We found this sturdy wooden box when we were excavating under the extremely dusty eaves on the second floor of this 127-year-old Methodist church. Demolition yielded a lot of interesting artifacts we let go of (read: sold, donated or trashed), but Tyler took a liking to this old box that once held dynamite.
Back when our little church was coming together, the village was also home to the junction for two major rail lines. I imagine dynamite was used to dislodge bedrock in some locations to keep level the train tracks under construction. The bedrock where our village is located is probably made of shale or possibly dolomite, which in any case cannot be shoveled. It must be blasted.
Tyler cleaned up the box, sanded it and applied a couple coats of polyurethane. Then I added a few issues from my vast collection of magazines, and ta, da! A magazine rack for the great room in the church we now call home.
It looks dy-n-o-mite, don’t you think?
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Alert readers may realize today’s headline is a not-so-veiled reference to the 1970s television sitcom “Good Times,” which starred Jimmie Walker whose character was known for the catchphrase “Dy-no-mite!” There’s a look into how my mind works, folks: History, geology, arcane TV references and home decor all come together in one place.
In the 127 years the Church Sweet Home structure has existed, it’s been heated with wood, coal, fuel oil and now natural gas.
We unearthed evidence of these various heating methods during demolition including coal dust in the furnace room and repaired holes in the floor of the sanctuary that had once conveyed vents.
When we bought the church, two nearly new gas-forced-air furnaces nestled in the basement furnace room. It was impossible to walk around inside the room because enormous ducts hung from the ceiling. The ducts had to be big in order to heat a church sanctuary for services in the hour after someone turned on the furnaces; we kept the furnaces but we would eventually have all the ducts rearranged to accommodate our living needs. And oh, it was not clean. Surely the 12-by-15-foot room had been carefully swept when the building was being used as a church, but when we got to it, the building had been mostly empty for 16 months. The spiders had a heyday in there.
One warm December day, early in the demolition process, Tyler donned his Tyvek suit, a respirator and safety goggles, and he power-washed the entire basement, including that furnace room which once in its history had a coal chute.
That helped a lot. After the ductwork was replaced, Tyler moved a few shelving units in there and used the room for storage of various tools and out-of-service household items. This, and the furnaces—the highest function for a furnace room.
But my go-big-or-go-home husband wasn’t satisfied with that. Have I mentioned he’s a first-born Virgo, a bit of a perfectionist?
A couple of weeks ago, he moved everything out of the furnace room and power-washed it again (because just sweeping wasn’t enough). The furnace room was the last area of the basement that required a coat of Drylok masonry waterproofing paint. We think we’ve finally licked the basement water problem, and the paint was the last piece of the puzzle, insuring no seepage through the walls. Better to begin with clean walls, right? And once clean, how about smooth? Tyler applied hydraulic cement in all the cracks.
After he painted two coats of Drylok on the walls, he applied a coat of 1-part epoxy paint to the floor. This man knows how to cut in a paint line.
Wowsers! As with all things, it’s a wonder what a difference a little paint can make. The furnace room now looks like new construction, which it most definitely isn’t. I almost feel like decorating around the furnaces and turning it into a bedroom. Which I most definitely won’t. But it’s that nice.
Here’s to elbow grease and paint.
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Today’s headline is a derivation of a Saturday morning Schoolhouse Rock video: Conjunction Junction. “Conjuction Junction, what’s your function? Hookin’ up words and phrases and clauses.”
If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know that we reused, rejuvenated and recycled the things left behind in the church that deserved another life: The sanctuary windows, a number of light fixtures, the tin ceiling in the basement, the rest room sign from the bathroom and all the original wood floors built back in the 1890s are a few of the items that continue to be useful here at Church Sweet Home.
Add to the list an old picnic table that itself was made of reclaimed wood.
More than a year ago, we began dismantling the old back entryway to the basement, and we found a bunch of old pew pieces, a chunk we think may have been part of an altar and a huge hunk of painted wood planks we identified as an old picnic table by the fixtures designed for legs and a “HI” carved into the face.
