Our favorite before and after transformations

Before and after photos are satisfying. In the same minute, you see the agony of the mess along side its potential: the thrill of victory. Plus, there’s a little spot-the-difference mystery. Is that really the same person/pantry/porch/plastic surgery patient?

But I think the subject of the before and after photos finds them even more satisfying than just any old viewer. Because they know the work that came between the before and the after. As I prepare to launch Church Sweet Home, the memoir based on this blog that has depended heavily on the power of transformation, Tyler and I have been reflecting on our favorite before-and-afters of our church conversion project.

Tyler’s favorite before and after transformation is so obscure, I haven’t shared photos of it until now (and it wasn’t easy finding these shots among the 10,000 photos I took of the renovation). His favorite transformation is the back egress.

Here’s the before:

Back Egress BEFORE
BEFORE: This little lean-to covered the stairway to the basement of the church.

Originally, the only back door in the church was below ground level. This would never do for Tyler’s vision, which included an attached garage. We needed to get from the garage into the house without having to go through the basement. This transformation required many things: relocating the wires that anchored the power pole, jack-hammering the concrete steps to reroute them inside the garage, building a garage, removing the lean-to, cutting a doorway, and building a walkway over the stairway.

This walkway is what Tyler is most proud of—that he thought of it at all and figured out a way to make it happen. The walkway could have been built of wood, but its depth would have intruded on the headroom over the stairway. Instead, he had a steel fabricator make a bridge that was inches shallower but still strong enough to convey a person over the stairway.

Back Egress AFTER
AFTER: The basement stairway, formerly enclosed in the lean-to, now turns into the garage. The steel bridge is hidden behind in the wooden steps leading to the back door.

Here’s a look at the before-and-after from inside the church:


A closet originally filled the space where the back door was cut.

Now my favorite transformation: the headboard in the master bedroom.

BEFORE: The space that would be the master bedroom had a wall cutting through the middle. That wall (just two-by-four stumps in this picture) was built in the late 20th century, we think.

Tyler built a new wall on the right side of the window seen above. Then he and my stepson built a half-wall, an idea for a headboard that I saw on an episode of Fixer Upper. Tyler then created a feature by nailing on wood we salvaged from the basement. It came in a rainbow of distressed colors; all it needed was a couple of coats of clear polyurethane.


The headwall was dressed up with some church-window wall art on the shelf.  The space is lit with chandeliers we found in storage when we demoed the church. I cleaned them up, spray-painted them and lit them with new lightbulbs. Tyler tracked down a couple of old bank safes on Craigslist, and they became our nightstands.

Moody Master AFTER
A moodier look.

The room also has a tray ceiling. Rope lighting is tucked inside, and Tyler can change the color of the lighting with his smart phone. Very romantic! This before and after is my favorite because it’s just so pretty.

If you’re a fan of before and after transformations, check out the Before & After tab on the blog for lots of satisfying projects we accomplished around the church.

CSH Book Front Cover Only# # #

My memoir Church Sweet Home: A Renovation to Warm the Soul comes out May 5. Preorder the ebook at Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook.

Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is relax

Before I move along to the east side of the fireplace, let’s make a quick stop in front of the fireplace.

(Feel like you’re joining the conversation mid-stream? I’m sharing how the back wall of my great room in the converted 127-year-old church turned out. Check out this post to read about the pantry and this post to read about the left side of the fireplace.)

I wanted to create a little conversation area in front of the fireplace, but Tyler and I struggled to find the right chairs. They needed to be comfortable and low profile in order to clear the spiral stair on the left side of the hearth. Oh, and the right color—not too gray and not too splashy.

fireplace chair one
This photo makes the chair look beige, but it’s more caramelly than that.

We ended up choosing custom back-tufted caramel-colored leather chairs. And they swivel! Which is perfect for a guest who might want to warm up by the fire and then turn to enjoy the conversation.

We ordered them before Thanksgiving, and they weren’t delivered until February. It pained me to entertain at Christmas without them, but when they finally arrived, they were perfect.

The nailhead detail coordinates with the dark navy storage ottomans we found at another furniture store. Beside stashing our granddaughter’s random toys and books inside between her visits, the ottomans perform as footrests and drink rests, as needed.

fireplace chairs
You can see a peek of the right side of the fireplace cabinetry.

The whole setting is arranged on the faux bear rug Tyler found online (no bears were killed in the making of this rug—read about it here).

(I’ll share another picture of the right side of the fireplace later this week.)

50 shades of grey? Try hundreds

Our story so far: Analysis paralysis had descended upon the church renovation project, especially when it came to choosing paint colors.

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color story
Paint chip mania!

Way back in the autumn when I’d created my design template for the project, I’d chosen a limited palette of about eight colors to guide my choices, but anyone who’s considered painting their trim beige knows there are about a hundred different shades of beige from unbleached silk to khaki.

In any other house I’d owned, I (or my husband) painted every room a different color. Isn’t that what everyone does? But in every other house I’d owned, paint color was usually the most distinctive design feature of the room. In the church, I had all kinds of other distinctive features vying for attention—etched windows, high ceilings, a dramatic spiral stairway, original wood floors. I decided I didn’t need a bunch of different paint colors muddying up the canvas. As we approached the painting phase of renovation, I’d settled on creamy beige for the trim and medium gray for the walls. All the trim. And all the walls. I wanted to paint every room in the same colors to create a cohesive backdrop to everything else going on. Now I’m not sayin’ I didn’t vacillate about this decision. Of course I did. Especially when it came down to choosing which creamy beige and which medium gray.

A trio of girlfriends came to have a look at the church in person (oh, and catch up, too—we did talk about subjects other than the one that obsessed me). While they were there, I pulled the paint chips I had been pondering back at the rental house into the great room for the first time.

And I simultaneously realized that not only would I have to coordinate trim and wall colors with the ceiling color I already had, I would have to think about my kitchen cabinets (which came in two colors).

And my fireplace stone.

And the floor stain.

Yes, I confess I had been dreaming of creamy beiges and medium grays in the form of tiny paint chips in a vacuum far removed from the church. Probably not wise. As soon as I held my creamy beige up to the off-white kitchen cabinets, I realized my creamy beige was yellow.

Blech! Yellow was not in the design scheme. Oh, how narrow the line between creamy beige and yellow! (I will note, for the record, I was once an ardent fan of yellow. I painted the office in my last home yellow—even the ceiling!)

The office in our former house was painted three shades of yellow. It was bright and cheerful, but a little intense.

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Tomorrow: Time to pull out a paintbrush. See what transpires here.