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41 Pitt Street

This Gothic Revival style Plymouth Congregational Church (circa 1871) was transformed into a modern a living space. Defined by Gothic arched double doors, original heart pine floors, bead board paneling, and fenestrations, the renovation reflects the history and patina of the original structure while respecting the historical fabric of its original state.

The Background
The Plymouth Congregational Church, circa 1871, is located at 41 Pitt Street in historic downtown Charleston. Built in the Gothic Revival Style by African American Congregationalists who were experiencing new freedom after the Civil War, the church thrived at that location for more than a hundred years before moving to its new home west of the Ashley River. The vacant building soon fell into disrepair. After many years of neglect, in 1958, the building was sold to Charleston's Association for the Blind. Over the next forty years, the building suffered several horrific renovations. By the time, Bill and Julie Arnheim walked through it in 1997, the building was a mere shadow of its original grace, yet the Arnheims could easily see its potential as a living space.

The Constraints
After demolition and removal of the non-original interior walls and floor systems, the building was returned to an open, 35' x 64' box with a 30' ceiling at the ridge with six, 10' tall windows equally spaced down each side of the long walls.

The Challenge
In one corner of the building, there was an 18"settling of the floor. This, coupled with major roof problems and countless other structural deficiencies, presented extreme challenges. The new design for the space included a large master bedroom/ bathroom/ closets/ sitting room suite, three guest bedrooms, two and a half additional bathrooms, a laundry room, reading area, music room, library, and potting room, all within the existing shell of the original church.

The transformation of a church into a home required the introduction of a second floor. The question became, 'how to gracefully introduce new spaces without losing the integrity of the original church?'

Removal of the ceiling revealed a previously hidden architectural element. At the peak of the ridge, 25' from the rear of the building, was a 6' mirrored, medallion. Originally designed to reflect light from a chandelier into the room, showcasing this "hidden" treasure in the public areas of the house, was integrated into the master plan.

The Solution
A 15' tall, double lancet window was installed in an area in the front of the house that had been walled over many years earlier. A second floor mezzanine with music and reading areas was designed to look down upon the openness of the kitchen, living room, and dining areas while appreciating the drama of the 30' double volume space. The medallion works as a transition between the public and private areas of the home, and is accentuated by large, curved mahogany doors that open into the master bedroom on the first floor. The second floor bedrooms utilize the tops of the tall windows to introduce light and are acoustically sealed with insulated glass. The main first and second floor bathrooms were designed in the rear 'altar' space - symbolically and literally recalling a religious cleansing with water.

A 5' in diameter circle was cut into the second floor. A new stairwell was introduced directly beneath the medallion and a circular walled hallway was built. The medallion itself received a restored antique gothic style, circular chandelier and can be appreciated from all public spaces in the front of the house, while all bedrooms and baths are neatly tucked into the rear.

The Result
The new design reflects the history and patina of the building while respecting the historical fabric of its original state. Large, wooden, gothic arched, double doors lead to original heart pine floors, bead board paneling, and fenestrations.

By transforming its original use as a place of prayer into a place of living with all of the modern amenities, style and grace, the Arnheims were able to save an architecturally valuable and beautiful historical property.

41 Pitt Street