Before & After: A 1930s Church in Melbourne Gets a Dramatic Conversion

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By Sarah Akkoush
Doherty Design Studio carefully transforms a brick church with a history of overlapping renovations into an inviting home for a family of five.

When Jennifer and Grant Peck sought to relocate to the city from a much larger property in the country, their needs were simple: four bedrooms (two for the couple, and two for their kids still at home), a study, great light, and a functional living space—and no renovations. They had already been through heavy remodels in the past, and really wanted something that was "ready to go," says homeowner Jennifer Peck. However, when Grant stumbled upon the church that would become the Hawthorn Residence online, it immediately piqued their interest. After seeing it in person, they fell in love with the bones and character of the historic structure, and unexpectedly, a renovation was soon underway.

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Doherty Design Studio embraced original character details of the church, including the beautiful, arched glass doorway to the tower. When homeowner Jennifer and Grant initially viewed the space, the stunning tower "was just the icing on the cake."

Doherty Design Studio embraced original character details of the church, including the beautiful, arched glass doorway to the tower. When homeowner Jennifer and Grant initially viewed the space, the stunning tower "was just the icing on the cake."

Aiding in the transformation were Mardi Doherty and Samantha Deacon of Doherty Design Studio. The first step of the process was to "undo" previous renovations, which had left the space feeling dark, cluttered, and cramped. "We wanted natural light, and all the amazing church features to be able to shine," says Jennifer.

Since the church was an existing heritage building, the structure could not be altered to add additional windows. Instead, they had to find other creative ways to bring in more light. "Making the home light and spacious was the biggest challenge," says the Doherty Design Studio team. 

By re-configuring interior spaces, the team created a "void" of volume on all three levels which would allow light to freely penetrate the interior living spaces. Also, since many of the ceilings were low, the team raised them where possible, and introduced a curved ceiling corner that would blur the junction between wall and ceiling—giving the illusion of additional height. "The use of softer curves also gave reference to the subtle architectural details of the church," explains the Doherty team.

Before: living area

Before: living area

Before: living area

Before: living area

The home's living room, adjacent to the three-story "void," enjoys plentiful natural light. A Beaubien Wall Double Shade sconce by Lambert & Fils and Arancini Floor Lamp by Moda Piera accent the space.

The home's living room, adjacent to the three-story "void," enjoys plentiful natural light. A Beaubien Wall Double Shade sconce by Lambert & Fils and Arancini Floor Lamp by Moda Piera accent the space.

Before: the study nook

Before: the study nook

Original parquet floors were preserved throughout the house, including in the beautifully minimal study nook.

Original parquet floors were preserved throughout the house, including in the beautifully minimal study nook.

A custom BCAA pendant by Christopher Boots dramatically hangs down through the interior void.

A custom BCAA pendant by Christopher Boots dramatically hangs down through the interior void.

"The overall interior objective was to create a home that felt fresh and pared back, so they felt they could still bring their memories and character into the space," says the Doherty Design Studio team. The muted interior made the home clean and sophisticated, while allowing the special original church elements to take center stage. The team fittingly aimed for the home to be a sanctuary, "[playing] on the ethereal qualities of the church's architecture." 

The Peck family could not be happier with the result. "It really has the most amazing, welcoming feel," says Jennifer.

Introducing low-profile, white-frame windows at spaces bordering the void allows interior rooms to benefit from added light and air circulation. 

Introducing low-profile, white-frame windows at spaces bordering the void allows interior rooms to benefit from added light and air circulation. 

Before: the staircase

Before: the staircase

Before & After: A 1930s Church in Melbourne Gets a Dramatic Conversion - Photo 10 of 20 -
Before: the kitchen

Before: the kitchen

The light and airy kitchen features a gently curved hood and island, which echo the design play throughout the house. Appliances by Fisher & Paykel are hidden behind custom fronts for a clean and streamlined aesthetic in the compact space.

The light and airy kitchen features a gently curved hood and island, which echo the design play throughout the house. Appliances by Fisher & Paykel are hidden behind custom fronts for a clean and streamlined aesthetic in the compact space.

A gentle curve blurs the line between wall and ceiling in the bedroom, creating the illusion of height. A similarly curved Only U Wall Light by Volker Haug adorns the wall.

A gentle curve blurs the line between wall and ceiling in the bedroom, creating the illusion of height. A similarly curved Only U Wall Light by Volker Haug adorns the wall.

Before: the bathroom

Before: the bathroom

An outdoor bathing area adjoining the master bedroom was a unique request from the clients. Stone soaking tub and terrazzo pavers complete the inviting retreat.

An outdoor bathing area adjoining the master bedroom was a unique request from the clients. Stone soaking tub and terrazzo pavers complete the inviting retreat.

Before: exterior

Before: exterior

"We do love a property that comes with a story," says homeowner Jennifer Peck. As an added bonus, "the solid build of the church acts as a great sound buffer, something we would not have achieved had this been a newer building."

"We do love a property that comes with a story," says homeowner Jennifer Peck. As an added bonus, "the solid build of the church acts as a great sound buffer, something we would not have achieved had this been a newer building."

Hawthorn Residence ground-floor floor plan

Hawthorn Residence ground-floor floor plan

Hawthorn Residence first-floor floor plan

Hawthorn Residence first-floor floor plan

Hawthorn Residence second-floor floor plan

Hawthorn Residence second-floor floor plan

See more traditional churches that have been converted into modern homes.

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Project Credits:

Architect: Doherty Design Studio (@dohertydesignstudio)

Builder: John Kennedy Building and Plumbing

Interior Design: Doherty Design Studio

Cabinetry Design: MetCab / Ben Van Puyenbroek