Have You Got Religion?

I think the answer had better be yes...

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of touring the abandoned Spring Valley AME Church. I have admired this humble country church as I have driven past it for the past 20 years or so.....always wondering who owned it, what would become of it....and wouldn't it be so charming if someone would just take a chance and fix it up??

Imagine my surprise when I passed it a week or so ago, and saw a "For Sale" sign posted right out front. I couldn't wait to talk to my business partner and see if she would be game to take a look. What would we do with the building?? I don't know....we can figure that out later, don't you think??

It is always a good start to a showing when the first thing Victor asks me while getting out of his truck is: "You want to tear that down, right??"......

We kicked around a few ideas as we looked at the property. With all of the development going on around it, we all felt that the former church could make an absolutely charming coffee or breakfast place...

Alas, it was not in the cards. I knew that there was a good chance that the old frame building would not be in any kind of shape for rehab after all of the years of neglect.  Victor confirmed that the foundation would have to be rebuilt, amid other expensive obstacles to the restoration--so a project that was already outside the scope of what we normally "do" fell victim to a fatal blow--we have made the decision to not proceed with making an offer. It makes me sad, but I still hold out hope that someone will have a vision for the property that does not include razing the building....

We have to have faith, right?

Thinking Outside the Box

There are many ways in which to think of your house. When frustrated with the flow and function of the interior spaces, sometimes it is helpful to envision the building as a large rigid box, with many smaller somewhat flexible boxes inside that can be shifted around and fit back together inside of the whole. The result can be a completely new relationship between the rooms, and a great improvement in the function of the home. In the whole house renovation that I participated in starting this past summer, that is essentially what we did to allow for a modern kitchen to be created, and maintain certain things that the homeowners did not want to change about the original floor plan of the house. You may remember this house. I have written about it here and here, and I am very excited to show you the end result of the kitchen renovation, which did indeed include moving the space from one front corner of the house to the other.

What we started with was a mid century gem of a house that had been lovingly designed by its original owner, an architect himself, for his family. The house was conceived during a time when the kitchen was for those who worked in the house, not for the lady of the house herself, and the kitchen was not the hub for family gathering that it is today. The pictures of the kitchen it its original state say it all:

The kitchen had an awkward L-shape to it, and on one end was an exterior entrance which had always been used as the main way to enter and exit by the family. You can see it at the far end of this picture....

When I proposed closing this door up, and instead turning the opening into a window so that we could have a workable kitchen layout, the response from my clients  was a polite but firm  "Hell No."

So, we were temporarily at an impasse.

Because I didn't want the owners to go through a costly renovation to have a pretty kitchen that would essentially function no better, I went back to the drawing board.

In our conversations about the house, I had learned that while the kitchen door had not been intended to be the front door of the house, visitors interpreted it to be just that. If they had not visited before, or weren't instructed to do otherwise, they often came here to knock, since it was the most visible door when you approached the house. The true front door was hidden from this angle, and therefore very seldom used.  In the picture below you can see the kitchen door as seen from the driveway....it is the one on the right, propped open in this picture taken during construction....

Since it was unthinkable to have this door not be a door (for functional and sentimental reasons), then why couldn't we then solve two problems at once and create an entry/foyer to be just inside of this opening, and then shift the kitchen down the front wall of the house, so that it would absorb the space that was once the entry hall??  The kitchen could then encompass a much larger and more functional space....

The answer I got this time was a resounding "YES!"

Victor Burgos, our so very knowledgeable, always patient,  favorite general contractor, was there to assure that the changes could be done, and we started working out all of the details that would need to be addressed. It is amazing to me that the view of the original front door went from this:

To this (a great but sadly blurry picture of Victor and me going over details during the demolition)....

to this:


And here are some more......


and after:

(The curtained window above in the "before" is the very same window here in the upper left of the frame.)


and After....

I am so pleased with the way this project turned out. The craftsmanship and materials are just beautiful.

What was once the "front" door to the house is now a beautiful kitchen door, complete with a new light cut in it (asymmetrically placed to be true to the vintage of the house) to allow more natural light to enter the space.

