A little over 16 years ago, I was driving down Indian Queen Lane and saw a “for sale” sign in front of the Falls United Methodist Church. I knew right away that I wanted it.
A little over 16 years ago, I was driving down Indian Queen Lane and saw a “for sale” sign in the front yard of the Falls United Methodist Church. It was being sold with the rectory and all of its contents.
I knew right away that I wanted it.
My husband, Anthony, who would be charged with doing the actual restoration, didn’t see it the same way. He characterized the property as “a pig in a bag.” In the small Irish town that Anthony was raised in, this expression means something to the effect of: “You have no idea what you're getting.”
Nevertheless, I was hooked. And by the middle of 2007, after taking numerous twists and turns during our attempt to acquire it, Anthony and I were finally able to make an offer that we could afford and that the congregation accepted. I was thrilled – despite the fact that my partner didn’t share the full extent of my enthusiasm. We chose to repurpose the church for office space and the rectory for our home.
A church is built for a single purpose – which is to hold a large number of people in one dramatic and potentially inspiring space. So it can be a challenge to maximize the use of that space without having it feel chopped up.
One of our primary goals was to make sure that we maximized the existing elements and built out from there. Topping the list of things we wanted to leverage were the 22-foot-high ceilings and 13-foot-tall windows of the sanctuary.
Because the main sanctuary had 22 foot high ceilings, a critical early decision was to expand the usable area by about 30 percent by building a mezzanine, a kind of room within a room, with an interior stair and balcony that look down to the main conference room. With this addition, the mezzanine rooms look out through the top of the tall windows, while the rooms that were created below look through the bottom half – so the bottom half of the mezzanine did not feel like a crypt (We already had one of those.)
One principle of completing this type of renovation is to repurpose the space as a whole without completely erasing its original function. For example, we kept the organ pipes and used them to create a 15-foot-long light fixture, which illuminates the main table. It’s perfect as a task light. My firm uses it when we spread out hard copy plan sets.
There were some elements of the old church that did not fit the new secular use of the space. The leaded stained glass windows were more than 100 years old, but they didn’t fit what we wanted to do. Our only option was to carefully remove them so that they could be resold at a nearby auction house. Wrapping them for transport required more than $1,000 in packing tape.
Odds and ends from the former church did find a home in the new space. I kept, and still use, all of the original church dishes. Similar to ones used in old diners, the white plates feature a fine green line around the circumference. They immediately take people back to a different age.
The former church on Indian Queen Lane now has twenty suites and serves as an incubator for several creative small businesses.
Keep an eye out for the rectory in the next Design Matters column
Val Nehez is the owner and principal designer at Studio IQL in East Falls, which you can find at StudioIQL.com and on Instagram at studio_iql or for smaller projects quickandlovely_design.
For more information, on the design church go to www.thriveatIQL.com