Before & After: A Brick Church in Quebec Becomes a Resonant Home
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Before & After: A Brick Church in Quebec Becomes a Resonant Home

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By Melissa Dalton
A family design-build team converts a historic church into an unforgettable dwelling that lifts the spirit.

In 2015, Nicole Petit’s husband, Pierre Boivin, broached the subject of moving into a historic church—specifically the Saint-François-d’Assise estate, built in Frelighsburg, Quebec, in 1885. As Nicole recalls, her answer was an immediate no. "There was no way I would live in a church," Nicole says. "We had a very modern house, and I had no intention to move away from this type of house."

Black trim frames the original brick of The Church House. The 850-pound bell in the bell tower also dates from the 19th century.

Black trim frames the original brick of The Church House. The 850-pound bell in the bell tower also dates from the 19th century.

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The couple runs a family construction business, however, and ultimately, the prospect of a historic conversion proved too much to resist for Constructions Boivin. Nicole reached out to her sister, designer Danièle Petit of dp Espace Design, to join them in the venture.

Throughout the process, the group sought to maintain the church’s historic character, including defining elements like the bell tower and organ, while still modernizing the interior to make it suitable for a comfortable family home. "[Danièle] immediately saw that the elegant architecture of the building would provide a perfect backdrop to create an environment that would be both minimalist, but also full of history," says Nicole.

The church was divided into two parts: a 2,500-square-foot home for Nicole and Pierre at the front, as well as a 1,500-square-foot office, garage, and workshop at the rear.

The church was divided into two parts: a 2,500-square-foot home for Nicole and Pierre at the front, as well as a 1,500-square-foot office, garage, and workshop at the rear.

The original metal roofing was saved in the renovation.

The original metal roofing was saved in the renovation.

With 28-foot-high ceilings, the existing church had a volume of 40,000-cubic-feet—not exactly the specs for a cozy abode. Says Danièle Petit, "The biggest challenge for this project, on top of conciliating the different perspectives and ideas of Nicole and Pierre, was to succeed to fill in this gigantic space we had, while maximizing the functionality of every room and the interaction between them."

Before: Entry

The layout of the entrance was maintained, including the lancet-style windows that flank the front doors, but this door now accesses the backyard.

The layout of the entrance was maintained, including the lancet-style windows that flank the front doors, but this door now accesses the backyard.


After: Back Door

Now, vertical strips of wood from American tulip trees accentuate the height of the entry wall and surrounds the new backyard access, with glass that mimics the window shapes on either side. The ropes are in place to ring the bell in the tower.

Now, vertical strips of wood from American tulip trees accentuate the height of the entry wall and surrounds the new backyard access, with glass that mimics the window shapes on either side. The ropes are in place to ring the bell in the tower.


Before: The Gallery

A view showing the gallery before, looking towards the former front door.

A view showing the gallery before, looking towards the former front door.


After: Kitchen and Dining Room

The kitchen and dining room occupy the space under the former gallery.

The kitchen and dining room occupy the space under the former gallery.

The kitchen counters and backsplash are from the Inalco Touché ceramic collection by Italbec. Base cabinets are lacquered in matte black and combined with natural white oak units, made bespoke by Ébénisterie Gaston Chouinard. 

The kitchen counters and backsplash are from the Inalco Touché ceramic collection by Italbec. Base cabinets are lacquered in matte black and combined with natural white oak units, made bespoke by Ébénisterie Gaston Chouinard. 

When a maple tree had to be cut down on the property in order to let in more light to the building, the wood was repurposed for the dining room table, stair tread, and kitchen island. The chairs are from The Bay.

When a maple tree had to be cut down on the property in order to let in more light to the building, the wood was repurposed for the dining room table, stair tread, and kitchen island. The chairs are from The Bay.

The former gallery was enclosed in order to create space for two guest bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. An elevated walkway stretches over the former nave and leads to a master suite opposite, separated from the other bedrooms for privacy.  

The former gallery was enclosed in order to create space for two guest bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. An elevated walkway stretches over the former nave and leads to a master suite opposite, separated from the other bedrooms for privacy.  


Before: The Nave

Another view of the nave.

Another view of the nave.

After: Living Room

A two-sided fireplace cozies up the living room and dining room. The vintage, blue-and-white couch was refurbished by Paul Tetreault & Fils.

A two-sided fireplace cozies up the living room and dining room. The vintage, blue-and-white couch was refurbished by Paul Tetreault & Fils.

All of the window glass needed to be replaced, but the lancet-style at the top retains the building’s character, while the bottom sill was dropped down several feet. The blue velvet couch is from Maison Corbeil.

All of the window glass needed to be replaced, but the lancet-style at the top retains the building’s character, while the bottom sill was dropped down several feet. The blue velvet couch is from Maison Corbeil.

The altar-end of the building was also enclosed to form the boundary for the living room, with the attached office and workshop behind the wall on the lower level.  The upper level walkway to the master suite provides a sense of definition in the expansive space, which is 28 feet high at its peak.

The altar-end of the building was also enclosed to form the boundary for the living room, with the attached office and workshop behind the wall on the lower level.  The upper level walkway to the master suite provides a sense of definition in the expansive space, which is 28 feet high at its peak.

Before: The Altar

The view towards the altar from the gallery.

The view towards the altar from the gallery.

After: The Master Suite

The upper walkway leads to the master bedroom suite.

The upper walkway leads to the master bedroom suite.

The team preserved the original church doors, which have been repurposed throughout the interior. They were repaired, painted white, and specially framed to their original shape. 

The team preserved the original church doors, which have been repurposed throughout the interior. They were repaired, painted white, and specially framed to their original shape. 

In the master bathroom, the scheme recalls the kitchen finishes, with a vanity custom-built out of natural Ashwood by Ébénisterie Gaston Chouinard.

In the master bathroom, the scheme recalls the kitchen finishes, with a vanity custom-built out of natural Ashwood by Ébénisterie Gaston Chouinard.


After: Guest Wing

In the guest wing, the church’s Casavant organ still resides with its pipes intact. The keyboard (not pictured) is still accessible so that the organ can be played. "Even after the transformation, we still feel the original acoustic in the building," says Pierre. "It is majestic…The sound of the bell makes the villagers smile, and the sound of the organ makes the whole building vibrate, and there’s the incredible impression of living in a building that will last forever." 

In the guest wing, the church’s Casavant organ still resides with its pipes intact. The keyboard (not pictured) is still accessible so that the organ can be played. "Even after the transformation, we still feel the original acoustic in the building," says Pierre. "It is majestic…The sound of the bell makes the villagers smile, and the sound of the organ makes the whole building vibrate, and there’s the incredible impression of living in a building that will last forever." 

White paint in the guest room highlights the arched windows and original vaulted ceiling.

White paint in the guest room highlights the arched windows and original vaulted ceiling.

Since the project wrapped in 2018, Nicole has grown to love her new home. "Now when I get home, I feel full of energy," she said. "The walls, the furniture, the colors, the view—everything is so enveloping. It is hard to describe. I don’t know if we have spirits living here, but if so, they are only good ones." 

Related Reading: 7 Repurposed Churches Around the World

Project Credits:

Builder: Constructions Boivin

Interior Design: dp Espace Design 

Sound Engineer: Adom/Francis Turgeon

Cabinetry Design: Ébénisterie Gaston Chouinard/Claude Duval

Interior Decoration: Les Choix d'Annie