I imagined generations of families in their Sunday best passing big bowls of mashed potatoes and platters of sliced ham from one person to another along this enormous tabletop. Even in its battered condition, some parishioners thought the piece was meaningful or functional enough to store away with other wooden treasures in the back entryway.
We thought so, too.
We squirreled this hunk of wood away as we did with hundreds of other pieces of wood we salvaged from the old Methodist church during demolition. We knew we could do something interesting with it at some point.
At some point, Tyler determined that hunk of wood would make a great set of doors for our balcony landing, necessary to provide a bit of privacy to our guests staying in the bedroom on the second floor. He put You-Can-Call-Me-Al, our enterprising master carpenter, on the project. Tyler directed You-Can-Call-Me-Al to build the door entirely from that hunk of wood and scrap lumber found in the church.
Meanwhile, Tyler got to shopping, and he found the a set of hinges to secure the door to the walls. Where? From Europe on eBay, of course. Here’s how the auction was written:
Salvaged Heavy Old Strap Hinges & Cups for Large Gate Garage
We live in a very small ancient hamlet with a church that is 12th century, and we spent seven years (or more) from 2001-2008 renovating the house but we have recently downsized to a much smaller cottage next door. The house was built in 1878, and though we can’t be sure, we think the hinges came from the old Coach House that housed the Coachman/Carriage and Stable for the horses. We were unable to reuse them at the time and kept many salvaged items to refurbish our next house which was built in 1450 and where we will eventually retire to in our old age! We are still going through sheds and outhouses sorting and disposing of items we know we won’t use — largely because they are not old enough!
Imagine that! Pieces of metal from 1878 weren’t old enough for this seller! Their trash was our treasure. One-hundred-and-forty years old was perfect for our project.
You-Can-Call-Me-Al constructed the doors, Tyler applied multiple coats of polyurethane, and mounted decorative metal pieces and handles from Restoration Hardware, and together they hung the doors on either side of the balcony landing doorway.
Our rebuilt doors made of salvage wood add an interesting rustic flair to our otherwise formal balcony, which is exactly the feel for which we were going. Another great example of giving new life to old junk. Yay!
I learned a few things about my husband of ten years as we renovated our 127-year-old church into a home. I knew he had a lot of tools, but I didn’t know he was so skilled at using them—hammers, sanders, saws, paint sprayers. I didn’t know he knew how to run an excavator. I didn’t know his good taste extended to interior design.
And I didn’t know he was an audiophile.
He kept this fact mostly secret throughout construction. Maybe it wasn’t purposeful. Maybe the language he spoke just went in one ear and out the other (did you see what I was doing there with that idiom?). I didn’t know the difference between a tweeter and a woofer let alone between a Klipsch and a Miller & Kreisel.
Before we even built the cabinetry for the back wall of the great room, we had enormous speakers lining the floor. He struck a deal with a friend on some of them (of course he did), and he collected a few more from a relative’s collection. Then, some weeks later, he found online a woofer, or maybe it was a subwoofer, with all the bells and whistles. He already owned the receiver. Or at least I think we did. At a certain point, I quit asking questions about what had been squirreled away and what was being newly acquired. But he wanted me to mention his receiver has “4K ultra HD network AV surround” with 1,200 watts of something-or-other 11.2. I literally have no idea what that means. But an audiophile does.
That’s one of the reasons we “needed” so much cabinetry in the great room. It was necessary to accommodate our hobbies. One of my hobbies is, or at least was, scrapbooking, and I have at least 20 finished 12-by-12 scrapbooks that need to be stored somewhere. And one of Tyler’s hobbies is listening to music. To do that right, at least in his mind, he needed a lot of speakers.
In the end, Tyler connected 25 speakers (including subwoofers, woofers, midrange, tweeters, horn tweeters and piezo tweeters) to his system using 700 feet of speaker wire. Speaker wire was like nails for a while there. Seemed like we were always buying another box of it.
Then, as he connected various components, there would be the inevitable tuning. He would play a few lines of some song at top volume over and over again, adjusting the EQ, tone controls, balance and fade on the big screen. Because, of course, the whole system has airplay, ethernet, wifi and bluetooth connection capability. Now, all he has to do is pull out his phone and he has access to just about any piece of music on Amazon Prime, Spotify and iTunes.
