Nikki Ross rides a vintage bike in her and her partner’s converted church playhouse in Sheffield, near Hamilton

Revival Time

How one couple transformed an old church into a polychromatic playhouse

By Andrea Yu| Photography by Nikki Ross and Matt Barnes
| October 26, 2023

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.

Related: “We left the city to fix up a small-town church. A year later, our daughter begged us to move back”: Why we’re returning to Toronto

A 19th-century red-brick church in the village of Sheffield, near Hamilton

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.

Related: A Toronto couple bought a massive old church for $240,000. Now they live there

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.

The main living space of the Sheffield church that Matt Barnes and Nikki Ross converted into a whimsical playhouse, featuring a trampoline
A mix of antique and Ruggable rugs gives the main room warmth. The couple use the trampoline for dance parties

 

The kitchen of the Sheffield church that photographers Matt Barnes and Nikki Ross converted into a whimsical playhouse
Nikki and Matt took inspiration from English country homes for the kitchen, which is painted forest green and has Canadian maple flooring

 

The kitchen of the Sheffield church that photographers Matt Barnes and Nikki Ross converted into a whimsical playhouse
Another view of the kitchen, featuring freshly baked cookies
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A fireplace in the bedroom of the Sheffield church that photographers Matt Barnes and Nikki Ross converted into a whimsical playhouse
The couple painted a corner of their bedroom blue. The antique fireplace has been retrofitted with an electric insert

 

The main living space of the Sheffield church that photographers Matt Barnes and Nikki Ross converted into a whimsical playhouse, featuring a slide
In 2018, Matt found a childhood drawing of his dream house, which had a slide in it. “My parents said, ