Saturday 20 January 2018

Take me to church: Converting city churches into modern apartments

Church house in Charlestown
Church house in Charlestown
St Kevin's Church, Haddington Road, Dublin
Stairs to the basement in Charlestown Church
Kitchen at Charlestown church
The landing in Charlestown Church
Inside Killoveenoge Church
Balcony in Charlestown Church

Gabrielle Monaghan

Converting a deconsecrated church for a home has always been a temptation for those seeking both a project and a property with a difference - especially given the steady supply of cheap churches to market in Ireland.

The rewards of living in a spiritual home can be rich but there are also many caveats, as I myself discovered when I returned home to Ireland after a six-year stint abroad and ended up living in a church steeple.

St Kevin's Apartments, at the Portobello end of Dublin's South Circular Road, a converted church, became home for me where I lived at the base of the spire in a "studio" apartment.

For the rent I got bucket-loads of gothic character. Visitors were enthralled by the exposed timber beams and mosaic tiles. But I constantly had bruises from bumping my head against the slanted ceiling every time I stood up.

The experience gave me a small taste of the labour of love owners of such properties devote to transforming slices of Ireland's ecclesiastical heritage into living spaces.

As church congregations dwindled over the last decades amid the rise of secularism, places of worship that fell into obsolescence were placed on the open market, especially by the Church of Ireland whose congregation had dwindled in many parts of the country.

While many of these buildings were converted into community halls, offices and even lighting shops, others were coveted by house-hunters.

Comedian and writer Maeve Higgins bought the former Kilmainham Congregational Church in Dublin 8, and converted it into an award-winning home before selling it for €440,000 last year.

Churches offer adventurous buyers an amount of space and sense of character that is missing in most modern-day homes, says Bjorn Schiller of Schiller & Schiller Auctioneers in Sligo, who has sold four in recent years.

"Everyone wants something different, and churches are spacious, have nice old stone walls, and high ceilings," he said. "For most people, they would never be able to afford to replicate a building like that nowadays."

Few have ploughed as much money into a disused church than the owners of Charlestown Church, a former Church of Ireland property near Ardee, Co Louth which dates to 1827. The family spent €1.2m on revamping it. The resulting sumptious home went on the market this summer through Savills for €400,000 and has just gone sale agreed.

During the restoration, the owners built an independent structure within the old church's shell, which includes a stained-glass window designed by Harry Clarke. Charlestown now has underfloor heating and a Finnish fireplace. Outside, the gardens are framed by the original forged iron gates - now electrified.

Harriet Grant, head of country homes and estates at Savills oversaw the sale. She says even an extensive revamp will not guarantee that a converted church will attract anyone other than niche buyers.

"Church properties are very expensive to renovate," she said. "The owners of Charlestown have a love for such properties and that's why they did such a great job on it."

When Thomas Kay and his wife Lisa Noel bought Killveenoge chapel in Rooska, on the Sheep's Head peninsula in Co Cork, at an auction in 1989, the Swiss couple discovered the floors under the pews were rotten and that the wall plastering was crumbling away.

Killveenoge, now on the market for €195,000 through Peninsula Properties, is set on a half-acre of woodland five miles from Bantry.

One of the few remaining testaments to forgotten Cornish miners, brought over in the 19th century to work the area's copper and lead mines, it was completed in 1856.

The couple put in a sprung hardwood floor in the main hall and a spiral staircase leading to an overhead gallery.

"The main challenge was money, and, as artists, we had very limited funds. Everything needs attention in a building that has been there for 150 years."

Some have a graveyard nearby, like Liss Church in Ballycumber, Co Offaly now on the market for €170,000. Both it and the granite former schoolhouse opposite are in need of repairs. However, the pulpit and belfry are intact. Liss is blessed with two Harry Clarke windows, and the original heating system still works. But, like many former churches on the market today, you'll need to invest a Godly sum before you have a heavenly home.

Indo Property

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