Secretary of the Interior

A Blog from the Editor of St. Louis At Home

Monday, November 19, 2012 / 3:05 PM

Making Old New: Finding Inspiration From Conversion Homes

Making Old New: Finding Inspiration From Conversion Homes

With five magical words and some simple footwork, Dorothy Gale spirited herself back to Kansas, reminding all of us that there’s no place like home. But like the twister that carried her away, perhaps there’s a spin on that timeless phrase.

There’s no place like…the grain silo?
The fire station?
The house of worship?
OK, so these don’t exactly roll off the tongue. But what if personalizing your space with paint, fabric and a wall of family photos doesn’t say “one-of-a-kind” with enough conviction?  For the definitive statement in originality, think reinvention, not just redecorating.

In Pennsylvania, a former firehouse became a 5,000-square-foot home complete with an observation deck in the living room. This wasn’t the first conversion for the old brick property, however. Before it was a firehouse  and before that it was home to a trolley maintenance garage—proving that reinvention is not a recent phenomenon.

Taking the concept of home as sanctuary, a Georgian church in the English countryside was converted into a five-bedroom luxurious home in a project that spanned eight years. The Northumberland work of art is flooded with natural light, most exquisitely in the three-level master bath, where soaring stained glass windows overlook the footed tub. With that kind of ambiance, who needs candlelight?

Barn-to-home conversions have been popular for awhile and often keep the rustic and rural sensibility of the original structure. But not always, as cleanly demonstrated by the team at Stedman Blower, a UK architectural firm. Their inspired contemporary project, the Threshing Barn (pictured below), was featured on the British television program Grand Design.

Quirky, creative, always unexpected and sometimes a little crazy, the possibilities for conversion homes are limited only by the imagination (and perhaps the occasional local ordinance.)  Nuclear missile silos, billboards and World War II bunkers have begun new lives around the world. Clearly, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

1. Soaring spaces in a converted Philadelphia firehouse
Photo courtesy

2. Brightly painted ductwork enlivens the kids’ bath in a converted Chicago schoolhouse.
Photo courtesy

3. An English church, circa 1792, is now home to a heavenly master bath.
Photo courtesy

4. A 19th-century barn turned elegant home in Surrey, England.
Photo courtesy of

5. A once-derelict water tower in Brandenburg, Germany, with a viewing platform for visitors
Photo courtesy The New York Times (

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Dec 26, 2012 09:43 pm
 Posted by  STL Home Builder

This is a great article! I really enjoyed the interesting history and the brilliant photos. Very well done.

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