I started this blog because I’m writer. Having already written three books and thousands of blog posts, I sensed I had a great story, no matter how it turned out, and it needed to be documented.
Without knowing how it would end, I chose the unconventional approach of a real-time-memoir with the intention of turning my blog posts into a book. I’ve spent months polishing my prose and having it professionally edited, and finally, the launch day for the book Church Sweet Home: A Renovation to Warm the Soul is coming soon. Mark your calendar: May 5.
If you’re here, reading this blog post, you’ve probably read most of the story and you sort of understand it all ends well. I have hundreds of loyal readers who cheered us on through months of dirty demolition and construction, and I am so grateful for the moral support you offered with nice comments and Facebook likes on so many nights we were exhausted and feeling sorry for ourselves. You helped pull us through.
You might be asking, why would I read this book if I followed the blog? Well, here are five reasons you might enjoy the book as much as you liked the blog:
The book has an all-new prologue about abandoned churches.
The story has a proper heart-warming ending.
All the those annoying “our story so far” and “tomorrow” teasers are gone.
You’ll find out how the real budget compares to the Tequila Budget.
If you’re technically challenged or just too impatient to click through all the blog posts, you can page through the story easily and at your own pace.
I suppose you might know some people who would enjoy the story but aren’t blog readers. Voilà, a book is a nice gift for your friend.
So stay tuned for all the information you need to get yourself a paperback or ebook of Church Sweet Home in May.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to share updates about the renovation. I have a few in the archive, and we still have projects ahead of us.
This time last week, Tyler and I were recovering our breaths from our open house, which can only be described as a spectacular success.
After two years of planning, demolition and reconstruction, we were racing to the finish to get the church into show shape. My dad hung a thousand pictures on Saturday (he says a thousand, I think it was more like 22), and Tyler sent a lot of time making the lawn look presentable. Mom arranged a half dozen flower vases with fresh flowers gifted to us by a friend, so we had fragrant blooms in almost every room. As for me, I emptied all the trash cans as my last act before accepting guests; the message, of course, is that we have functional things like garbage cans, but we don’t actually use them (it’s a joke).
Tyler estimates we had 250 people drop by in the two-plus hours we opened our doors to neighbors, contractors, former members of the church and interested onlookers. We had 105 sign our guest book. So I guess we had somewhere between 105 and 250 come to take a look at our church-house renovation. It felt like 250, for sure.
All four of us–me, Tyler, Mom and Dad– talked non-stop for two hours, and we ran the church bell a hundred times, at least. It was so nice to see people ooh and aah and to hear people say nice things about the church and our work. Among our visitors were three former pastors at the church, which was a fun and enlightening surprise.
We were so preoccupied, we didn’t take a single picture, though I know some people took a lot of them. If you’re willing to share, please let me know.
The best part was the booty we collected. We asked visitors to bring a non-perishable foot item for the Loaves & Fishes food pantry, which got its start in our basement when it was a functioning church, and our guests came through for the charity. More than 600 pounds of food was collected! Wow! Thank you!
If you attended our open house, thank you for being here, for contributing and for saying nice things (at least in earshot, ha, ha).
As for my regular readers who didn’t have the opportunity to be here, I will try to share some of the projects we finished this summer during the next couple weeks. The biggest project I finished that I’m excited to tell you about is the book I wrote about renovating the church. Much more to come on that subject, I assure you.
It covers a multitude of sins, and the right colors transform a surface from beat-up to practically new.
Other people look at beautiful wood and think it’s a shame to do anything other than apply stain. But I am a big fan of painted furniture and painted trim. It is inexplicably cathartic to cover up ugly colors and nicked-up surfaces with new paint. I like to listen to podcasts while I sand, tape and brush surfaces; the process is meditative. The first coat is satisfying, and the last one is pure bliss.
I painted or spray-painted a lot items for the old church in the past year and a half including the upstairs vanity, a headboard and footboard for a bed, a number of light fixtures and a few cupboard doors. But a recent project really shows off the beauty of paint.
Just after we moved into the church last fall, Tyler bought an antique roll-top desk he found on Craig’s List. He wanted a place in the great room to stash his office work away from sight when we entertained.
Here’s the desk when we bought it, closed and open.
