The Divine Transformation of an Old Quebec Church

The Canadian province of Quebec boasts no shortage of old and beautiful churches. Montreal alone has earned itself the nickname “City of Saints” for its myriad spires that shape the skyline at seemingly every other street corner; the French have also aptly anointed it the “city of a hundred bell towers.” Beyond Montreal, in the lush countryside, more spires rise up from the villages and small towns, their dramatic rooftops interrupting the tree lines.

There are few architectural projects involving the reimagining and reconfiguring of a space that excite us quite like the transformation of old churches into residences. Innately dramatic, the vaulted ceilings and stained-glass windows of these religious spaces make for an incredibly rich canvas upon which to paint.

The village of Frelighsburg, nestled in an orchard-dappled valley a few kilometres from the Vermont border, is home to one such project. The surrounding landscape of the Monteregie region is breathtakingly beautiful; Frelighsburg itself is a part of the Association of the Most Beautiful Villages of Quebec, an organization that seeks to celebrate and promote the architectural and cultural history of rural municipalities.

Located on the banks of the glassy Rivière-aux-Brochets, a neo-gothic church has been transformed into a sophisticated dwelling. The goal for this transformation lay in preserving the essence and integrity of this historic site, striking a balance between contemporary design and honouring those heritage bones. Architectural conception by DP Espace Design, contracting work by Construction Pierre Boivin Inc., and window work by Fabelta (a leader in fenestration systems since 1957) has resulted in a contemplative oasis, both inside and out. The courtyard remains intact, providing a space for quiet solitude, and the surrounding mature vegetation has been preserved entirely. The main entrance between the church and the rectory is one that a recent press release from v2com describes as capable of “transporting us to a place endowed with a comforting soul.”

The footprint of this space represents a volume of 40,000 cubic feet. The original bell tower, an 850-pound entity from a Baltimore foundry, still works; it can be viewed from the interior, along with a massive organ on the second floor. The rich gold and wood tones of its pipes and body catch the light, casting warmth from its high vantage point over the upstairs thoroughfare.

A sanctuary-like feel has been maintained thanks to pale wood grains on the floor, white walls, and white painted ceiling planks, the latter of which helps to maintain an air of rustic beauty throughout the upper level. We adore the steep ceiling slopes maintained in the bedroom and bathroom areas; a deep soaking tub provides plenty of opportunity to relax and let the eye be drawn upwards in meditation.

The scale of the space, especially in the main living area, presented an opportunity for oversized details when it came to the décor. Large, bold artwork and massive plants make the airy space feel cozy. A rich blue velvet is featured in the sectional upholstery, with a splash of complimentary pattern work on the chaise lounge. Transparent railings and bannisters on the staircase and upper hallway help to create an uninterrupted visual flow throughout.

In the dining area, a traditional harvest table with a contemporary, minimalist spin has been chosen, infusing the space with a vibe that is perfectly tailored to communal gatherings.

Key throughout, of course, is the use of windows and natural light. A defining characteristic of so many religious spaces, these windows are integral in maintaining the original spirit of the structure. Specially designed and locally manufactured by Fabelta in Quebec, the lancet windows maintain their traditional, striking silhouettes, while meeting new industry standards and respecting sustainable development. The company, located in Terrebonne, boasts the first factory-based test laboratory in the province.

Perhaps our favourite element of the project is a quiet sitting area nestled beside the ultra-modern, marble-and-matte-black kitchen. A large window illuminates the wood of two buttresses, between which is the perfect place to relax in the sleek lounge chairs while reading and admiring the views of the surrounding land.

Feeling inspired by this little slice of solitude? Check out some other divine spots for reading and working here. And if the beauty of this project leaves you eager to become a little better acquainted with la belle province, be sure to check out our Montreal city guide here.