“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread…” was Lynda’s explanation as to why she opted for the purchase of a centuries-old church that required extensive renovations rather than settling for downsizing in a run-of-the-mill condominium that is so often sought in retirement.
Lynda’s son, who lives in Masham, north-west of Gatineau, knew she was in the market for a project and thus alerted her to the sale of a dormant Presbyterian church, located directly on the main street in the eclectic Quebec village of Wakefield, about 45 minutes from Ottawa. The buying process wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. It took nine months, along with multiple other failed offers, for her to finally take ownership. Although this was certainly a cause for celebration, it also paralleled the beginning of an extremely time-consuming, stressful, and extensive renovation, which Lynda credits the survival of to her project managers, Denis and Richard Villeneuve, of Villeneuve Interiors. “It was a steep learning curve,” she explains. “I didn’t know anything from anything! I’ll be the first to admit that. Which is probably just as well, because I might not have gone ahead with it,” she says, laughing good-naturedly.
The Villeneuves, on the other hand, had an inkling of what was in store. Explains Denis, “Oddly enough, it was my third church. I don’t know what the good Lord will say when I get to the golden gates…but this was the biggest of the three.” The only way to forge ahead with such a unique project, he further explains, is to do so one day at a time. It took a lot of planning, and a little bit of luck, to get from a generic gathering place to a comfortable, intimate home that includes two bedrooms and two-and-a-half baths, along with a separate one-bedroom apartment.
The bulk of the first six months was spent completely tearing down the old to build back the new. “When we were done [with the initial destruction], you could see the brick—that’s all that was left. That was the scariest point. There is no framework to the exterior—it’s just three rows of brick. Mind you that has lasted 100 years, and it will probably last another 100 years or more,” explains Denis. And there was still a plethora of unique challenges to come, working with this sort of structure. Lynda admits that the removal of bat excrement was most certainly the biggest shock, especially after being quoted $80,000 for its removal (her son tackled this successfully instead). “You just don’t know what you’re going to find behind the walls.” Denis seconds this notion. “Everything was unique—there was not anything that was not unique.”
There’s a beauty in the originality and history of a building that has weathered the years and withstood the test of time. As an artist herself, Lynda wanted to commemorate this by incorporating select items from the original building, like a church pew and repurposed stained glass. And, although she wasn’t shy in delegating the intensive hard labor of this project to others, the interior was all her doing. After returning to school for Horticulture & Landscape Design, Lynda and her husband started a company focused on making people’s yards beautiful. So, she was no stranger to what works from a design perspective, which is reflected in the eclectic array of home furnishings, like the wicker furniture, along with a variety of pieces collected from various world travels. All of this is adorned daily with natural light that streams in through several gothic-style windows, made possible thanks to Denis’ other son, Andrew. “That is an art in itself,” emphasizes the proud father.
It’s been several years since Lynda became the owner of the historical 3500 sq ft. church in extensive disrepair, and she can now finally breathe a sigh of relief, deeming this project a major success. Especially given that Denis hasn’t stopped taking her calls…yet. He doesn’t downplay the unique bond that is forged from working so closely together on such an intensive project. “The biggest thing with taking on these projects is that we end up with a customer who is a good friend and [at the end of it] we got through everything together.” For both contractor and client, the result is so much more than the reconstruction of a material structure—it’s also the generation of reciprocal human connection that, for both, has blossomed into a lifelong kinship.