Worshipful design – Lambert’s Cove Church

The former Lambert's Cove Church now functions as a detached bed and bath that sits close to the renovated main house, located in the old parsonage. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

When Neal Kaplan, Lisa Foster, and Josh Yates decided to buy the old Methodist church on Lambert’s Cove Road, they had a clear vision of what they wanted to do with it. They planned (and still plan) to use the property themselves as vacation homes for Mr. Kaplan and Ms. Foster, who live in Rhode Island, and as studio space for Mr. Yates, who lives on the Vineyard, in the winter.

Two years later, that vision is still a few weeks from completion. The execution of their vision is months over schedule and many dollars over budget. As Ms. Foster told The Times, “Financially, it exceeded our original expectations — by a lot.”

When the restoration and renovations are complete, the team will still have some personal use of the buildings, but for a few years they will also have to offer the property as a rental in order to get back on their financial feet.

The team’s plan was twofold. First, they wanted to maintain the outer appearance of the church and the parsonage as they have been for 150 years. Neighbors generally agree that they have been true to that goal. The church, in particular, looks the same, only freshly painted and in good repair. The gleaming white clapboards are identical to the original. The bell tower has been reinforced and maintained. The bell still hangs there, and it can be rung. The original windows have been repaired and reinstalled with 80 percent of the original glass. The original doors and the original granite steps will still face Lambert’s Cove Road. Though the church originally sat almost on the ground, a crawl-space has been excavated underneath, and a new foundation has been installed and faced with granite to match the original look.

The parsonage has undergone more extensive changes, but it would take more than a casual look from the street to see them. A deteriorated addition on the south end has been torn down and replaced, and the new peak is a few inches higher than the original. The new addition is also slightly wider, but that’s not evident to passersby. Like the church, the parsonage now has a new foundation. A neighbor might notice the walk-in doors to the new, full cellar (the old parsonage had only a crawl-space). The windows in the parsonage are mostly new and energy-efficient, but carefully chosen to match the style of the originals.

But inside…

The extensive work inside had different goals. While the interior design of both buildings is respectful of the restrained, New England character of the late colonial era, and much of the original materials have been refurbished and reused, the new interiors are modern and comfortable. The main house has many eco-friendly features, including efficient insulation and radiant hot-water heating in the floors. The kitchen has an island, modern appliances, and granite countertops.

Mr. Kaplan and Ms. Foster imagined that the two buildings would be used together. The parsonage is now the main house; the church, a detached bedroom with a fancy bathroom. They envisioned that Ms. Foster would use the three-bedroom main house with her husband and children; Mr. Kaplan would use the guest house. The main house has a modern kitchen; the guest house only a rudimentary kitchenette. Out of view from the street, there is a modern sliding glass doorway from the dining area of the main house overlooking the woods and a wide patio at the back, but no such modernity at the guest house, where it might detract from the appearance of the old church. The cooking and entertaining, the owners explain, will be done in the parsonage. “We wanted it to be a fun place to be in,” Ms. Foster explained.

While it would be possible for strangers to use the two buildings as separate rentals, the church would be a less desirable place to live.

The old church is, however, a marvelous space. As a studio for Mr. Yates over the winter months, it has light from the tall windows on both sides. The entry is much as it always was, but the back wall has been moved forward to allow more room for the bathroom, closets, and the kitchenette. There is still lots of space. Without bedroom furniture, it would be an excellent event space for a meeting or an art show. The church’s wide floorboards were much distressed, and only a few were usable, but there was a happy surprise when they were torn up — carpenters found that the subfloor was made of the same wide boards, and the restorers were able to make one finish floor out of two.

The original stamped tin ceiling in the church has been restored. Most of the squares were intact, but about a dozen were too badly corroded. Mr. Kaplan made a mold of one of the original squares and had fiberglass copies made. The original baseboards and other trim have been restored and reused, as well as the original windows.

There were many reasons why the project has taken so long and cost so much, but mostly that Ms. Foster and Mr. Kaplan, who specialize in this kind of work, were passionate about getting the job right. Mr. Kaplan explained, “Nearly everything had to be hand-made.” The owners plan an open house for the fall to introduce the Island to the completed project.