Sanctuary: A Gothic church converted into a home
Gunther and Anastasiia du Hoffman quip that they go to church every day, but it’s true. The couple’s home is a small Gothic Revival church near Longwoods on state Route 662 in Talbot County.
The board-and-batten siding and Gothic-arched openings of All Saints’ Episcopal Church, built in 1900, reflect the influence of famous architect Richard Upjohn’s rural architecture pattern books.
For the du Hoffmann family, the unique National Register structure has provided challenges, as well as rewards, as they adapt the structure to accommodate their modern lifestyle. They have connected to a large do-it-yourself community of “old house people” their age doing unique projects, and being a part of this network is helping the couple solve issues related to making a church their home.
The couple bought the church in 2017 from Victor Dupont, although the property has been privately owned since 1980, well after the Episcopal congregation closed its doors in the 1960s. Ordained minister and artist Dicran A. Berberian was the church’s first owner, and he retrofitted it to accommodate his painting studio and residence.
In the mid-1990s, John and Ellen General bought the property and did additional renovations but kept the integrity of the original building. Victor Dupont bought the property in 2015 and sold it to the du Hoffmanns.
“Everyone who has owned the house has been a steward of the building trying not to leave a permanent imprint while making their renovations,” said Gunther, 38. “Because of that, everything could be taken out and the original structure could be restored.”
After getting married in 2012, Gunther, a statistician, and Anastasiia, a math teacher, wanted a fixer-upper — a house with character and personality. Gunther recalls knowing Anastasiia was “the one” when she used a grease screen in the kitchen to sift flour for a recipe she was making when she couldn’t find the actual flour sifter at his house. They taught themselves renovation techniques and have completed nearly all of the work themselves.
Among the DIY projects the du Hoffmanns have tackled: changing the plumbing and installing water filtration systems; stripping the front doors of lead paint and refinishing them; building a gas fireplace; installing new electric; removing and relaying the brick pathway with French drains in the front; painting the entire house; refinishing the doors in the interior addition to match the original wood; building a deck outside; landscaping and gardening; replacing a number of light fixtures inside and outside; repairing damaged original plaster; installing a built-in breakfast bar, and most recently relocating the laundry room.
In addition to raising two boys from Gunther’s previous marriage, the two are expecting their first child in June.
“We didn’t imagine this project would require quite as much as it has,” said Anastasiia, 26. “In today’s modern lifestyle, people don’t always want to enjoy the journey that ‘doing it yourself’ can take you on. We have.”
YouTube videos and episodes of “This Old House,” as well as connecting to an Instagram community of like-minded people has been a godsend for both of them. They also follow the principles of “30 Minutes of House” — which tells you to do a 30-minute chore every day to make home ownership more manageable.
“We learn a new skill every weekend and also maintain our regular skills,” Gunther said. “It’s not neuroscience. We just research things thoroughly and then practice a few times. The toughest part is that some things require specific tools for each job, so an investment is sometimes required. We also rent and borrow tools when we can from friends.”
The renovations have been a family labor of love, and it has given each family member a sense of accomplishment. Gabe du Hoffmann, 11, helped dig trenches for the brick pathway they found in the front of the church.
“We are partners in the dream. It is a great opportunity to build this as a family,” Anastasiia said.
“There is a lot going on, but there is lots of love and kindness going into it,” Gabe added.
The house feels relatively calm amidst the renovations. Gunther said they try to compartmentalize the projects, so they don’t disrupt living in the house. The du Hoffmanns plan to renovate the kitchen this spring. Anastasiia’s father, a craftsman himself, is coming from Russia to help with the project.
Decorating the house is an interesting process. Blending the dark woodwork and ecclesiastic details with modern decorating styles can be challenging. The result is eclectic and relaxed. Its cozy environment reflects a mix of furnishings and collectibles.
“We call it our ‘castle’ and the main room our ‘great room.’ I wanted an English castle look, but it is not all that comfortable for our lifestyle so we have adapted it some,” Anastasiia said.
The building is divided into sections. The main sanctuary of the original church on the south side serves as the family’s great room, showcasing decorative roof trusses and framing members, skylights, and vertical-board wainscoting.
The room is used for entertaining family and friends, as well as hosting special occasions like weddings. It is undergoing the installation of radiant flooring so that it can be used for more than seasonal use.
On the north side of the building, adjacent to the great room, is the bell tower. This section houses the church bell on its third floor. The family rings the bronze bell, which was cast in 1900 in Baltimore, when guests come and for special occasions. The couple’s dream is to one day turn the bell tower into a bed-and-breakfast rental so they can share their unique home with more people. The bell tower currently includes a library on the first floor. They hope to make a bedroom on the second floor and an observation tower on the third floor where the bell is housed.
The du Hoffmanns spend most of their time in what was originally the altar area of the church, which now is a living and dining room, and in the adjacent step-down kitchen, which was originally the sacristy. A bathroom and storage spaces have been inserted in the nave.
The original tripartite stained-glass lancet window from pre-World War I Munich surrounds the east side of the living room, bringing in amazing light in the mornings. A mezzanine inserted into the chancel area of the church provides an office, a bedroom, a bathroom, and closet spaces, and is accessed by a circular stair, flanked downstairs by two bedrooms.
Designed by New York architect Henry Martyn Congdon, All Saints Church was erected in 1900 on the same site as its predecessor, an 1870 structure destroyed by fire in December 1899. With construction costs financed by the prominent Goldsborough family, few expenses were spared on erecting a replacement church. The church property was originally 30 acres and included a rectory and barn. Today it is four acres, which includes a cemetery tended by Trinity Cathedral in Easton.
“I grew up attending the Church of Transfiguration in NYC, known as ‘the little church around the corner’ where I was an acolyte, so right away I felt very at home here,” Gunther said.
“We have never taken it for granted,” Gunther said. “We recognize what a blessing it is and that we are now caretakers of this amazing building.”