It had good bones and an ugly layer of brown paint. The seller claimed it had been around for more than a century, which made it as old as our 127-year-old church. After looking at it for several months as other priorities took my attention, I finally tackled the desk a couple of weeks ago with Fusion mineral paint (thanks, Sherra, for the great tip), and it turned out beautifully.
And here’s the desk now, painted.
The main color is Champlain, accented with Midnight Blue on the top and drawers. The desktop itself pulls out, and there was an inset area I filled with self-stick vinyl floor tile in Travertine, a creamy marble-like look.
I also used a little bit of Fusion’s Inglenook, sort of an aqua color, to accent some of the wood embellishments.
The knobs that came with the desk were workmanlike (read: ugly). It might surprise regular readers to learn I chose brass replacements; generally, I do not like brass, but it seemed an appropriate accent to the dark blue. Tyler found brass flowery knobs for most of the drawers, and we found plainer, smaller brass knobs at the flea market we shopped a few weeks back for the inside drawers. I painted the locks with a slick oil-based brass paint that practically sparkles.
The desk now resides elegantly in the corner of the great room (where the church organ once sat, which I find oddly satisfying). Until Tyler clutters it up, I’m leaving the roll-top open because it looks so nice.
If you liked this paint transformation, you might enjoy these past projects (shared on my personal blog):
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.”
Nothing satisfies one’s desire to close the circle like a few good before-and-after photos. Let’s be honest: It’s why HGTV is even a thing and the only reason Biggest Loser was worth following for 12 episodes a season.
If you followed this blog from the beginning, you’ve enjoyed a lot of before-and-after photos. But if you tried to describe the experience to someone with less fortitude (or interest), it was hard to get to the good stuff. With that in mind, I’ve created a new page on the blog with just the “good stuff”: A page with only before-and-after photos of our project.
If that’s your thing (or you’re trying to show someone what that crazy 50something couple in Wisconsin accomplished), check out the Before & Afters page. You can click here or just go to the Home Page and look for “Before & Afters” tab.
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!
We suffered a loss here at the Church Sweet Home estate, and it hit me harder than I expected.
We cut down three mostly dead Chinese elm trees on our property line last month. Well, to be specific, we had them cut down by the pros. Removing 65-foot-tall trees is not for amateurs unless you’re interested in starring in stupid idiot videos involving chainsaws and house disasters.
We knew they were mostly dead. During an ice storm earlier this year, one of the trees split nearly in half. The branches clogged up the driveway next door, and that’s when we understood we needed to take drastic action. Before some fallen branches clipped a car. Or a person.
So, Tyler called a tree guy, and he diagnosed the trees as kaput. I suspect he was a little like a surgeon who fixes every malady with a scalpel, but we didn’t have any holistic remedies at the ready. So chainsaw it was.
The project required two days, four trucks (some with buckets) and at least six guys. Strange weather befell us, and the men worked through sunshine, clouds, rain and snow. They started at the top of the trees, which towered far above the top of our belfry, and worked their way to the ground.
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
Yes. It sounds like a chainsaw and feels like an earthquake. The church literally shuddered when the trunks were felled. I shuddered, too.
The tree guys knew what they were doing. Our trees were removed without incident.
Except to the trees. Which were essentially massacred. The trunks were cut into pieces and hauled away to be used for pallets, we were told. The branches were turned into chips, mulch for someone’s yard maybe.
Chinese elm is a rapid-growing species native to eastern Asia. It is highly resistant to Dutch elm disease (which killed off three-quarters of all American elms in North America). It wasn’t disease that killed off our trees. It was just age. And ice, I guess, which is problematic for the older set who is a little unsteady on their feet, too.
When the tree guys finished their work, I inspected the remaining stumps in a way I had never looked at the trees in the first place. I didn’t appreciate them when they were around. I was sort of sad. I counted 70 rings in the stumps, so they were planted about the same time the church underwent a major renovation to build a new entryway and move the altar from the east side of the sanctuary to the north side. The ’40s must have been a good decade for the Methodists here. Renovations like that take money, which in the church world, required enthusiastic members.
Our yard, even without the spindly leafless branches, looks weirdly naked without our dying Chinese elms. Of course, it doesn’t help that the gray of early spring casts a pall on the entire landscape.
I suppose the trees lived a good life and died a good death. But I miss them.
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Today’s headline is a quote from American author Karen Joy Fowler. She is best known as the author of the best-selling novel The Jane Austen Book Club that was made into a movie.
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).