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Sense of sanctuary

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Originally a Lutheran property, this whitewashed stucco church has been resurrected to provide a character-filled home and artist's studio

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With their soaring ceilings, criss-crossed wood rafters and cathedral doorways, deconsecrated churches have a character well suited to artistic pursuits. So it was scarcely surprising that San Angelo artist Rene Alvarado could see the potential in a run-down church building that came on the market.

"As an artist, I have always been intrigued by unusual spaces – my last home was once a hen house," Alvarado says. "This church was both a challenge and an inspiration. With its high ceilings, spacious, well-proportioned interior and beautiful wood beams, it has loads of character and was ideally suited for use as a studio and gallery."

Alvarado says that although the building dates back to the 1920s and is characteristic of early Mission churches, it was extensively remodeled in 1948. At this time a new Spanish Southwest-style peaked facade was added. The interior retained its original charm.

There was one major drawback, however – the building had no electricity or plumbing, and some of the flooring was missing. Alvarado says the interior was completely gutted, with the skeleton of the structure left exposed.

To maintain the integrity of the original building the artist chose to minimize the structural changes. The front section of the building was given over to the gallery space, which in turn leads to a large studio and living area. Beyond this is the bedroom. A new mezzanine loft was added above this room to provide a drafting, drawing and writing area.

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The traditional symmetry of the church was also retained. Alvarado decided to reinforce the main axis through the church by replicating the cathedral-arch entry doors between each room.

"The new doors echo the style of the entry doors – the shape, wood type and stain are all similar. An additional cathedral arch was mounted on the wall above the fireplace as a focal point."

Alvarado says 95% of the floors are the original hardwood boards.

"Rather than sand the boards back to remove the scratches and signs of wear and tear, I chose to retain their character by simply cleaning and waxing the floor."

Alvarado says the interiors of the studio living space and the gallery are constantly evolving as artworks and sculptural items are added and removed.

"Every wall is a blank canvas, which then becomes a composition as I place things onto it. For this reason, all the walls have been painted white so the artwork can pop out."

The ever-evolving collection includes the artist's own paintings, along with numerous tribal artworks, including several African sculptures.

"African art has soul and sincerity, and in this age of high technology I think many people appreciate the craftsmanship of such traditional pieces."

Alvarado also ensures all the art is displayed to best advantage. While downlights highlight works in the gallery and studio, table lamps are used in the bedroom to provide a more subdued, intimate light.

First published date: 01 May 2009

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Credit List

Interior designer Owner Rene Alvarado; Richard Round, Round & Gillis (San Angelo, TX)
Builder Gaston and Burk Contracting
Blinds White plantation shutters from Budget Blinds
Audiovisual systems Allan Hines
Artwork Rene Alvarado
Kitchen cabinetry Painted wood by R&S
Countertops Concrete by Gaston and Burk
Flooring Original hardwood; Saltillo clear-coated terracotta tiles from Saltillo Tile