This family turned a 120-year-old church into home—see the transformation
Looking for a restoration project? There’s no shortage of inspiration on Instagram and one of the coolest we’ve seen comes courtesy of Anastasiia and Gunther, a couple from Maryland. They didn’t just go for a standard house — they bought a 120-year-old church for $320,000 and, for the last two and a half years, have been working hard to turn it into a truly unique, dream family home.
Love At First Sight
When Anastasiia, a teacher, and Gunther, a biostatistician, first saw a for-sale sign in front of All Saints’ Church, just along the road from their house, they were immediately intrigued.
“I suppose it was just like love at first sight; it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly made our hearts skip a bit, but it did so, in spades,” Anastasiia said. “It was the grandeur of the space, among many other things, like beautiful woodwork, colorful light streaming through the original stained glass, the gothic arches of the windows and doors — and just the overall feeling that it was meant to be ours.”
A Rich History
All Saints’ Church was designed by New York architect Henry Martyn Congdon in order to replace its predecessor, which burned down in 1899. The building work took place in 1900 through 1901. Other churches designed by Congdon include St. Luke’s Church in Germantown, Pennsylvania, Calvary Church and Parish House in Summit, New Jersey, and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Philipsburg, Pennsylvania, per Philadelphia Architects and Buildings.
A Great Room Indeed
For Gunther, one of the selling points of the church was the Great Room, which has a 25-foot-high vaulted ceiling and two huge skylights.
“I guess, when I walked out on the balcony, right off the master bedroom, and was able to look down on the Great Room, at that moment I was hooked,” he told Simplemost. “I imagined the big family events as well as the parties with friends and community.”
“He still comes out on that balcony almost every morning to look over the Great Room!” said Anastasiia.
A Niche Property
There’s no doubt that All Saints’ Church wasn’t your typical purchase.
“I spent quite a bit of money on inspections and reports to convey to the seller and the seller’s agent that, beyond being a niche property (we were the only ones to show up to look at it with any intent to buy), it was in poor shape with mildew mold and a relatively recent termite infestation with associated wood damage to much of the sill plate and supporting lumber,” Gunther said.
To keep costs down, the couple used an online bank based out of Missouri.
“All I did during the purchase process is worry about it — whether or not we would get it,” admitted Anastasiia.
When the purchase was complete, Anastasiia and Gunther renamed the church (which was deconsecrated in the 1970s) All Saints House. They have been actively renovating it since they moved in, in June 2017. But the first thing they did was clean it from top to bottom — with lots of bleach.
“The house was not temperature controlled for quite a while, and as a result, my mother and I spent the first two weeks cleaning the place!” said Anastasiia.
A Learning Experience
Renovating All Saints House has been a true learning experience, and Anastasiia is quick to give her husband credit. While housing a fireplace insert, Gunther experienced several “firsts,” including carrying out detailed work around the ceiling trim, calculating complex angles and cutting and matching the stone.
“He is quite an impressive guy if I say so myself,” Anastasiia wrote on Instagram.
Original Character Intact
From both outside and inside the building, it’s clear that Anastasiia and Gunther have preserved its original character, as did its three previous owners.
“All of them have done a marvelous job in maintaining the character of the building while remaining respectful during the entirety of their previous renovations,” Anastasiia said. “None of the original details were damaged or removed, and all the additions are built around the existing features, allowing for them to potentially be removed at any point without any consequences to the architectural integrity of the building.”
The Door Project
Anastasiia and Gunther used a Franmar “Blue Bear” chemical stripper to remove the lead paint from the front doors. The couple wore protective masks to ensure they didn’t inhale toxic fumes. The magnificent doors were then sanded, stained and sealed.
The exterior of All Saints House is painted in two shades of grey. Anastasiia revealed on Instagram that the previous owner chose those shades over the traditional white you’d expect to see on a church. She also said that now and then, they toy with the idea of painting it “all red with white trim!”
Spectacular Stained Glass
Inside their home, Anastasiia and Gunther have gone to great lengths to preserve the building’s original character.
“We plan things out well in advance and therefore we don’t get caught up in momentary whimsy, which more often than not is a regrettable change or action,” said Gunther. “So our plans generally begin and end with consideration of the architectural integrity maintained throughout the previous renovations, although we do need to make it livable with basic modernity and conveniences.”
One feature the couple won’t touch are the stunning stained glass windows throughout.
Most of the furniture in All Saints House comes from antique and secondhand stores.
“We try to decorate the place in a style that honors the architecture of the building,” Anastasiia said. Her favorite piece is the dining room set, consisting of eight chairs and a china cabinet. “It was actually our first purchase after the move,” she said. “In a way, it dictated the style of the entire building.”
Major Kitchen Revamp
One of the biggest renovation projects in All Saints House has been the kitchen — and it was also one of the most challenging.
“I was in the third trimester of pregnancy during its entirety,” Anastasiia said. “But it was well worth it. Gunther and my father, Yuri, did all the heavy lifting, obviously, as well as the cabinets, plasterwork, floor sanding, basic plumbing and electrical work.”
A True Family Project
Anastasiia and Gunther are grateful to Anastasiia’s father for his expertise, particularly on the kitchen renovation.
