A late–19th-century neighborhood chapel is transformed into an airy, eclectic home.
Photographed by Cait Bourgault
The pretty chapel caught Francelle Carapetyan’s eye when she and husband Peter Bixby were scouting an antique Cape in Falmouth, so she wandered downhill for a closer look. Peering through one of the 8-foot-high Gothic windows, the retired French teacher saw magic. “Wow!” she thought. “That looks like a wonderful place.”
‘This whole thing was a leap of faith,’ says retired French teacher Francelle Carapetyan.
Of course, she concedes, it’s a little easier to see something wonderful between a rotting roof and collapsing floor when your husband is a restorer of historic buildings. “This whole thing was a leap of faith,” says Carapetyan of the couple’s decision to buy Pleasant Hill Chapel, “but it’s one I could sign on for because Peter knows how to do this. It is not only his skill, it is his passion.”
Built in 1890 by the Pleasant Hill community, the chapel comprised a large room with a 30-foot-high ceiling and a small, derelict kitchen. There was no running water, septic system, or working furnace. “There was nothing here except a sign behind the stage,” Bixby says. The banner promoted the chapel’s Sunday School: Every Sunday — All Welcome — All Ages.
Using interior-design software, Bixby sketched a 3D model to accommodate the couple’s lifestyle and family heirlooms, while preserving the chapel’s magnificent windows and 1,000-square-foot open floor plan. He added a staircase and loft, which doubles as the master bedroom. Above the walk-in closet is a little hideaway outfitted with a TV and spare bed (it’s reached by a pull-down staircase).
Nestled beneath the loft is the kitchen with soapstone countertops, Benjamin Moore Avon Green cabinets, punched-tin pendant lights, and an industrial propane range flanked by stainless-steel shelves. Behind the kitchen, the former furnace room has been remodeled into a cozy den with a brick fireplace. The original kitchen is now a bathroom and laundry.
The couple preserved the elegant scissor trusses, arched windows, and much of the original bullnose trim and bead-board wainscoting, replacing what couldn’t be repaired with matching new woodwork. The pulpit is now a sofa table, set behind a substantial leather couch, which in turn faces a cheery cast-iron woodstove. The walls are painted a warm terracotta, which contrasts beautifully with the soaring white ceiling.
The couple has filled their home with antiques, which are well suited to the late–19th-century architecture. The open layout comprises several distinct areas, including the kitchen tucked beneath the loft bedroom, but there are a few private spaces, like the “man cave” that’s accessed via a pull-down staircase in the master closet.
The idea, says Bixby, is for the chapel to look as if little was changed when it was converted to a dwelling. He knows he succeeded when guests point to the loft, where the Sunday School banner now hangs on the balustrade, and ask, “Is that where the choir sang?”
“Yes,” he humors them, “and the organ is just behind it.”