A heritage church is transformed into a dwelling with soulful personality.
By Danielle Pope | Photos by Jeffrey Bosdet
Kaeley Wiseman grew up in an old schoolhouse. As a child, she loved the large, open-concept space her parents converted into their family’s home in Ontario.
“I’m familiar with living in a non-traditional space,” says Wiseman. “A lot of people are challenged by having one room for your house. I can see the opportunities.”
It came as little surprise, to Wiseman or her friends, that she would become the homeowner of an old Lutheran Church in Saanich — a property that sat vacant on the market for over two years while surrounding homes were selling within hours. The large building had historic beauty, but with only one oversized room, a traditional house it did not make. Still, Wiseman — a planner by trade and owner of her own non-profit, affordable-housing development company — wasn’t deterred.
“The property came with two homes, basically, the church and the rector’s house, on a third of an acre. Some people wanted to buy it and demo the smaller home, but it just sat for a long time,” she says. “Because I was a bit more versed in what the challenges would be, I was willing to take that on. A complicated property didn’t scare me away.”
Wiseman had the property for nine years, though, before getting serious about a reno. During that time, she learned about the building’s rich past, sometimes from locals or visitors who would stop by to see the old church and share stories or personal memories.
“There was so much lore around this building. It moved to the site in the 1920s from North Saanich, as a neighbourhood church — first Lutheran, then evangelical. In the ’70s, it became a Montessori school and in the ’90s it was zoned as a residential dwelling,” Wiseman says. “The owners got through about half of the needed renos and gave up after 20 years for various reasons.”
For her purposes, Wiseman created a little suite for herself and had been picking away at small changes over the last decade. Then, the atmospheric river of 2021 hit and the property flooded, along with much of her work. It was time to get serious.
“I realized I needed to redo it, and do it right. It was time for future-proofing — right down to being solar ready — and I wanted to get it done all at once,” she says.
The structure, like many of its time, had been volunteer built, which gave it a feeling of community, but came with obvious challenges: the roof leaked, the joists were off-centre, an extension was tacked on in the school days, and a decrepit indoor/outdoor carpet covered the floors. Small children’s toilets decorated a lower landing, and safety violations were too numerous to list, says Wiseman.
So she designed a new vision for the building herself.
In an effort to preserve what she could, reduce waste and avoid new permits, Wiseman worked with the existing envelope of the building. With her background working with community groups, one family helped her take cabinetry away, piece by piece, to repurpose it for their own kitchen. She faced other issues, like asbestos and insulation remediation, but slowly plans started to come together.
Fast forward to today, and Wiseman has an almost unrecognizable three-storey home with a loft, lower level, main living area and guest space. From the inside, if it wasn’t for the original stained-glass windows, you’d never guess its history.
Wiseman saved as many features as she could, including salvaged wood floors from the recent demolition project at Victoria High School that matched the era of the church’s original flooring. She sourced local materials, such as fir trim from Vancouver and marble from the Island. She added antique touches, like the oak corbels she’d found 10 years ago that became features on the kitchen island, and the second-hand Chintz & Company couch she got for a steal because the original buyers couldn’t fit it through their door.
Then there’s the art: Wiseman is a huge supporter of local artists, and now has gallery walls to display her collection.
The inside isn’t the only priority, though. Wiseman shares the home with her two dogs and hosts her family.
She loves the rural spot, close to both running trails and to downtown. She even added a new deck to enjoy indoor/outdoor living for at least three seasons a year. In tribute to her housing-focused industry, Wiseman now rents out the rector’s dwelling.
“There’s something to living in an iconic home. Everyone knows this place, and they’ll stop by and say, ‘Are you the lady who lives in the church house?’ ” she says. “People don’t always realize renos can be harder than new builds, but you get a rich history. When it’s a unique property, it’s not for everybody, anyway. I’d rather my space have personality.”
Design: Kaeley Wiseman
Kitchen: Brad Rudzki, Annora Woodworks
Marble: Matrix Marble & Stone
Table: Annora Woodworks
Metal doors: Broadwell Metal Company
Front door: Karmanah Wood Design
Kitchen stools: Bensen, via Chester Fields
Woodstove: Stûv, via Heat Savers Home Comfort
Floors: Refurbished from Victoria High School
Light fixtures: Dutton Brown
Tile: Decora Tile & Natural Stone