Kitchen styles have changed, but family hasn’t
Colonial Kitchens spends over 50 years crafting the heart of every home
By Melissa James, York County Contributor
It’s where meals are prepared, stories are shared, and schoolwork compared. Kitchens have long been considered the most important room for family, so it’s only natural that a family business would be successful at kitchen remodels.
“Family is the cornerstone for all that we do,” said Carla Bailey, office manager of Colonial Kitchens and daughter of the company’s owners. “Everything our business does and everything that we are circles back to family.”
Colonial Kitchens has maintained its reputation as the area’s premier custom cabinet designer and fabricator over the past 52 years. While cabinets are its backbone, the business does full-kitchen remodels and new construction, from top to bottom. Carla credits her family’s Christian faith and the many family ties that have been woven together over the years to help them be successful.
“Our business helps create beautiful spaces for families to come together, and our customers are like family to us,” Carla said. “We really enjoy when we can serve several generations of families. It’s fun to see everyone grow and have kids of their own.”
The family’s own unbreakable family bond began in a coal mining town in rural West Virginia. Company founders Carl and Shelma Hart grew up in large families with humble roots but strong foundations. Both were born as the third-to-last child—Carl in a family of 12 children, and Shelma a family of six. Each grew up understanding it took hard work to survive and provide for a family.
After meeting the love of his life in the late ‘50s, Carl had to leave her behind when he moved to Virginia to learn a trade. He began working at a cabinet shop, and quickly realized that he had a knack for creating beautiful custom pieces. He and Shelma married, and she joined him in Virginia.
Several years later, after starting a family of their own, the pair opened their own business: Colonial Kitchens and Custom Cabinets. It was housed in a small building on Jefferson Avenue in Newport News.
“My mom tells the story of my dad working 19-hour days and hardly seeing him during the beginning stages of the business,” recalled Carla. “A few years later, my mom stepped in to run the office and help share the workload with my dad.”
The business soon outgrew its space. In 1986, while driving to his home in Gloucester County, Carl happened to see the “ideal property” for sale. It was on Route 17 in York County, adjacent to the railroad tracks. He envisioned constructing a new showroom and fabrication shop there, which would enable the business to continue expanding.
“As the story goes, my dad made the very quick decision to purchase the property, and the rest is history,” Carla said. “He built the space of his dreams, which we use about 75% of for our business, and moved our family to York County. We still live here to this day, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”
The 38,000-square-foot Hart Building has roughly 9,500 square feet of additional office space that the family leases out to other local businesses.
When Carla and her older brother, Randy Hart, graduated from high school, they too joined the family business. Carla began working with her mom in the office, which she now manages. Randy apprenticed under his dad to learn the carpentry skills for custom cabinetry. Although he eventually had to step away from the business due to health complications, he has recently returned to work on special projects and more intricate jobs.
“Randy became my dad’s shadow during the summers and quickly became a very talented designer and builder of custom pieces,” Carla said. “We feel so blessed to have him back.”
Carla’s husband, Brian Bailey, was the next family member to join the business.
“When my parents wanted to retire [in 2002], Brian jumped all in to take over for my dad,” Carla said. “He is a very dedicated, hard-working man, just like my dad, and also very talented and creative. During his first two months, he learned how to do each and every job and task in the shop until he mastered them. He is the glue that holds our family and our business together.”
As the family continued to grow, so did the business. Carla said that they are fortunate to have avoided the staffing troubles plaguing other companies right now—their loyal team members have stuck by them through many ups and downs.
“We treat our team members like family because they are family to us. We celebrate their wins, and we truly feel their hurts along with them,” Carla said. “We are so blessed to have many who have been with us for well over 20 years. Our business success wouldn’t be possible without them. Vann Walters, who sadly passed away a year ago, was with us for over 38 years!”
Carla recalled a story that her mother used to tell her when she was little—how the business almost didn’t make it, but how their employees stepped up to save the day.
“My dad was just starting out and had a customer that picked the wrong stain color and wanted everything redone,” she said. “We couldn’t afford to pay our employees the overtime needed to complete the additional work. So, Pete Moore, my father’s best friend and foreman, spoke to the rest of the team about how they could help. In the end, they all volunteered to work through the night without pay!”
When asked what they like to do in their time away from work, Carla quipped, “sleep!” She said her husband has followed her father’s lead, oftentimes working into the evening hours.
“We are nothing without our integrity, in life and in business,” she said. “We do what is needed to keep our word, even if it means working nights and weekends to get the job done.”
Carla and Brian have two children—Jordan and Heather, both in their early 30s, who are not directly involved in the family business, but Jordan is active in the cabinet industry.
“Jordan is yet another extremely gifted man in our family who learned the trade from his father and grandfather,” Carla said. “He moved to the Charlotte area 10 years ago, married his wife Kelsie and had three boys. He opened his own custom cabinet shop there, called CTM (Cabinets, Trim & More), which is really thriving. So we know he is where he is meant to be!”
Heather, in addition to her full-time job as an EL teacher at Tabb Elementary School, also runs a small family business called The Stork’s Post. Heather’s husband, Chase—who fell in love with Heather in kindergarten—works for York County as a building systems superintendent.
While frequently busy with work, Carla said she and her husband always create space for family time. They especially enjoy playing with their five grandchildren, all between the ages of 4 and 8. The Baileys do take time off to rest and take mini trips with their parents, children and grandchildren. Now retired, Carl and Shelma Hart love to travel back to their childhood home in Beckley, WV, to visit family and friends. They particularly enjoy relaxing at their beach house in the Outer Banks.
The family feels blessed to be in a position to give back to the community that has supported them and their business for so many years. They said they follow the message of Matthew 6:3 in the Bible, which says to give quietly, but were willing to name some of the organizations they have supported: CHKD, York County Little League, Make a Wish Foundation and Weighted Angels, among many others.
Colonial Kitchens has received several honors over the years—from the York County Beautification Award to the Parade of Homes Golden Award. But what makes them most fulfilled, Carla said, is creating a legacy that has made its way through two generations of family members—and by passing down a custom trade that has now made it to the third generation.