And the staircase, which wasn't able to be fully appreciated before in the dark front hall, now adds so much architectural interest to the kitchen.

So, don't allow yourself to be boxed in! Creative thinking and not being married to the way things are, can help you to look forward to the possibilities of what could be!





Today the papers were signed and it is official! Our project house that has been sitting so pretty for so long will have someone new to love her. We are so excited!

I was there today going over the paperwork and working out some details....had to snap a few pictures.

I am so proud of the work I did on this house. If you missed it before, you can see a lot of it here and here.

It seems strange that I won't be able just to pop over just to say "hi" and enjoy all of the pretty sun-filled rooms..... but what a happy ending for what was once a forlorn little cape cod so down on her luck.


A Good Old Fashioned Church Hall Revival

This past summer, I was asked to consult on the overhaul of our church hall, St. Joseph's Hall, a room that holds many great memories and has always been charming to me. When I looked at it honestly, after taking off the sentimental sunglasses we all tend to wear from time to time, it indeed needed some real help.

I have been a member of Christ Church Episcopal since I was in third grade, nearly my entire life, and I had always wondered what was beneath that dropped ceiling. The lattice and tiles must have seemed a good option to conceal a collection of maintenance woes  sometime in the 1950's, but now its time had come, and I would finally get to see the bones of the room revealed, and its secrets told--so exciting. Could there be exposed beams up there? Beaded wood detailing? You never know....with all of the expense and attention to detail given the room when it was originally built (just note the gorgeous windows), it didn't seem out of the question to me.

Alas, it all came down, and there were no beams or beads, but just a lovely, simple plaster ceiling.  And, as suspected,  the reason that the drop ceiling had been installed in the first place--lots of peeling paint, cracks, exposed lath and evidence of old roof leaks that needed to be tended to--was there to be seen, too.

I had been away on our family vacation to Maine when the demolition had started, and was blissfully unaware that the original sconces and chandeliers were being removed and thrown away.  Still frustrates me.  If I had know this was being considered, I would have swiftly stepped in and asked all involved to reconsider. If the chandeliers had been salvaged, we could have possibly made the church close to $1000 or more in the resale of those cool old mid-century fixtures, and someone else would have had the opportunity to make use of them and love them for another 60 years or so....

A second great disappointment to me was that when the wall sconces had been removed, the wiring for them was also pulled--a change that, by the time I had learned of it, was impossible to reverse given the constraints of our budget. *Sigh* The lighting plan would have to go forward without the benefits and ambience that the wall sconces would have afforded such a large room.


As things progressed, a beautiful, smooth drywall ceiling was installed covering over the flaws that had been so evident before, new wainscoting was installed, other lovely trim work was meticulously put in place, and the old radiators were exposed and given a fresh coat of paint. I looked high and low for ceiling fixtures that would suit the scale and era of the room, as well as fit within the budget. I finally settled on Rejuvenation's timeless schoolhouse pendant with the 18" Opal Schoolhouse Shade- an understated but shapely fixture of excellent quality.

Next, a color palette that would bring the room to life & make the stunning windows shine needed to be selected.

The colors I chose (MAB) were tones that I hoped would be soft, muted,  sophisticated and able to pull the intense blues in the stained glass windows forward. The wall color (SW 6239 Upward) is a grey blue with a hint of periwinkle to it to do just that. The complimentary colors (ceiling:SW 6232 Misty, trim: SW 7002 Downy) keep a tone on tone quality to the room, and add depth to the blue so that it doesn't feel like a baby boy's nursery room palette. ( I did get a call from the painter asking me about just that the day he bought the paint. "You sure about this color"....yes, I am, she said confidently....)

These images of the hall (ones I quickly snapped after church this past weekend) don't show the room as clearly as I would like....but I think they show the new life that has been brought into St. Joseph's Hall. The kids playing  (one of those hooligans is mine...:), the gleaming refinished floors, the overall character of a vintage space renewed .....there will be many years ahead of service to our community, many more friendships made and strengthened,  many more questions of faith pondered, and many more happy memories created in this space.