A blessed retirement: Former church on daughter's property becomes home for mom
Change of address
June 21, 2009 4:00 AM
Olga Hulley, 86, converted a church to a single level home next door to her daughter.
A tiny country church in Washington County has been transformed into a retirement home for a former nurse.
The living room is part of the open floor plan with the dining room and kitchen in Olga Hulley's single level home next door to her daughter.
By Gretchen McKay Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Olga Hulley would have been happy to live out her golden years in the 1886 Queen Anne-style house in Whitehall that she and her husband, a general practitioner, shared for more than 50 years.
After William died in 2002, though, she couldn't bear to be alone in the "big house." The apartment in Library she downsized to wasn't much better.
Nice as it was, "I felt like I was in prison," recalls Mrs. Hulley, who just celebrated her 86th birthday. "You shut the door and that's it. People are in and out."
Still, she might have stayed there if not for her oldest daughter, Mary Karlek. She was living on a 13-acre spread in Union, Washington County, that her parents had purchased in the mid 1970s as a weekend country retreat. The place happened to include a tiny country church that had been rebuiltthere in the 1920s.
Earlier in 2006, the former Pleasant View Church had merged with two other congregations to form the Union Road United Methodist Church in Gastonville, and moved out of the simple 90-by-60 foot structure.
Looking at the empty building, Mrs. Hulley had an epiphany. Why not do something with the money her husband had left her, and fix it up as a home? To which her daughter responded, "Oh, Mother!"
Mrs. Hulley, though, was all too aware of her sister "huddling" in the corner of a nursing home, "and I didn't want that to happen to me," she says. So like young adults today, she boomeranged back home. Well, to her daughter's home, that is.
Turning one big, open room into a home where the former nurse would be comfortable took some work-- a lot of work.
Mrs. Hulley hired Regis McQuaide of Master Remodelers in Castle Shannon, who is known for his thoughtful and often "green" renovations.
Stripped almost to the bone of any architectural detail (church members had taken even the bell),, the church project would test Mr. McQuaide's creative talents, especially since Mrs. Hulley and her daughter were adamant that he respect the holy nature of the space.
Blessedly, a few things were left to work with, including 15-foot-tall ceilings and a vertical series of original awning windows that offered views of the bucolic countryside.More important was that he design a home that would allow Mrs. Hulley to age gracefully in place.
"I wanted to be independent," she says, despite her daughter being a few hundred feet up the hill.
One of the biggest jobs was restoring the vestibule, which was hanging onto the church by just a few nails. Over the course of the six-month project, Mr. McQuaide also would have to build walls to create two bedrooms, a large master bath with a walk-in shower and built-in vanity and laundry area.
In the living room area, he added a fireplace and giant picture window that overlooks the side yard, and installed a kitchen with a large center island and sage-green cabinetry. There are also new oak floors.
The result was so visually appealing that it was named a finalist in last year's Renovation Inspiration Contest sponsored by the Post-Gazette and Community Design Center of Pittsburgh.
It's a far cry from the historic home Mrs. Hulley shared for so long with her husband, but there's plenty of room for things that meant so much to the couple, including several painting by Pittsburgh artist Frank Mason, a stained-glass window depicting St. Luke that Mrs. Hulley found for $5 in a junk shop (it hangs in the vestibule) and her display of stuffed birds in a 21/2-foot tall glass dome that, back in the day, dressed up Kaufmann's exclusive Vendome shop.
Besides, she's making her own, new history.
Mrs. Hulley concedes it might have been cheaper and easier to tear the church down and start from scratch. But then, she says, sweeping her arm toward the picture window, it wouldn't have been like this.
"I'm able to look out and feel free," she says. "I can sit back and smell the roses."