Church reborn as art gallery: Restoration turns rundown, 112-year-old building into stunning ‘Sanctuary’ for popular local artist

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Most people who hire Everett Barnard are looking for him to make something new look old. Barnard, as his clients tell others, is a genius at remodeling a modern kitchen or an entire home into a throwback from the Neo-Greco era.

But one of his most recent projects involved remodeling a 112-year-old former Methodist church into a new art gallery while restoring and retaining as much of the structure’s late-19th-century look and feel as possible.

Barnard doesn’t just make things look old with new materials crafted to appear as if they come from the past. He’s spent 30 or so years accumulating century-old hardware for doors, aging woodwork and even an old bartop from the former Claypool Hotel downtown. That authenticity allows clients who want something new to look old, to end up with something that truly is old.

Barnard’s recent 10-month project of restoring and remodeling the former church in Zionsville, which most recently housed a furniture accessory store, was at the request of local artist Nancy Noel.

Noel thought the old church would make a perfect sanctuary for her paintings, which often depict angels, animals and Amish children.

In fact, the studio is called “The Sanctuary,” and nearly a year later she’s thrilled with Bernard’s work and the restoration project on which she spent more than $1 million.

“There are always more surprises if you renovate rather than tear down and start over,” Noel said. “I saw potential for the church. There are things about a church that just can’t be replicated. I wanted to retain the feeling of an old structure because that’s entirely different from a new structure.”

So Barnard, whose Indianapolis-based business is called E. Barnard, Homebuilder, started by opening up the false ceiling in the main room of the 20,000-square-foot structure.

Removing the dropped ceiling that was 18 feet above where churchgoers once sat in row upon row of pews revealed several large beams Barnard and his crew restored. The original ceiling is now exposed and tapers to nearly 30 feet high.

A masonry and white marble fireplace was added, but it looks as if it could have been there forever-the stone, wood mantle, breast-piece carving and two concrete angel statues having come from various salvage collectors.

The pine wood floors throughout, which were likely put in some 10 years ago, Barnard estimated, were darkened to enhance the hushed mood that emanates from walls covered in angels and children.

All the interior woodwork was redone or replaced with period pieces because most was either missing or incomplete, Barnard explained. That includes the arch-top front doors, framing, crown molding and wainscoting.

Most of the mix of 1930s stained-glass geometric and leaded-glass windows were kept intact. Some were turned into wall space to allow more room for Noel’s paintings.

“A building this old usually gets remodeled to death,” Barnard said. But in this case, extensive repairs, a remodeling and an expansion done in 1938 after a fire damaged much of the structure, were likely the extent of the church’s renovation. Still, the structure was sound for its age when Noel bought it for nearly $700,000 a year ago. “But it was relatively unattractive,” she said. “It was painted horrific colors. It was aesthetically offensive.” Also, there was no insulation and the choir room had been knocked out and boarded up. In fact, the church had not functioned as such for the past 13 years. The Methodist Church, built in 1894, saw much activity in the 1940s when the Zionsville Village where it sits was booming with servicemen returning from war and families choosing to raise their children in the area.

That congregation moved in 1961 and the structure was bought by Cornerstone Baptist Church, which moved on in 1993. Since then, it has housed various antique and homefurnishing stores.

But the boarded-up choir room was ripe for Barnard’s handiwork.

A staircase had to be added to get up to it.

“I have no idea how they got up there,” Barnard said, looking up. Maybe there was an old stairwell someplace else, he thinks.

So he built an 1890s-style stairway and added antique posts. The fireplace, which faces one way downstairs, also faces the other way in the balcony, allowing visitors to sit in front of a cozy fire and soak up the atmosphere.

Entablature molding was added under the eaves in the back room, which will eventually be turned into a coffee and tea bar that will also serve organic food and snacks. Noel is looking for someone to open up shop there.

The back bar is new, although it doesn’t look it, due to the bartop Barnard acquired years ago from the Claypool Hotel. Neo Greco bronze and Egyptian-looking hardware from his shop adorn all the doors, some of which were found in the church’s basement.

While most of the work was done inside, a porch that spans the front and one side of the church was added outside. Like he felt about his other work, Barnard wanted the Victorian-style porch to look as if it had always been there. “Zionsville is very careful and good about what gets built and done here,” Barnard said. All the work, including adding the porch, had to be approved by town leaders.

Which wasn’t hard to do.

“It’s an honor to have a nationally known artist choose your town for something like this,” said Edward Mitro, town manager. “It’s also very good to have a destination point that is unique for our downtown. The design is to the architect’s credit that he knew the best fit with our style for the church.”

Nearby shop owners along Main Street are happy with the project.

“The renovation of the front makes it much more attractive,” said Phillip Owens, owner of Jewel Box Jewelers, which has been in business 33 years just down the street. “True, it was retail before, but it still looked like a church. Passers-by would think of it as a church. Adding the porch did wonders to it. Now you can tell it’s been converted to a retail establishment.”

More retail in the area is good for business, Owens said.

Eventually, Barnard will begin restoring the structure’s bell tower. Bats live there now.

“Yes, there are bats in the belfry,” he said. “But we can do the work without disrupting their lives too much. They’ll still be there when we’re done.”

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