“I’m thankful that my father-in-law is a Russian fine craftsman and finish carpenter/cabinet and furniture maker,” Gunther said. “He really saved our bacon on the kitchen reno.”
But Anastasiia didn’t let pregnancy stop her from getting involved, too.
“I was on duty to prime and paint the cabinets and finish the floor — don’t worry, even though it was very low VOC I was wearing a mask the entire time!” she said.
The finished kitchen is Anastasiia’s favorite room in the house — and it made the perfect setting for their beautiful maternity shoot.
“The kitchen renovation was my dream come true,” she said. “In addition to relocating the doorway, I got bespoke kitchen cabinets, beautiful epoxy countertops and gorgeous refinished floors.”
Ups And Downs
All Saints House looks incredible, but the couple is quick to point out that it has taken a lot of hard work, determination and resilience. To keep costs down, they’ve undertaken the vast majority of the work themselves.
“We live in an area of highly concentrated wealth, with hundreds of waterfront mansions and estates, therefore the general principle is that everyone’s motto is that ‘no-jobs too small, except for yours,'” said Gunther. “We got an estimate to redo our roof and the leaking skylights which came in at $100,000. A six-figure payday for basic asphalt shingles and some reflashing…”
Far from being disheartened, Gunther decided he would learn a new trade. (He already knows how to sweat pipes, run radiant floor loops with zones controls and repurpose hydronic heating systems from air handlers, in addition to carpentry.)
A climbing wall and a rope are just two of the neat features especially for the kids (two teens and an infant).
“They like the house’s uniqueness,” Anastasiia said. “And the fact that it is our family project. We are on this journey together, and that is quite exciting!”
“It has been a transition from the small French country farmhouse style of our previous home,” added Gunther. “But having the large yard woods and river out back is a nice change for them.”
Renovating an old building has uncovered a few surprises — literally.
“In our first year here, Gunther discovered a brick pathway buried under a layer of dirt by the front door,” Anastasiia said. “It was not only exciting, but also an answer to our question about what brick-patterned walkway we should choose – herringbone! After our son and I removed all the bricks, added French drains and layered sand, I put every single one of the original bricks back! It was my first big project. Gunther was my mentor and cheerleader throughout the entire process, including installing a couple of fans outside and a tent to help me stay cool while working during the hottest days of the summer!”
Daily Maintenance Required
Instagram makes the house look great, but there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes, and cleaning a building of this size is no mean feat.
“Day to day cleaning was not a difficult task until our youngest was born,” Anastasiia said. “However, we are lucky enough to have my mother staying with us at the moment to watch the baby while Gunther and I work. Her being here allows me to find time for cleaning as well.”
Among her pieces of must-have equipment are a cordless vacuum (“navigating anything else through the house is not easy”) and a ladder for those high windows.
“It’s a big house and is surrounded by a wooded area, therefore spiderwebs appear overnight, not to mention frequent visitors — flying squirrels, birds, bats and snakes,” she said. “The house requires lots of daily maintenance.”
One of the couple’s upcoming reno projects is the nursery makeover for their youngest son. Anastasiia shared a renovation reality check on Instagram, revealing that she stripped and refinished three of the doors in the room in summer 2018, but then “lost steam” — and got pregnant soon after.
Taking Apart… Then Building Back Up
In November 2019 the couple shared a nursery progress pic, revealing on Instagram that they were ready to remove all remaining insulation and linoleum from the room before building it back up.
“Looks like the hardwood floors will need some serious TLC,” they wrote.
We can’t wait to see the “after” pic!
Enjoying Family Time And Planning Ahead
After the birth of their third child, the family took some time out to enjoy the new arrival. But their future plans are never far from their minds. Looking ahead, Anastasiia is “excited about creating an English garden with boxwood evergreen maze and a large stone patio for summer parties.” Other plans include building a deck and some outbuildings. “We have very little storage space,” Gunther said.
A huge future project for Anastasiia and Gunther is the tower remodel. “Imagine those vents gone and replaced by 10-13 foot tall floor to ceiling clear glass windows!” Gunther wrote on Instagram. He also revealed that the second-floor “Victorian-era” bedroom (which they are planning to rent out on Airbnb) will have a screened-off claw foot cast iron tub in the bedroom.
Pieces Of History
When you buy an old church, you might just get a few added extras. Next to the fireplace in the Great Room is a grand piano (originally a church piano), which dates back to the beginning of the 20th century.
“It fits absolutely perfectly into this space,” Anastasiia wrote on Instagram.
All Saints House looked truly festive for the 2019 holiday season, with a tree and garlands decorating the Great Room. Like many other things, decorating the building was a learning curve.
“I found that smaller objects and trinkets get lost in the grandeur of this room,” Anastasiia wrote on Instagram.
The Long Haul
While different rooms in the house come together, Anastasiia and Gunther are aware that they’re in this for the long haul. Anastasiia estimates that they have another five to 10 years of renovations still to tackle. However, the experience has given them the confidence to handle anything.
“I am not the least bit scared of any other renovation,” she wrote on Instagram.
Originally published on The Delite.