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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.

back wall inspiration
Welcome to Bath & Body Works.

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.

back wall right side
You’re going to have to use your imagination for this side.

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.

back wall with pantry
This angle shows the pantry (left) and the entire back wall of the great room.

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.

Let’s remind ourselves where we began. Oh, dear.

sanctuary before
Here’s what the back wall of the church looked like when we purchased the building.
back wall straight on
And here’s how it looks today.

Pantry plotting

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.

pantry area before demo
This picture was taken shortly after we took ownership of the church before we demoed much of anything. The closet on the left became our back door to the garage. The area on the right is the spot that would someday become our pantry. In the area on the right, you can see the step-up of the altar area and the end of the communion rail, both of which were torn out during demo.

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.

Pantry area before
A pair of wicker cabinets under the spiral stairway comprised our pantry when we moved into the church last fall.

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.

pantry area after
Our pantry, after.

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.

It’s a party line. One-ringy-dingy, two-ringy-dingy…

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.




All’s well that ends well … with a bath

It took months, but we finally finished the tub surround.

There’s one bathtub in the chome, and it’s in the upstairs guest bathroom. The tub itself, a big soaker, was purchased early on. It was so big, we needed it in the room before we built the walls around it.

We finished the room around the tub including the shower, the vanity and the toilet. But the tub was just a basin for dust even four months after we moved in. Why? We went round and round with the tub faucet.

First we bought a beautiful waterfall faucet when we purchased all our other bathroom fixtures. When the plumber tried to install it, he pointed out it was a faucet for a bathroom sink; it would take hours to fill our tub with it. So the plumber ordered a tub faucet for us. When he inspected the parts, he realized it was missing the correct fittings. After much backing and forthing, he determined he could not even get the correct fittings. So Tyler looked in vain for a waterfall faucet online. We finally settled on a faucet with a shower sprayer. From Amazon. After nine months of screwing around, it was delivered the next day.

Once Glimfeather, our long-suffering plumber, got the faucet installed, we were ready to enclose the sides of the tub. You-Can-Call-Me-Al, our talented carpenter, built the sides with the same reclaimed wood we used for one wall in the guest powder room and for our headboard in the master bedroom.

Finally, we invited the stone guys to measure for the tub surround. I found a simple white quartz in the remnants pile out back of their operation, and the stone guys installed it over two days.

tub in full
The bath tub in all its glory.

Tyler, who is the bigger fan of baths between the two of us, drew a bath the first chance he could. I retreated downstairs to look for leaks. None were found so we could both relax, he among bubbles and me on the dry main floor.

bath faucet
Our faucet, finally.

The faucet is not what we first chose, but it has functional beauty. I can wash my hair in the tub if I choose, and someday it will be handy to give a squirmy grandchild a bath.

tub surround
A close-up look at our reclaimed wood.

Upon further reflection, I think the distinctive reclaimed wood we’ve been using in the chome was reclaimed to begin with. We found it in the basement during demolition; the tin ceiling was nailed to it. Because of all the various paint colors, it must have served some other purposes before it was pressed into service in the ceiling. So it’s been reclaimed twice. All we did to it was add a couple coats of clear polyurethane.

And finally, the guest bathroom is complete.


The comfort of an old wooden pew

When we purchased the old Methodist church we intended to turn into our home, absent were many of the furnishings one finds in other churches. The altar had been left on the curb to be scavenged. There was no baptismal font. And the pews were gone.

sanctuary before
If you squint, you can see the indentations left in the carpet where the pews used to stand. This is the sanctuary when we took ownership of the church.

Oh, we found a few banquet chairs in the basement, and the congregants left behind some 1950s Sunday school chairs, but the only thing left in the sanctuary was the communion rail. Late in demolition, we found a few pew parts stashed in the cubby above the back door, though they were nothing we could reassemble into seating of any sort.

But a church isn’t complete without pews, right?

Perhaps ironically. Tyler had been carrying around a former church pew for the better part of his life. Who knew it would find its way back into a church?

Back in the 1970s, Tyler’s dad bought a number of pews when the old St. James Catholic Church in Belvidere, Illinois, was torn down to be rebuilt. Tyler’s family owned a number of shoe stores, and what shoe salesman can’t use more customer seating?

The front entryway of our former home.

