Enveloped in Goodness
Formerly a church, this Gotham living space leaves its owner feeling at peace
Mary Rowe's house is a converted church. See more photos of her home below.
PHOTO BY BETH SKOGEN
Mary Rowe’s home graces the top of her town’s skyline and when she has guests, she greets them by ringing a bell that’s heard across town. It’s surely the steeple that makes this possible. In 2007, Rowe left her Orange County, California, digs and moved into an 1840s church in Gotham, Wisconsin, restoring and remodeling the building to make it her own.
As Rowe tells it, she wasn’t looking for such a significant project when she decided to come back to her native Wisconsin, but she passed by the church on her way to see another home for sale—and fell in love. The conversion turned into a key part of her life and served as a motivation as she was diagnosed with cancer.
“I saved the church and the church saved me,” says Rowe.
The main level of the church is one 1,200-square-foot room, so Rowe hired Nate Olson of Richland Center’s Heartland Builders to add a partial wall and a lofted bedroom that make the space more functional.
In an effort to keep as many original touches as possible, Rowe retained the rustic wooden floors and all but one of the colorful stained glass windows that filter sunlight, casting a warm glow throughout the living room. An elaborately molded metal ceiling, fifteen and a half feet above, was repainted and further reflects the building’s classic feel.
A pulpit that came with the building’s purchase sits at the doorway while rows of shelves filled with books and collected art hang around the room. “My bookshelves are my religion,” she says.
Rowe converted a TV stand into a bathroom sink and gutted a non-functioning piano to turn it into a music station with a modern stereo and speaker system.
Where newer pieces were needed, Rowe incorporated her own history. An extensive traveler, she possesses quite an art collection, including pieces from Italy, Africa, Aspen and California, which fit nicely on the church’s expansive walls.
“I finally have a space for things I’ve been collecting my whole life,” she says.
Downstairs, a finished basement is used as a guest space, complete with a kitchenette and private bath. The style is dramatically different from what’s above. Rowe lived in the Caribbean for a time and the lower level reflects that portion of her life by incorporating bold blues and bright whites. The basement is also a workspace for Rowe, a freelance milliner; she created pieces that debuted at the Kentucky Derby.
Rowe loves the history of the church, which was host to a Methodist congregation before closing, and feels her home is truly blessed: “I’m enveloped in goodness.”
Hannah Kiddoo is a Madison-based writer.