Adaptive Reuse Case Studies


Churches are places for prayer and quiet contemplation, but architect Ronald Olthof called upon this one for a very different mission.

Located in a town of 700 people in eastern Holland, the 1928 building was eligible for a government subsidy, provided that its new owners maintained its historic exterior. Olthof and his partner, Sofie Suiker, a photo stylist and designer, accepted the challenge. Repurposing the building to be their private residence, they gave it the imprint of their own inventive and lighthearted personalities, while allowing its original devotional nature to shine through.

“It was a very simple church,” Olthof says, “but it had stained glass, a bell tower, and nice arched windows, and we wanted to keep those intact. We wanted to clean out the mess, insulate it, and just put the furniture in; that was the concept. We wanted as few rooms as possible, to keep the space open.” Removing a non-original ceiling opened the former sanctuary to the steeply pitched roof and exposed a fine set of king post scissor trusses. A cloudlike polished concrete floor and a coat of white paint lend the original architecture an appropriately celestial aspect.

Olthof furnished the resulting space with a collection of ostensibly freestanding elements. An unfitted kitchen, assembled from stock cabinetry and a stainless steel countertop, stretches out under a row of gothic-arch openings filled with green stained glass. Dominating the center of the space is a sculptural stair assembly that serves a number of functions. “It’s a room divider, a staircase, and a closet,” Olthof says. “Parts of the kitchen are built into it. It’s also an exhibition wall. We clad it with the old floor boards from the church.” The stair climbs to a new mezzanine level, from which the bedroom overlooks the living space below through a floor-to-ceiling glass wall.

The bright red of the staircase reappears as an occasional accent color elsewhere in the interior. “I’m an architect, so I like black and white,” Olthof says, laughing. “My girlfriend is a stylist, and she likes more color.” Testing various schemes with a computer model settled the matter, he says. “We saw that too much color would detract from the quality of the building. So when you walk through the house, you only see one accent at a time.”

Alterations to the exterior are discreet yet distinct from the original structure. A 1960s-era addition that hugs one side wall of the building accommodates laundry, storage, and bathroom spaces. A shipping container—serving as a detached garage with a porchlike, covered outdoor seating area—stands in the garden, which was excavated to 1 meter below the sidewalk elevation. The container’s arrival stirred some alarm in the village, Olthof remembers. But with its green roof, and wood cladding that segues into a new garden wall, the steel box all but disappears. “From the street, you don’t even see that it’s part of the shipping container,” he says. “It looks like a fence.”