Eventually, the shoe stores closed, and Tyler acquired one of the pews. By the time I came into the picture, the pew had been shortened to about four feet long and was finished in golden oak. It sat just inside the front door of our first home together, and many guests removed or put on their shoes while sitting in it. When we left that home and sold most of our furnishing to live in an RV, the distinctive and meaningful pew was one of the few pieces we kept in storage.

As we designed the layout of Church Sweet Home, we both had in mind to reinstall the old pew in a place of honor and function near the back door. Many other projects were in line before rejuvenating the old pew, but finally after Christmas, Tyler gave the pew some attention because it was falling apart. It needed to be glued back together and the golden oak finish had to go. St. Johnny, Tyler’s hired man, spent many hours sanding the pew, and Tyler chose and nice brown stain.

pew closeup
The pew is a classic Gothic style with many details any woodworker would admire, including Lancet window impressions on the side.

How many people sat in this pew to pray or sing or listen to a sermon or witness a baptism or a funeral? Now it performs a functional purpose again, providing a place to set groceries or seating when I put on my boots. These are not sacred acts, perhaps, but it’s nice to have this piece of history in our home.

pew straight on
The pew in our new back entryway.

Merchant Wednesday: House numbers (plus a look at the entryway)

Among the projects we raced to finish in time to show off to our guests at the holidays was the entryway to the church. We were, of course, able to move in months ago without having to finish the space (only the ceiling was done), but since it was the first impression (or second, if you took in the exterior of the church first), we wanted it to be finished.

Which meant a flurry of activity took place in late November and early December. You-Can-Call-Me Al, who had tiled our shower and kitchen back splash, tiled the ground-level entry floor. Then he built new wooden treads for the steps leading up into the sanctuary and stained them. St. Johnny spent hours sanding the sanctuary level landing; it was a bear, covered in decades of paint and mastic and gunk. We decided to keep it rustic, leaving some of the paint intact, and we stained over it. Finally, we had the walls, trim and interior doors painted, hung the new chandelier and had our wrought iron team install the railing.

The transformation of the space is significant.

But let’s begin with a look at how the front doors looked when we bought the church a year ago. I’ve shared this shot before, but it’s a good taste of all the “befores” of the church (and who doesn’t appreciate a good transformation story, especially at this time of year?).

front door
The front door was functional, but it had been stripped of a lot of its charm when the congregation replaced the original French doors with industrial red ones. The red ones were certainly more sound than the French doors, which had been stored and were so rotted when we found them, we left them on the curb because we didn’t think we could restore them. Also, the tiny lights on either side of the door may have provided illumination, but they fell short in the distinctive category.

Here’s how our Church Sweet Home presents its entryway now.

entryway exterior after
Those magnificent castle doors are a lot more interesting, and the light fixtures flanking them say a lot more than simply, “Let there by light.” Tyler rubbed a coat of tung oil into the doors in December to deepen their beauty and rub out all the nicks and scratches they had endured during construction and move-in.

Which brings me to the secondary purpose of today’s post: To call out the artisans who created our beautiful house numbers. Zach and Sheena’s work at TheWoodsCollective was featured in an issue of HGTV Magazine, and when I saw it, I wanted it for our church.

house numbers after

This is exactly the type of custom feature perfect for an Etsy vendor because everyone appreciates choosing their own wood finish and number style, and every house requires different numbers.

You can shop their offerings on Etsy at TheWoodsCollective.

OK, back to our entryway tour. Here’s how our entryway behind the door looks now.

open door
Welcome! Come on in!

See that door bell button there on the right? When you push it, it rings like a church bell inside the church. It’s awesome!

Let’s take a look at some before and after photos.

entryway stairs before
When we purchased the church, the ceiling was flat across the top with tiles, the walls of the entryway were paneled, and the steps were carpeted. The railing was distinctive, but made of wood, which didn’t match the rest of the new railings we eventually installed inside.
entryway stairs after
Here’s how the steps up into the sanctuary look now.

Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the entryway now is that newel post. Tyler found it on Craig’s List and sent me two hours south to retrieve it. It’s solid wood, salvaged from a mansion in Chicago, and very heavy. The guy who sold it to us had multiple storage units filled with various pieces of mansions and churches–doors, altars, stained glass windows, hutches, and more. When I got the post back here, Tyler cut a few inches from the bottom to make it fit, and it was not easy task to cut a 10-and-a-half-inch column of wood.

newell post cross cut
Ah, I remember well the sawdust era of construction.

