3 Things to Know About Living in a Converted Church, According to Someone Who Does

published Mar 26, 2020
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A church in upstate New York in autumn
Credit: Cathy Kovarik/Shutterstock.com

Elana Frankel jokes that she found her house by doing what every New Yorker does on a lazy weekend morning: perusing the New York Times’ real estate section. The editor-in-chief of Women and Weed magazine and her husband weren’t exactly in the market for a home in upstate New York—the two were born and raised in Manhattan—but when they glimpsed a photo of a converted church for sale, they figured they should at least check it out.

The two stopped by the open house the next day, and within three months, were moving into the almost 200-year-old structure. Built in the 1830s as a Methodist church, the building was converted into a school almost a century later. It wasn’t until the 1970s, when the superintendent of the town’s school district bought the place, that it was converted to a residence. Frankel says she and her husband are the fourth set of owners to live there.

They’re coming up on 13 years of living in the former church and school, now with two sons added into the mix. Frankel shared three things to know about living in a converted space

Do chat with unexpected visitors

After getting settled, Frankel says she’d notice a pickup truck that’d stop in front of the house every so often. She didn’t think anything of it—until about the third or fourth time the truck pulled over for a few minutes. She went outside to get to the bottom of it, and discovered the driver was an older gentleman who used to go to school in her home. He told Frankel he’d stop by his former elementary school when he was feeling nostalgic.

“He’d tell me this great story about how there was a potbelly stove in the middle of the one-room schoolhouse. The kids used to sit around it in a circle for warmth,” Frankel says. “If you were bad, instead of sitting in the corner, you had to move a row away from the stove.”

While her home doesn’t have the potbelly stove her visitor speaks of, it can be challenging to heat with such high ceilings.

Credit: Courtesy of Elana Frankel

It’ll serve you well to invest in a big ladder

One of the best parts about her home’s main living space is its 20-plus-foot-high ceilings, Frankel says. “It’s great, but it does bring challenges in terms of heating the space, as well as changing a lightbulb,” she explains. 

A big ladder certainly helps with this. But the heating challenge offers a lesson for Frankel.

“It teaches you a lot about conservation, sustainability, and energy efficiency,” she says. “We are definitely more cognizant of the amount of stuff we bring in because we can’t store a lot of things, and we’re highly aware of our energy consumption.”

The quirks will take some getting used to

“When you walk into the house and you don’t live there, you think ‘Oh, it’s so beautiful, so quirky,’ Frankel says. But adapting to those quirks day in and day out takes time. 

Without a basement or a garage, storage is tough. But other factors balance out the challenges. “It’s got great acoustics for music. We’re all musicians here—my kids play the tuba and the saxophone, and they have a piano and my husband has a trumpet,” Frankel says. “It’s a really good entertaining and family home. Having people over is really great.”

Above all, Frankel says her converted church still embodies its original spirit. “There’s definitely still spirituality in the space,” she says. “I don’t think I would have experienced that living in a cookie-cutter suburban Tudor or a new build or any sort of more traditional dwelling.”