Home Tour: Newport church was converted into a condo that became unique sanctuary of a home
Stained glass casts special light on living space
Brent Coleman, WCPO Contributor
NEWPORT -- The time has come for Rosemary Braeckel to find a new sanctuary.
First, however, she has to find the right steward for the one she has called home for 11 years: the north half of the 1893-built First Presbyterian Church on Overton Street in Newport.
The 3,400 square foot condominium has been a wonderful, unique home to live in, but since her husband died, it has become a chore to maintain, she said.
Braeckel said she will be sad to give up her vaulted master bedroom with its 16-foot high ceiling paneled in red oak. She will miss the master suite’s sitting room and private deck, as well as the office she has set up in the one-bedroom apartment over her two-car garage, a rare thing to have in Newport.
Those features can be duplicated – but not the two-story Victorian stained glass windows that light up the condo like no other.
Braeckel, a glass worker in her own right, wishes she knew who made the red and pink floral windows.
“I kind of tracked it down to (BeauVerre) Riordan, but I called (the Middletown company) and they said they didn’t have the sketches for it,” Braeckel said.
An 1894-dated plaque near the stained-glass windows in the south-side condo reads “willing workers,” as if they had funded the project, but there is no maker’s mark on them.
“I kind of want to know the whole story because they’re not the churchy kind of windows,” Braeckel said.
Her two sets of three-paneled windows in the church are almost the same. Neither features religious figures. The only non-floral element in Braeckel’s window is a royal crown. The other window has a dove.
She joked that the symbolism is appropriate, because “I am the queen.”
Breathing New Life Into Old Building
The East Row Historic District church was designed by prominent church architect Charles C. Crapsey while he was a partner of William R. Brown. Their Romanesque and Gothic revival building is made of limestone and features two entrances, the main one leading into Braeckel’s unit.
The church, vacant since the mid-1980s, was purchased by businessman David Hosea in 1993, who had architect Richard Nevil divide it into two condominiums. The project was featured in 1994’s Rehabarama, an event that spurred the comeback of Newport’s historic neighborhood, Braeckel said.
Nevil narrowed the vestibule to create two closets on either side that “still have the steps in them,” Braeckel said. Beyond that the condo opens to the ceiling with the grand glass windows taking up most of the wall to the left and stairs turning up to a gallery landing.
The condo’s open plan is accentuated by a large living room that features classic white support columns and dentil molding. The flow continues into the dining room, off of which is the kitchen, which Rosemary and Michael Braeckel remodeled in 2004.
The kitchen, which has its own 40-inch-wide stained glass window that matches the main ones, features stainless steel appliances, dramatic gray, purple, blue and brown veined granite countertops, cherry cabinets with shower-glass panes and porcelain flooring with copper-colored slate accents.
Filled With History
Off the back is an entry hall that’s accessible from a narrow gated side patio. Plaques on the hall’s walls list parishioners lost in the world wars.
The main staircase put in by Hosea takes visitors past the two-story stained glass to an L-shaped gallery that Braeckel uses as a library. Dramatic red oak tracery and a roof-supporting buttress pop off the walls. There’s a second buttress in the sitting room.
“If you were to take them down, I think the whole roof would fall on you,” Braeckel said of the buttresses.
Flanking the French doors that lead from the gallery into the master suite are two antique church pews that came from her husband’s family church in Joplin, Mo.
The doors and large picture window at the end of the sitting room bring lots of light into master suite and three levels of dentil trim add architectural detail.
The stained glass window in the kitchen continues up into the bathroom, which features an oversized jetted tub, marble flooring and recessed lighting. Off the suite’s porch and six steps down is a deck and door into the coach house.
Braeckel said the garage and apartment were built by Hosea and likely replaced what had been the church’s kitchen and classrooms.
The condo, Braeckel said, includes a large basement where the laundry and utilities are. She said it’s all in excellent condition and that the church is structurally sound.
At one point, however, it wasn’t.
“Sometime, I don’t know when, two brick archways were put in (off her north side courtyard) when they realized the church was trying to walk to the river,” Braeckel said.
When she and her husband bought the condo from Hosea, they noticed that “by miracles of miracles, nobody had ever thrown a rock through the windows.” But to protect them from vandals and weather, the couple covered them all with protective storm windows on the outside.
It’s the least they could do to preserve a part of Newport’s history. Braeckel said she’s sad to part with it. At this point, she’s selling it on her own and asking $400,000.
“But that’s negotiable. People can talk to me. I’m not on a timetable,” and finding suitable owners is important, she said.
“You hope the next owners will love it and take care of it. You have to treat it as an art piece. That’s what it really is.”