For those in this industry, familiar with the potential of reuse, it is difficult to witness the destruction of a historic building full of memories, only to be replaced by uninspired construction lacking those connections and stories. A structure such as this sat just outside of Balsam Lake, Wis.
Built in 1910 at a cost of $2,700, the building served as home to the East Balsam Baptist Church through several expansions and modifications. When the congregation outgrew the limits of this space, the building was left behind. A remodeler for over 30 years, Jim Landreth of BLDG ART, Almena, Wis., saw it as a unique opportunity to re-purpose this old church into a magnificent country home.
Landreth was intrigued by the challenge of working with such a large vaulted space (over 20 ft. tall) and adapting it to the needs of a modern household. As designer, builder and owner, he saw a chance to test the practicality of the versatile and adaptable loft style of living. According to Landreth, the objective was “to create a residence that was innovative in concept yet conventional in construction; allowing the building to remember its past, while securing its future.”
Designed for Entertaining
A key objective of this project was to find a format suitable to the fluctuating space and privacy requirements of a hypothetical couple who do and don’t entertain family and friends on both a grand and intimate scale. Operating within the confines of the pre-existing footprint, the contrary goals of accommodating large gatherings while still retaining an intimate feel for a twosome, presented a challenge. The solution began with the insertion of four 5-ft. wide pocket doors, positioned to allow the homeowners to modulate the “great hall” space. The result was the continuity and flow of a single room combined with the ability to zone off distinct spaces as desired.
The grand fireplace room serves as an area for warm greeting and conversation. Here, Landreth chose to stick with simple materials and products, but use them in innovative ways.
“We took uncomplicated pine woodwork, pickled it a light blue to increase its purity and used a shellac finish to give it a very distinctive look and touch,” says Landreth. “We chose unpretentious slate tile for the fireplace wall, but offset its dark character with the decorative sparkle of a pattern of copper roves, which are rivets typically used in wood boat construction.” With a keen sense for details, Landreth used “rather simple exterior fixtures, turned 180 degrees with compact fluorescent bulbs to suggest flames and torches” for the fireplace up-lighting.
The kitchen, which connects to the fireplace room by means of two of the 5-ft. pocket doors, was also designed to entertain. Responding to the contemporary feel for a “social kitchen,” Landreth incorporated two islands which allow the home-owners and their guest opportunities for face-to-face conversation. Acknowledging the desire homeowners have to display their collections, extra-wide soffits were installed above the kitchen cabinets which also provided definition for the room and allowed the use of recessed fixtures to solve the dilemma of lighting a work area with a 17-ft. ceiling.
“We wanted the potential for gatherings to flow between both levels,” says Landreth. “It was therefore crucial that our design themes remain continuous, so the experience is one of connected space.” A second living room, kitchenette, wine bar with fireplace and game zone, along with a third bedroom, were designed for the lower level, so it easily hosts another level of entertaining, while containing the potential for extended visits.
Two-story Master Suite
The unique styling of the master suite incorporates a lower level dressing area and an upstairs loft sleeping area. “Historically, rooms for dressing were the norm. The idea of warehousing our clothing in the sleeping chamber is a more modern, and I think, uncivilized concept” explains Landreth. Here, he used basic copper tubing enhanced by a torch to serve as a closet rod, another example of simple materials used in an elegant fashion.