How one couple transformed an old church into a polychromatic playhouse
In 2016, Matt Barnes was married with two young daughters and living in a condo at Bloor and Lansdowne when he came upon a 19th-century red-brick church for sale in the village of Sheffield, near Hamilton. Barnes is a photographer, and he wanted a space that he could use as both a studio and an escape from the city. He bought it for $460,000.
By the time Covid hit, Matt and his wife had split up, and he was dating fellow photographer Nikki Ross. They were shooting a project in Jamaica, and they needed a place to quarantine upon their return. “We thought, Why don’t we go to the church?” Nikki says. They loved it so much that they decided to live there full-time.
They figured that they could drive to Toronto for shoots and then work on post-production at the church. “We had so many ideas about how we could make it a home,” says Nikki.
With a budget of $200,000 thanks to the sale of Matt’s condo, the couple started renovating. They tackled most of the work themselves, transforming the choir loft into a primary bedroom and building two more bedrooms for Matt’s daughters and a shared office space in the basement. They kept some original elements to preserve the building’s character, like the pendant lights, pine floors and coloured trim on the stained glass windows.
The unusual home is the perfect backdrop to showcase the couple’s treasured items, like Nikki’s collection of 100-plus vintage pennants and Matt’s turn-of-the-century group photographs. They sourced other items from Facebook Marketplace and antique shops to fill the fanciful, eclectic space. “I like a bit of whimsical chaos to fuel my creativity,” says Matt.