Existing Conditions

I live in a decommissioned church, built around 1895 as the Methodist Episcopal church for Narberth, Pennsylvania. My wife Nancy and I bought the house in 1996, just after its 100th birthday. The church was displaced by a much larger building across the street in 1929 and was eventually converted to a residence in the 1950s. The main sanctuary was about 65′ long by 30′ wide with a cylindrical apse and raised altar at the south end. The ceilings in the sanctuary were 17′ high.

Originally the church had a raw basement with a coal heating system of some kind, although sometime in the first 10-20 years, I believe the lower level was finished and used for meeting rooms. When the building was converted to a residence, a three-bedroom apartment was built out in the lower level with a separate entrance.

The sanctuary had been divided into a living room, dining room, sitting room, kitchen, bathroom, and two bedrooms. At the altar-end of the sanctuary, a second floor with 7′ ceilings was tucked in to allow an upper floor with two more bedrooms and a bathroom. The main rooms on the main level were defined to take advantage of antique Victorian interiors salvaged from estates around Philadelphia. So, for example, the living room walls are all 10′ high mahogany panels with a huge fireplace and mantel at one end.

The day we bought the house, I spent a few hours with the Sawzall to uncover the original stairway connecting the main level with the lower level apartment. (Otherwise, the only connection between the levels was through the outside doors.) We never rented out the apartment, but instead used it as a playroom, an office, and my shop. In the first 10 years we lived in the building we mostly did expensive things no one could see (e.g., replacing a copper roof on the bell tower, repointing the masonry on the bell tower, and replacing all the old galvanized water pipes).

We loved the exterior look and feel of the building. We liked the interesting reclaimed victorian interiors in the main part of the house. Otherwise, the house really didn’t work very well. In 2004 we considered moving, but when we looked at a few houses realized we would miss high ceilings and interesting architectural forms. We also really liked the dense little town we lived in, with excellent walking access to pretty much everything. So, we considered how we might improve the functionality of the building with a major renovation.

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