddaughter Grace with Design NJ’s Publisher Tammy Keck and Assistant Editor Marirose Krall.

 

Aubrey Reichard-Eline, Reichard’s daughter and Grace’s mom, wasn’t surprised by her father’s idea. “His heart is ginormous,” she says.

“He adores Grace. He’s doing what he likes to do. This is his opportunity to be creative for a good cause. It was the perfect marriage — renovating this house and being able to support this amazing charity to help his granddaughter.”

As a newcomer to events of this type, Reichard had a steep learning curve. “It’s challenging because I’ve never gone out to raise money before.” Fortunately, he got a lot of support from the design community. “Mansion in May is the gold standard [for show houses], and they’ve been very helpful. I can’t say enough about them.”

Grace Eline, Graces house, the Valerie Fund

He also has nothing but praise for the designers participating in the event. “I thought, for them, it was going to be a business transaction. They’re using their own money. I expected it to be a little tense. But to a person, they’d walk in the door and want to know about Grace. Then they’d ask me to tell them about The Valerie Fund.” The designers were just as gracious and flexible when it came to which spaces they were assigned. “They didn’t care which room they got; they believed in the cause,” Reichard says. “Once the spaces were assigned, Reichard gave the designers a lot of freedom. “I don’t want to put them in a box,” he says. “I told them to do whatever they want.”

Grace Eline, Graces house, the Valerie Fund

Grace and her grandfather explore built-ins original to the 1893 Colonial Revival home.

 

Grace herself — who’s feeling great thanks to her dedicated doctors and nurses and to The Valerie Fund team — is helping to design one of rooms. The wall color, she says, will be mint green, her favorite color. “It’s going to be her playroom,” Reichard says. “They’re custom making furniture for the room. There’s going to be an easel, a little paint station and built-in cabinetry.”

Grace Eline, Graces house, the Valerie Fund

Dan giving his granddaughter Grace painting lessons.

 

Reichard is clearly proud of Grace and happy she is involved in this project. He’s a grandfather who found himself at the center of a convergence of circumstances that might have overwhelmed someone else. Instead, he used the resources at his disposal to make a difference. “Part of my job is to recognize opportunities,” he says. Reichard seized this opportunity to help change the world for his granddaughter and other pediatric cancer patients.


Grace Eline, Graces house, the Valerie Fund

Grace is jazzed about the show house that bears her name.

Uncommon Grace

Grace Eline just turned 10. She’s energetic and outgoing, and she’s one of the kids who’s been supported by The Valerie Fund during her cancer treatments. She’s a talented designer who created the T-shirt logo for her Valerie Fund walk team, Gigi’s Angels. She’s also collaborating on the one of the rooms in the show house.

Though she enjoys the creative side of design, Grace doesn’t want to be a designer when she grows up. She wants to be a doctor. “She says she would be a good doctor because she knows what would hurt. She knows what treatment is going to be like,” her mom says.

On her way to becoming a doctor, Grace hasn’t missed many school days, thanks to a robot called a VGo provided by The Valerie Fund. The VGo allows patients absent from school for an extended period to attend classes remotely. “I can go around the room and pretend I’m there, but I’m home,” Grace says. “It’s like a video camera. They can see what I’m doing. I can see what they’re doing. If I don’t want the people in the classroom to hear me talking, I can put it on mute. If I don’t want to hear them talking, I can put them on mute.” According to representatives of The Valerie Fund, maintaining that visual connection with classmates and teachers makes a patient feel less isolated and more like a regular kid.

Grace is a regular kid (just for fun, she put a Katy Perry wig on her robot), but she’s also an extraordinary child who says that 2018 — the year she was diagnosed — was a great year.

“I met so many people. I had such great experiences at The Valerie Fund. I love my doctors and nurses.”


Grace Eline, Graces house, the Valerie Fund

Members of The Valerie Fund team (from left): Neil Yaris, chairman of the board; and Yaris’ wife, Jane; Bunny Flanders, director of marketing and communications; and Barry Kirschner, executive director.

The Valerie Fund

The Valerie Fund is an organization with a mission to provide individualized care to children at medical centers close to home. Founded by Ed and Sue Goldstein, who lost their 9-year-old daughter, Valerie, to cancer in 1976, the organization is based on the idea that the most effective way to heal children is to treat them emotionally, socially and developmentally.

Neil Yaris, who chairs The Valerie Fund board, says the show house is “a wonderful idea. From the perspective of The Valerie Fund, it will raise money for our numerous programs and introduce the organization to those who are unaware of the great work TVF is doing for so many in our community. In addition, we are thrilled to help breathe new life into a piece of New Jersey history that otherwise might have been lost forever.”

Tina Squeri, chair of the show house committee, says, “This is the first time I’ve worked on a designer show house. It is personally rewarding because I get to see the progress made every day and witness the excitement from all those involved. By volunteering, I’ve been able to see the difference The Valerie Fund makes in the lives of these children and their families. The entire staff works tirelessly, and their commitment is contagious.”

Grace’s mom, Aubrey Reichard-Eline, knows firsthand about The Valerie Fund’s commitment. “From the first time we met with people there, we were family — and we loved that. These doctors and nurses don’t see pretty things, and it’s not just once in a while. It’s every day. They’re special people. I cannot say enough good things about The Valerie Fund, and I’m super thankful we chose them. They saved Grace’s life.” For more information on The Valerie Fund, go to TheValerieFund.org.


Grace’s House will be open to the public April 25 through May 19, 2019. For tickets, visit Grace’s House Tickets.

There will be more coverage of Grace’s House in Design NJ’s April/May 2019 print edition.


Participating designers to date: AK Design Studios in Monsey, New York; ANEW Kitchen and Bath Design in North Plainfield; B. Garcia Designs in Upper Montclair; Butter and Velvet in Denville; California Closets in Fairfield; CD Interiors Inc. in Manalapan; Gail Davis Designs in South Orange; Global Home Interiors in Princeton; Images in Design Inc. in Cranford; JAB Design Group/Joseph A. Berkowitz Interiors Inc. in Penn Valley; JMW Interiors LLC in New York City; Liepold Design Group LLC in Millburn; Marina V Design Studio in Ridgewood; Mendham Interiors in Mendham; Mimi & Hill Design Studio in Westfield; Samuel Robert Signature Spaces in Millburn; Swati Goorha Designs in New Providence; The French Martini LLC in Westfield; and Tina Ramchandani Creative in New York City.

To date, design businesses sponsoring the event include: Schwartz Design Showroom; Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery; Worldwide Wholesale Floor Coverings; Atlas Marble and Granite; Benjamin Moore; Dente Trading; Window Works and Design NJ magazine.