Heaven Sent Home Renovation
An old Lewes church is converted into a vacation home.
The sanctuary’s original pine floors ground the space.
Maggie McIntosh is a politician. Her wife, Diane Stollenwerk, is an entrepreneur. In Lewes, most folks know them as the Church Ladies. The couple’s vacation home is the former St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, built in 1882, then renovated and expanded in 1930.
By 2013, the church had been for sale for more than a year and was being rented by another congregation. McIntosh and Stollenwerk took a look at the faded building after visiting friends in Lewes and deciding the hip, historic village would be an ideal setting for a getaway from their busy careers in Baltimore.
Stollenwerk climbed on a teetering folding chair, lifted a panel of the dropped ceiling, raised her arm into what she thought might be the attic and hit the flash on her smartphone. That’s when the light bulb went on for these intrepid house hunters.
“I could see that the front of the church from 1882 and the beams were still there,” she recalls. “That is what sold us on it.” To transform the tired church into a vibrant home, the women turned to Ziger/Snead, a Baltimore architectural firm known for reinterpreting spaces. Beachwood Builders of Showell, Md.—“the best builders ever,” McIntosh says—provided construction services.
The couple’s goal was to remain faithful to the historic character of the church while creating a space they could enjoy and share with friends and the community. To that end, the new owners envisioned a large, open gathering area for conversation, cooking and dining in the former sanctuary. A master suite, guest suite and home office are sited in the back, private area of the home. They also reopened the long-silent bell tower, now accessible via a ship’s ladder.
The home is the former St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, built in 1882.
How Firm a Foundation
Achieving those goals required bolstering the building’s structure. To stabilize the upper level, beams were tied with hurricane bolts. The builder rented a crane to replace the roof on the bell tower. There was trouble underground. There were no footers beneath an 8-foot addition to the building. To add that support, the addition was jacked up, then footers were poured.
Thick mold made the basement uninhabitable. In addition to remediating the mold, the crew dug out the crumbling basement floor and replaced it with a gravel base, new floor, French drain and sump pump. Outdated systems were replaced with high-efficiency HVAC. “This building is stronger than it’s ever been,” McIntosh says.
Other challenges involved aesthetics as well as structure. How to install a fireplace without a chimney? The solution was to install a rear-vent fireplace, a focal point that combines a bed of stones and a single line of flame. A salvaged beam from the ceiling has been repurposed as the mantel. The sanctuary’s original pine floors ground the space.
Throughout the renovation, the couple spent as much time as possible on site, sleeping on an air mattress and setting up a coffee maker on the altar. They also contributed sweat equity, painting walls and trim, setting tile in the master bath and installing cabinet organizers.
The European-style kitchen, made by a high-end German maker, came from a friend.
‘Like opening a gift’
A former teacher, McIntosh serves in the Maryland House of Delegates, representing Baltimore’s 43rd District. Stollenwerk is the founder and president of StollenWerks Inc., a health policy consulting firm. She is also co-founder of the Patient Voice Institute, which is dedicated to including patients in health-care policies.
They invited the community to offer input on their project, setting up a suggestion board. Before the sheetrock went up, the homeowners asked friends and neighbors to write messages on newly blown-in insulation to create a time capsule of good wishes.
Blessedly, many church artifacts that were replaced over the years were tucked away between joists and in other recesses rather than tossed in the trash. During the course of the renovation, the new owners discovered woven collection baskets and decorative carved-wood accents from the original altar. “It’s been an evolutionary adventure, like opening a gift,” Stollenwerk says.
The original facade, covered when the front of the church was expanded in the 1930s, is now part of the entryway. A large fan window framed with wooden-peg joinery has been reinstalled. Small stained-glass windows filter light into what is now the master bedroom. “Their colors change with the light,” Stollenwerk says. “The purple becomes blue and the light green turns to forest green.”
Stained-glass windows, originally from Baltimore City Hall, are framed in copper and mounted on a wall in the dining area.
Trash to treasure
Larger, grander stained-glass windows, originally from Baltimore City Hall, are framed in copper and mounted on a wall in the dining area. Backlighting creates a magical glow in the evening.
Like the church, the windows had languished for years. A friend rescued them from the trash when City Hall was renovated in the 1970s. “It would have been just awful to throw them away,” McIntosh says. “I think we found the perfect place for them.”
The sleek, European-style kitchen also might have been heaven-sent. The space is outfitted with contemporary cabinets finished in wood, stainless steel and frosted glass, and such niceties as Sub-Zero refrigerator drawers.
A friend had ordered the kitchen from SieMatic, a high-end German maker, for a project that never got off the ground. “It had been sitting in boxes since 2000,” McIntosh recalls. “When our friend asked us if we would like to have the kitchen, we jumped at the opportunity.” The couple rewarded both benefactors’ generosity with a week at the beach each year, to be enjoyed in perpetuity.
McIntosh has been collecting mid-century modern chairs for years. In the church house, sleek Eames bentwood chairs surround a rustic dining table. In the master bedroom, a Bertoia bird chair, so named for its winged seat, is reminiscent of a modern sculpture. “It’s incredibly comfortable, too,” she says.
In the open gathering area, McIntosh and Stollenwerk mixed high-end furniture and accessories with stylish big-box pieces, a strategy frequently used by interior design pros. An inviting sectional sofa from IKEA is teamed with a pair of mid-century chairs and a striped rug by Christopher Farr, the celebrated British designer of contemporary carpets.
The eye-catching, Sputnik-style chandelier over the dining table was an unexpected discovery at Lowe’s, where the couple snapped it up for $189. “One thing we have learned from this house is that you never know where you will find just the right thing,” Stollenwerk says.