Before and After, Interiors

Retrofit Me: A Home in a Church

One of my first studio projects in college was a retrofit of an old church into a residence.  Unlike now, when I have 15+ clients at any given time, I devoted an embarrassing amount of time and thought to this project.  So much time and thought that I remember it better than some projects from two years ago.  I think it imprinted on my brain.

I am also a fan of the Hollows series by Kim Harrison where – don’t judge me – a bounty hunter witch lives in an old church with her vampire roommate and a pixie family.  Okay – go ahead and judge – it’s a guilty pleasure book, okay?  I like the way Harrison describes the old church, particularly the kitchen in the church.   A long time fantasy of mine is to find an old church (along with a lot of money) and renovate it.

I saw this listing recently and all my fond memories of designing the church in school, and my secret desire to renovate a church to live in, came rushing back.  This church is in Maryland, a little over 3,000 square feet and built in 1894.  I don’t love the renovation that was done – it looks a little generic and unimaginative to me.   However, I don’t like to give people I’ve never met a hard time on this blog for design decisions so I’ll lay off my critique.  Here’s the link to the original listing while it lasts – they have more before renovation photos there that are really interesting.

exterior church residence
Exterior of the residence. It looks like it’s in a nice little residential neighborhood.
church residence interior
I love the wide open spaces. This is a view of the living room, kitchen and dining area. I do wonder what happened to the original stained glass windows but I’m sure they weren’t energy efficient…I would create a bigger kitchen footprint if this was mine, but I think I’d also not put in any upper cabinets.
home in a church
Here’s a great view of the very simplistic retrofit that was done to make it livable. I like the spirit of this remodel – it doesn’t get in the way with the architecture.

If you’re lucky enough to design a church residence I think the temptation is to either go heavy with the church references or to take a minimalistic approach and create a space that’s a loft like as possible.  I’ve seen photos of kitchen in a church residence that had gothic arches on their kitchen cabinets and that’s a little much for my taste.  I’ve also seen renovations where there’s very little evidence of the former building at all – also a mistake to my eyes.  Just buy a normal home if that’s what you want and leave the church homes to the rest of us weirdos.

church retrofit dining room
A closer view of the dining area. That is a pretty fabulous tilt out window.
church retrofit living room
The living area in the church. If I had this house, I would make this area larger and use up more of the space.   If I lived here I would also rearrange furniture in this big room all day long….
church retrofit loft
A view of the upstairs loft area. It would be fun to do something more special with the stairs and I really don’t love the paneling.  The trinity of bicycles here is kind of amusing.
retrofit church loft area
Here’s the loft area. The wood planks on the ceiling are not original to the church – I think I would ultimately paint them. They’re a little heavy and a little 1970’s.
retrofit church bedroom
A first floor bedroom. The layout is definately goofy – but it could made more usable.
retrofit church bathroom
I like the men/women sign on the door. This whole area would be so much fun to get your hands on.

This church residence has so much potential!  Too bad I don’t live in Maryland and too bad I don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars laying around to throw at retrofitting church residences around the country.  Wouldn’t that be a fun life?  Another early design project that imprinted on me was a fire station retrofit in Baltimore.  I’ll have to look around to see if any of those are up for sale so I can live vicariously through the photos.

church retrofit before
Here’s a photo on the listing website. It’s unlabeled, but it appears to be a before photo. It’s a little confusing though because the skylights and the woodwork at the end are gorgeous and I doubt someone would have taken them out, but it’s possible.
before church retrofit
Another view from before the retrofit (I think). I love the skylights and stained glass.

“It’s easier to find a way to make money at something you love than to learn to love a job that you can make money at.”
Kim Harrison, Early to Death, Early to Rise




6 thoughts on “Retrofit Me: A Home in a Church”

  1. Love seeing what the renovation looks like and I would truly love to live in one, but as you say, it needs some professional work, to make it more comfy and practical. Thanks for sharing this piece, and of course the flooring looks great. Truly a unique place to live.

  2. Hey there. This is actually my home (well mine and my husband’s). Just to give you an idea, here’s what I mentioned to someone on another site who was brutal and said our renovations were a joke and no money was put into the place because we opted not to do a kitchen or put up walls. “Six years ago, the roof and skylight were leaking, there were four layers of crumbing shingles with rotten decking boards below, the plaster walls were cracked and falling, the cedar shakes were brittle and falling off and had to be replaced by hand nailing one by one, the floors were covered in up to three layers of asbestos, there was no heating or a/c in the huge front sanctuary, and the electrical service was barely enough to power half the house.” We put a ton of money into the place and although my husband does a lot of cooking, we decided to just reuse the old metal sink cabinet that was there and use furniture instead of cabinets. We didn’t want to spend the money on something we weren’t sure of. It worked well for us and we had a great five years in the house, sharing it with friends and the neighborhood for birthday parties, weddings, memorial services, yoga, workshop sessions, photography, jam sessions, and lots more. Regarding the stained glass windows, all of the stained glass trimmed windows are still in the front sanctuary. There is also a full stained glass window there. The windows in the back area, which is where we lived, were made with chicken wire safety glass because of the way they tilt in and the danger that would present itself if safety glass wasn’t used. Our goal was to get the building back to as close of an original state as we could and we feel we did a good job with this. As for kitchen and bathrooms, we chose to go/keep them simple. I think some confusion comes from the fact that there are two different, equally sized rooms, the front sanctuary (mostly unfurnished, skylight, no wood on ceiling) and the back area which was built 10 years after the original (wood ceiling, loft, and tilt windows). Anyway, that’s about it. I never really considered anything we were doing as design, it was mainly just saving an old building that desperately needed some maintenance.

    1. Wonderful! Thanks for sharing and good for you for saving the look of the church. So many retrofits are either overdone or done so that you lose the spirit of the church. I like how clean and simple this looks. Nice job; I’m sure you probably hate to move. Ignore any haters – they’re just jealous they don’t have a church! I know I am! 🙂

  3. How very cool! I love it, and love that they shared with friends and community for so many events. All that floor space just invites such things. I could easily see doing a wonderful yoga class there.
    Thanks for showing us this, Laura!

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