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How one preservationist made the Rumford Library a home


When eight-year-old Rita Danielle Steele declared she would one day own a library, her parents dismissed the statement as childhood musings. So when Rita, armed with a law degree and a passion for restoring historic properties, tossed her hat in the ring for the Rumford Library, she had a shot at making her prophecy a bonafide truth. “There was a substantial amount of interest in the property,” Rita explains, and a lengthy process, including going before the City Council, and having the 108-year-old building structurally evaluated. After pleading her case, the historic library was hers for $230,000 along with a deed restriction that ensured the structure would not be adapted into commercial space.

The project soon became both a personal and professional affair. “My company Geo Properties specializes in historic restorations. We focus on unique properties that don’t make straightforward sense to other contractors,” says Rita. She worked with her grandfather, an architect, to bring the building into the next millennium without compromising its architectural integrity. “The property is unique,” she explains. “I didn’t want to compromise the original design.”

Like many century-old properties, the design features throughout were stunning, but many more were uncovered as the transformation progressed. “The building had gorgeous detail.
It was a mess, but everything was there and preserved,” explains Rita. For other components she had to bring in, like pieces for her bathroom, Rita intentionally sought out ones with a history akin to her new home.

Her discoveries during the process, both architectural and decades-old items turned objets d’art, became an unexpected treasure hunt of sorts. “They left behind so many items,” Rita says. “Filing cabinets full of historic newspapers, pieces of art, arts and crafts materials, card catalogs... the basement was a treasure trove.”

Today, the two bedroom, 2,900-square-foot one-story home boasts enviable oversized windows that invite natural light, original and reclaimed wood floors in a rich, glossy finish, built-ins and naturally, countless bookshelves throughout. Good thing she hung on to that vintage rolling library ladder she bought years ago. “I’m an antique collector of unusual objects,” she says. “Everything is from something or somewhere different. It’s like a treasure hunt.”

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