The guys at the spiral stairs manufacturer, who built all our railings, painted the newel post to match our steel, and then built the railing to fit it.

The stairs down to the basement are not so grand as the “up” steps, at least for now. Tyler painted them a nice blue-gray. At least the carpet is gone.

When we bought the church, I appreciated the message inside the front doors …

entryway exit before
Go now in peace

… but I like our new light fixture now.

entryway exit after
The black steel light fixture coordinates with our railing, and the ceiling beams are the same as we have inside the sanctuary.

And, though I don’t have a good before of this angle, here’s a look at our Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall. Tyler found this ornate mirror at an estate sale about a week after we decided to buy the church. Now, when you enter or leave the house, you can gaze as your reflection and ask, “Who’s the fairest of them all?”

entryway mirror after
These interior doors are original to the church (or at least when we purchased it). We put in the glass panels and repainted the wood, and they look good as new.

I had intended to put a half-circle marble shelf beneath the mirror, but it turns out there’s no way to secure it, so we are looking for a little table to go there.

There you go, our renovated entryway to Church Sweet Home. Now you can go in peace.

Old lights, new lights

Our story so far: We implemented meaningful ways to make the old Methodist church our home.

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old light in back entry
One of the old lights formerly lit the side entryway to the church (the doorway through which this picture was taken was walled up to enclose our master bedroom).
light globes

The Hall of History, when we purchased the church, was paneled and dark. Removing the paneling and installing drywall helped immensely, but it needed good lighting, too, to be inviting. What better fixtures than historical ones? Among my favorite recycling projects in the church was our reuse of these various light fixtures; one of them, for instance, originally lit the side entry. The globes shared color—white—but varied in shape.

rusty collars
Collars before spray paint.

We also unearthed a number of rusty collars of unknown age. I spray-painted the collars in matte black and had them rewired. The globes required only soap and water.

collars in spraypaint
Collars in the spray paint booth (that is, the basement).

Then they sat in storage for ages. I could hardly wait until it was their turn to get installed. They were among the last ones.

The best parts were the screws used to secure the globes in the collars. I, hater of all things brass, chose brass. They were just the right accent, and I loved them.

hall of history lights
Hall of history lights (with brass screws!).

When we moved in, I took great satisfaction in flipping the switch to turn on the lights in the Hall of History. They warmed my heart a little bit.

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Tomorrow: More cozy touches in the kitchen. Read about it here.

Bigly (or possibly big league, hard to tell)

Our story so far: Tyler scooped up a used refrigerator for his new mancave.

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shingled garage
The fully shingled garage.

Our electrician stopped by, not for a beer, but to deliver a gift: A pair of lawn chairs he’d snagged for as good a deal as the refrigerator Tyler picked up. The electrician thought they would look right at home on our patio. We accepted his thoughtful gift. As he observed our mammoth garage structure, he remarked, “Your garage is bigger than my house.”

He wasn’t the only one to notice the Garage Mahal. A neighbor stopped by, echoing the electrician’s comments: “Your garage is bigger than most of the houses here.”

Point taken. The garage was about 50 percent bigger than the rental house we had lived in over the winter. Two blocks from the church, that rental house was part of the neighborhood which was dotted with a number of other rental units. To be fair, the neighborhood was also home to a couple of pretty impressive Victorian homes and a house that was once that town’s hotel.

Friends who saw pictures of our garage used words like “ginormous” and “massive.” It was big, no doubt, but I didn’t feel it was outsized. The three-car garage attached to our former home dwarfed the rest of the structure because, like most suburban houses built in areas without alleys, it stuck out front calling attention to itself (and Tyler still had two other structures in the yard to store all the tools and gardening supplies that didn’t fit in the garage). At least our chome garage was behind the house. I remembered how Tyler had filled the sanctuary of the church with tools when we first took possession. And he used a lot of those tools during demolition and reconstruction. They needed to be stored somewhere. Also, we had large vehicles (even so, we had to store the RV elsewhere because it was too tall and long for any standard garage). It might have been conspicuous now, but once the garage was sided to match the rest of the church, it would blend right in.

At least that’s what I told myself.

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Tomorrow: Garage doors go on! See them here.


Our story so far: Shortly after we moved into the church we turned into our home, my parents paid us visit.

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bathroom knobs
I ended up going with white porcelain knobs in the bathroom. The drawer pulls are accented with polished chrome, like the sink faucets.

