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Historic church is home for Waterford woman

The kitchen of the church, built in 1928, that Lori Keiser has converted into her home in Waterford, Wisc.

The kitchen of the church, built in 1928, that Lori Keiser has converted into her home in Waterford. (Gregory Shaver/The Journal Times via AP)

By LEE B. ROBERTS
The Journal Times

WATERFORD, Wis. (AP) — After many years of living in traditional houses and condos, Lori Keiser decided she’d like to have a more unique home. The Milwaukee-area native, who now lives in Waterford, wanted to try living in one, big open space, rather than separate rooms.

So she began investigating churches, firehouses and other buildings for sale in search of a place to create such a living space, the Journal Times reported. More than a dozen churches (and other buildings) later, she settled on the brick church that has stood on the corner of Third and Division streets in Waterford since 1928, purchasing it in 2006.

It’s location near the Fox River and Waterford’s downtown were some of the reasons Keiser, who is a real estate agent for Coldwell Banker, said she liked the Gothic Revival-style church. And, unlike some other houses of worship she’d looked at, it didn’t come with a large parking lot, which she was hoping to avoid.

The church — which had been home to a Coptic Orthodox Congregation in recent years and a Lutheran congregation for many years before that — did, though, still have its pews and altar in place when Keiser bought it. Yet her keen eye for design and décor could see beyond the traditional furnishings to her own vision for the space.

Lori Keiser has converted a church, built in 1928, into her home in Waterford, Wisc. (Gregory Shaver/The Journal Times via AP)

Lori Keiser has converted a church, built in 1928, into her home in Waterford. (Gregory Shaver/The Journal Times via AP)

Transformation

Working with several area contractors, Keiser began transforming the sanctuary into a great room, and the choir loft into her bedroom, with an added bathroom and an open view of downstairs. She sold whatever furnishings she could — some of the pews went to a cemetery in Boscobel, where she later discovered that she had family buried. And she kept other original elements, such as the overhead light fixtures, which add to the historic charm of the space.

In order to bring the building up to code, Keiser had to replace the church’s electrical and plumbing systems and, while she was at it, she had the two ceiling fans in the sanctuary replaced. A building inspection required her to also replace the arched windows in the sanctuary — four of which had been stained glass — with clear, modern windows, because the old windows’ “R” value (measure of heat flow through the window) was uncertain, she said.

It was her choice, though, to find out what was beneath the seven layers of flooring in the church’s main space. Workers ripped up everything from carpet and tile to linoleum to get to the bottom, she said.

“You name it, it was under there.”

The end result was worth all of the effort, when the original oak floor was exposed below. After refinishing it, that floor became the base for Keiser’s great room, where she has defined dining and living spaces with an eclectic mix of furniture and decorative accents — with rich, warm colors that add to the atmosphere. Included are items such as a Bishop’s cabinet she purchased because it seemed like a natural fit for her church home; and a coffee table made out of a section of wrought-iron gate, laid on top of gold coffin stands (you’d never know that’s what they are).

A step up from the main area, where the altar used to be, is now Keiser’s kitchen, complete with built-in appliances, free-standing wooden cabinets and an island counter that looks out over the rest of the room. A couple of her contractors got into the spirit of the renovation, offering their own ideas for the space, she said.

The brick backdrop for her stove that looks like a fireplace, for example, was something her main contractor added and surprised her with one day — telling her that if she didn’t like it, he’d take it down.

“I loved it,” she said.

And when her painter added a couple Coptic crosses to the paint scheme of the archway over the kitchen, it was again a pleasant surprise, Keiser said.

Her home also features plenty of Keiser’s own touches, including pieces from her personal antique collection (she also has an antique business), as well as some fun, kitschy pieces.

“I’m all over the place,” she said referring to her decorative tastes.

There’s even a small room to the right of the kitchen that is devoted entirely to artifacts from various world religions, collected by Keiser and displayed as a nod to the building’s faith history.

The entire transformation from church to home took about two years, Keiser said. And while it may seem like an interesting place to explore for visitors, it feels like home to its owner. It is also a great space for entertaining, which is something Keiser said she enjoys.

What’s next

Yet, with all of its charm and comforts, Keiser — who lived in a variety of cities and states through her previous job as a store manager for Kohl’s — said she is already thinking about her next home. For her, the process of finding and creating a living space is just as much of a pleasure as living in it, she said.

“I need another process,” she said.

This time, she hopes to find a building where she can truly fit everything into one, large room.

“I’d even be willing to do a Murphy bed,” she said.

Her advice to others who might be considering buying and transforming a non-residential building into a unique home?

“Have lots of patience,” she said.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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