Thanks to digital music, there is not a single record, 8-track tape, cassette or CD in any one of those cupboards. When you have a system like ours, you appreciate when someone “remasters” the digital version of a golden oldie.
Oh, do I appreciate it.
For all the lack of attention I paid to Tyler’s machinations regarding his stereo system, listening to music in our chome now is like no experience short of a live concert in a concert hall.
It’s grand. A rock tune is one thing, but classical music, which Tyler plays nearly every Sunday morning, practically brings me to tears. It’s amazing.
We’ve watched the movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” in our living room, not once but twice, it was so good. Queen, in concert. Freddie Mercury was singing right to me.
We’ve also landed on a great parlor game. The other night, we entertained my mother-in-law and her brother (Tyler’s uncle). For an hour, Tyler the DJ had us making song requests, which he programmed into the mix. We enjoyed hits from Mötley Crüe, Blondie, Dave Brubeck, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils and Neil Diamond, to name a few. Everything genre from 1950 to 2019, Abba to Zhou. If I didn’t like someone’s choice, I knew my selection would be coming right up. What a show.
One of my requests was Peter Gabriel’s Big Time. I think there couldn’t be a better tune for our venue.
And I will pray to a big god As I kneel in the big church.
Big time I’m on my way—I’m making it. Big time. Big time. I’ve got to make it show, yeah. Big time. Big time. So much larger than life.
As we have reinvested in home furnishings and decorations to style our Church Sweet Home, we’ve run across a number of amazing artists and vendors. Sometimes the vendor is a big-box-type store but more often it’s an online retailer or a local vendor. On some Wednesdays here on Church Sweet Home, I will share our latest find and reveal who provided it to help other interested home designers.
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One of the distinctive features of our great room is our ceiling beams. There is the fireplace, and the spiral stairway, and that fab reused kitchen, too, but today we’re talking beams.
Faux wood beams.
The very first minute I stood in the old church sanctuary when we were checking it out with our real estate agent, I knew I wanted to put wood beams on that big beautiful ceiling. And Tyler figured out how to do it without hoisting two-ton hunks of timber up there.
Tyler found rigid polyurethane foam beams online—lighter and more durable than actual wood beams and more affordable, they were advertised as being “virtually indistinguishable from real wood.” The array of options was dazzling.
L beam or U beam?
Rough sawn or hand hewn (or any of eight other textures)?
How wide? How high? How long? Do you need endcaps?
What color? We knew we wanted “brown” but we could choose from among eleven shades of brown. We finally settled on antique cherry.
They arrived some weeks later by semi-truck, not your typical delivery but packed perfectly to protect our precious cargo.
Remarkable. They really were virtually indistinguishable from real wood beams. And they were as light as cappuccino foam, which made them easier to install.
This was just the distinction we wanted for the cathedral ceiling of our great room.
Tyler found our beams at the Architectural Depot, “the do-it-yourself superstore.” Given their “superstore” tagline, they sell a lot more than faux wood beams. If you’re in the market for ceiling medallions, moulding, PVC millwork, shutters, columns, corbels & brackets, ventilation, doors and windows, siding and components, weathervanes or yard items, they offer things, too.
We also used the faux wood beams in a smaller area: The entryway. We used them to add interest to an otherwise standard peaked ceiling.
You can check out all that the Architectural Depot has to offer by clicking here. The website is user-friendly and you’ll find all kinds of great tips when you place an order. Also, we were able to order short sample pieces of beam before investing a couple thousand in the final product. I highly recommend doing that if you have a big project (or even a small one).
When you’re on a home improvement kick, absolutely everywhere you go offers the potential for inspiration.
Early on, Tyler and I bided our time waiting to close our deal on the church by visiting home improvement shows, home improvement stores, furniture stores, parades of homes, every show on HGTV, friends’ houses … you get the picture. We kept that up throughout construction.
Eventually, we got to the decorating phase, and I spent a lot of time at Pier 1. And as luck would have it, the nearby Pier 1 was next door to a Bath & Body Works store. So easy to stop in for hand soap (and body lotion and lip gloss …). I also spied this display in the back of the store behind the cash register. Where other people saw a brightly lit 100% guarantee, I saw 100% bright idea.
