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Repurposed Buildings

Do you live in (or want to live in) a building that started out as something other than a house? Join this group to share your story, photos, and get advice on common challenges. (For more advice and inspiration on repurposed buildings, check out this story on Old-House Journal.)

Members: 14
Latest Activity: Jan 8

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taking on a new project. budget concern.

This is all very new to me.  I'm considering buying a church to renovate. Curious about costs. main great room is 40' x 40' and 30' high ceilings. I would like to do some major interior construction…Continue

Started by Craig Tinker May 4, 2012.

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Comment by Clare Alexander on January 27, 2012 at 11:33am

I'm so excited about the story in the newest issue of Old-House Journal (linked at the top of this group) on adaptive reuse. This is a story near and dear to my heart, since my boyfriend and I live in an apartment on the second floor of a 100-year-old building that used to be a general store. While we're just renting now, we would love to someday buy a commercial structure and adapt it into a house, so I'm curious to hear more stories of other folks who have done it. But first, some photos of my house! Here's the exterior (taken from a local blog that featured us as the "House of the Day" last summer):

I'm not sure whether the upstairs was originally used for storage, or if it's always been an apartment. Some of our interior walls are drywall, which leads me to believe it was not always an apartment. However, the plaster and floor and wall tile in the bathroom appear to be original (and has definitely seen better days!), so I'm guessing there was always a bathroom there.

All of the rooms are pretty much the same size (13' x 13'), which means we have a huge kitchen. If we owned this place, the first thing I'd get rid of is the cheap particleboard cabinets, which are now held together by duct tape since the laminate tops are starting to peel off.

I love our dining area—a friend gave the table to me when she moved, and I spotted the bench outside a secondhand store while driving to work one day. Now we just need to get a cool salvaged chair to replace the IKEA folding chair that was supposed to be a temporary fix...a year and a half later, I still haven't made much progress on this goal.

I love that we have tons of windows, but because of the house's orientation, we don't get much direct sunlight, so it gets pretty cold in the winter. I also love our Danish modern couch (purchased from a great mid-century modern store called Home Anthology)—since the building doesn't have a real architectural style, we chose something that would coordinate with the green Naugahyde loveseat and "Star Trek" coffee table, which are hand-me-downs from my boyfriend's family.

Comment by Jim Finley on January 30, 2012 at 9:52am

The first house we lived in after we got married was a small stucco building in a little village in central Va. It had been a doctors office for many, many years and the doctor lived in the large Victorian next door. When the cottage was being renovated a booklet of patients names, information and appointments was found in the walls - so much for individual privacy!

Comment by DONNA HARWOOD on January 31, 2012 at 12:49pm

I live in a 100 year old school house,the hard wood floors are about 4 inches thick,i can see where the kids spilled some ink on the floor, i intend to leave that there when we refinish it soon,we did do some updating to the bathroom area, upon doing this we found out that our old bathroom used to be the wood shed attached to the house,the original bell was stolen years before we bought it, I have found things to fit into my home and have raised my 2 children there.I felt so comfortable as soon as i walked into the place,i hear so many stories from the people that went to school there.I will live there forever.

Comment by cg on February 12, 2012 at 10:52am

I just bought and am living in an old firehouse just outside of NYC.  Built in 1883, used up until 2009.  Its 5300 sq ft, and was left as is.  It has 12 foot ceilings with original tin on both floors, original plaster walls, 2 firepoles, 26 original chestnut lockers, original subway tile in kithcen and baths, urinals, double toilets and showers, original heart pine and oak floors, old coal chutes, ornamental brickwork, etc.  The bad news is that time has really taken its toll on a lot of it, and it is going to be a very tedious process to preserve and restore these elements,  but I look forward to it and think that it is important to do properly.  My plan is not to gut and erase the histroy of this place,  but accept its character and highlight that and its originality.  After all,  how would you look at 130 years old?  So the floors will stay beat up and imperfect, the plaster will have its rough spots.  the lockers will be restored and reused, and I will continue the life of the building with respect.  The space is great,  its a bear to heat,  and its not insulated and drafty,  but hey,  we all have to make sacrifices!

Comment by Cindy Reed on June 11, 2012 at 6:10pm

We bought and have lived since 1977 in this old Richardsonian-style small (25x35) 2-story bldg that was originally built to be a bank in a small town that was being started in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The town fizzled after a few months, and the building was re-purposed as a dwelling sometime around its first birthday. That family lived in it until both Ma and Pa died in 1929, then it was used as a vacation home by the adult children until the last of them died in the late '60's. We bought the estate and became the second set of occupants in 1977.

You can ask me about almost any aspect of restoration. The building had never been wired, but had gravity-fed plumbing. We installed electricity (Oh, happy day!!) and replaced the old lead pipes but still are using the low pressure gravity-feed water system. We replaced falling plaster, and are now searching for some matching old woodwork, i.e. the window and door casing, picture rail, baseboard with corner and base blocks to use in the small addition we are building on one side. Does anyone know where we can find some usable 4 or 5-inch window/door casing, etc?

Comment by D Perry on January 8, 2019 at 2:37am

I, too, am thinking of buying and renovating a church building. But I want to turn the offices and classrooms part into the residential space and leave the sanctuary largely intact. (I am a musician and would use the sanctuary for rehearsal and performance space)

I want to have several bedrooms and at least 2 1/2 baths on the three floors; the basement, the first level, and second floor. There is an enormous commercial kitchen underneath the sanctuary, as well as a small men’s room and ladies room, but even if the bathrooms were large enough for residential full bath (which they are not) the kitchen and the bathrooms are on the other end of the building from what would become the residence. So I would have to put in a ton of new plumbing.

But there are two really HUGE problems that are probably why it hasn’t sold yet.

The first of these is that there is almost no place left on the property to install a septic system and it needs a new one. This is thanks to the owners having sold off separately both the rectory and the garage.  So I would have to put in one of those more expensive technological type septic systems. Ouch!

The other HUGE problem is even more ridiculous:  there is a cemetery attached to the property. It is mostly full, but there are some plots that have been sold but not yet occupied. The endowment fund for taking care of the property is woefully inadequate to produce enough income just to mow the place, never mind repairing the fencing or heaven forbid, re-setting stones. And some of the gravesites butt right up to the building itself in the rear, so close that some century old headstones are leaning against the back wall of the building.

On top of this, I imagine there will be an occasional burial happening for some of the sold but not yet occupied plants is the owners pass on.

I am not really concerned about resale value (obviously, I’d better not be) but I am concerned about costs for a septic system that could handle several bedrooms and baths and the occasional large gathering in the sanctuary and use little or no outdoor space. I know they exist, but I also know they are extremely expensive; I just don’t know how expensive.

Also, although I am well acquainted with the cost of putting in cabinetry, appliances, and fixtures for kitchens and baths as I used to design them, I don’t really have an idea of what it costs to bring plumbing well over 50 feet away from existing plumbing in a building and up through all three floors. I imagine a additional large water heater will be a must.

Finally, I am concerned about the cost of heating and cooling so much space. The church is from about 1905, the office part seems much more modern, maybe the 1950s or 60s? All told there is approx. 5,000 sq. feet to the place, the vast majority the sanctuary, and although the residence will be in that separate office portion added on to the back, its longest side is the back wall of the sanctuary. On the first floor they are connected by doors, and by an open hallway in the basement level, so I can’t heat one and not the other. It is in New Jersey, and it gets both quite hot and very cold here.

I’d appreciate your thoughts on any of these issues, but especially the approximate costs of the higher tech septic systems.

Thank you!

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