A more enduring gift than the abundant harvest was my dad’s expertise with a cabinet hardware jig, a device that makes it easier to install cabinet knobs. He spent his “free” time during my parents’ visit installing more than fifty cabinet knobs throughout the church. When we moved into the church and I asked Tyler about when he would put on all our knobs, he said, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Rome wasn’t finished when Dad left, but at least I could open all my cabinets properly.

When I pulled bags of knobs out of the bathroom cabinets for Dad to install, I ran across a couple of boxes of tip-out sink-front trays that turn false drawer fronts into usable storage.

“Oh, maybe you can install these while you’re at it,” I said off-handedly, not fully grasping the enormity of the task I was asking Dad to perform.

tip out drawers
How handy!

In his typical fashion, he did not complain (much). He figured out how to remove the false drawer fronts and install the trays (and the knobs!). Two cautionary tips: Dad told Tyler it would have been much easier to do before the quartz counter top had been glued on (impossible in our situation since we couldn’t find them then, but a useful note for you future DIYers). And, if you have a Dad as clever as mine who installs such handy drawers, you better put them to use. Because he will check when he visits at a later date and grouse about it to your sister when he discovers he put in all that effort and they’re not even used. I filled mine immediately with tooth floss and lip gloss.

kitchen knobs
The knobs for the beverage bar cabinets came from the drawers originally in the display kitchen but which ended up in the master bath.
mudroom knobs
The knobs for the mudroom cabinets were a perfectly rustic.
linen closet knobs
After my linen closet doors hung ajar for a couple of weeks, Dad solved the problem by installing the door knobs. Bingo!
laundry room knobs
The knobs on the laundry room cabinets were my favorite. They matched the plumbing pipe we used for the closet rods.

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Tomorrow: The balcony, unveiled. Check it out here.

How to build a garage in 10 easy steps

Our story so far: We worked ten months to make the old Methodist church habitable, and now Tyler turned his attention to the garage in order to get it done before winter.

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Chapter 42

How to build a garage in ten easy steps:

  1. Pour concrete.
  2. Nail together and erect two-by-six walls.
  3. Sheet walls with plywood and wrap with air-and-water repellent building wrap.
  4. Order roof trusses.
  5. Hire crane to set roof trusses.
  6. Sheet roof with plywood, roof felt and ice-and-water barrier.
  7. Shingle.
  8. Install soffit and fascia.
  9. Install doors and windows.
  10. Install siding.

If it were as easy to do as it was to write about it, everyone would build their own garage. Not everyone does. But Tyler was not everyone.

As he prepared to turn his attention to his garage, Tyler discussed the project with You-Can-Call-Me-Al, the man whose experience and execution skills had turned him into Tyler’s right-hand man. You-Can-Call-Me-Al, who had been willing through months of construction to work without written plans, was nonetheless more comfortable using them.

“Don’t you have blueprints for the garage?” You-Can-Call-Me-Al asked.

“No,” Tyler said. “I’ve never had plans for any other garage I’ve built.”

Tyler and I joked later than I should draw his ideas on a piece of notebook paper with blue ink, hand them to You-Can-Call-Me-Al and say, “Here’s our blue prints.”

Thus, Tyler and crew embarked on forming a garage from the ether of ideas.

back yard when we bought it
Here’s how the back yard of the church looked when we bought it. That little shed by the chimney? Tyler resurrected it to store tools through the spring and summer, but Tyler spared it of an inferiority complex by razing it when he started building the garage.

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Tomorrow: Garage raising. Read about it here.

You have a more interesting life if you wear impressive clothes

Our story so far: We made coffee at our beverage bar for the first time on the morning we woke up in the church we renovated into our dream home.

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I spent the rest of the day hanging clothes. Clothes that had been in the rental house. Clothes that had been in the RV. Clothes that had been in storage for two years. So many clothes. It was a good thing we’d created so much hanging space. While I hung clothes, I also washed them. How novel! My new washer and dryer hummed quietly in the background as I unpacked long forgotten dresses, suits and sweaters.

closet lights
Here’s an After shot of my closet after I finished hanging clothes in it. It shows the new lights, which Tyler described as “prison lights.” But he’s not the one who does laundry, and I love how they coordinate with the plumbing pipe closet rods.

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Today’s headline is a quote from British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood.

Tomorrow: The movers haul in the stove, among other things. Read about it here.