The owner told me that in other franchise stores, that space filled by the sign was a big television screen with animated advertising; she just didn’t have the flat screen. I loved the lighting effect and the window pane design, and I thought, “That idea could work on the back wall of the great room.”
Click! I took a picture.
That retail display inspired the custom cabinetry on the right side of our fireplace in the church.
Well, we’re not quite done, but I’ve been stringing you along on the back wall of the church for a week now. My “advertising” is still in the works. The flower, mirror and adorable picture of my granddaughter are placeholders for a grouping of a dozen canvas-wrapped vacation and family photos I’m going to display there. Also, we have rope lighting hidden in there, but these photos were taken during the day. You’re just going to have to trust me. It’s going to be epic.
Overall, we don’t have perfect symmetry on the left and right sides of the fireplace, but we wiped that out as soon as we installed the spiral staircase. We have coordination. Matchy-matchy is so yesterday’s Sears showroom anyway.
If you were to do a deep dive into the computer files on my computer desktop for all things related to our church conversion project, you’d find among the first documents I created one called “House wish list.” It’s dated shortly after the congregation accepted our purchase offer on the church but more than a month before we actually took ownership. At this point in the project, we had walked through the church three times but we were just dreaming and planning because we couldn’t do any work yet.
On the two-page list are items like “method for displaying china,” “walk-in closet” and “ginormous *expletive* TV screen” (excuse my French). Check, check and check. We worked all those things into the design for our Church Sweet Home.
Also on the list for the kitchen? “Pantry area with lots of storage.”
In one of the early floor plans, our pantry was a walk-in closet sharing space from what is now our walk-in-clothes closet, but we had to scrap that idea when we found the amazingly priced display kitchen. We designed our kitchen around the cabinets that came with the display kitchen, and that meant putting our refrigerator into the pantry space. The display kitchen also failed to leave room for a microwave.
We plowed ahead knowing we would figure something out.
At some point, I saw a picture of a bank of shallow floor-to-ceiling cabinets in a kitchen, and I figured we could turn the northwest corner of the great room into our pantry using some version of this concept. When we moved into the church, a pair of beat-up wicker cabinets served as the pantry.
After Christmas, Tyler took up the project of building cabinets for the pantry and the back wall of the great room. Note: That’s about 25 linear feet of cabinets which is to say a lot of cabinetry (“go big or go home,” remember?). After much shopping, he determined he could buy ready-to-assemble cabinets for about $10,000 not including counter tops.
Well, we didn’t have $10,000 to built cabinets for canned food and stereo equipment. The Tequila Budget was so far back in our rear view mirror we couldn’t see it anymore but that doesn’t mean we didn’t think about the bottom line.
After consulting with You-Can-Call-Me Al, Tyler determined he could build and paint custom cabinets for significantly less than $10,000. In the end, the pantry and the back wall of cabinets and shelving cost about $8,300 in labor and materials (including the counter tops, cabinet knobs and finishing trim). We got exactly what we were envisioning, so going the totally custom route was the right choice for us.
My pantry now includes space for a mop and broom (in the cupboard on the end there), space for the microwave and all my cookbooks, and a whole lot of larder space for canned goods, paper towels, potato chips and all kinds of chocolate (must have space for chocolate).
Tyler and You-Can-Call-Me Al built these cabinets from scatch, and You-Can-Call-Me-Al figured out how to accommodate our semi-straight walls and undulating floors (it’s a 127-year-old church, remember). We chose the same military blue cabinet colors as we have in the beverage bar in the opposite corner of the great room. The counter top is butcher block stained the same color as our front entryway steps. You-Can-Call-Me-Al, who we initially hired to tile our shower, tiled the back splash in the same manner as the rest of the kitchen.
The corner at the end of the pantry remotely resembles a phone booth. It seemed to be the perfect place to mount an antique telephone.
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I’ll share pictures of the back wall of cabinets flanking the fireplace in the great room in Church Sweet Home posts next week. Stay tuned.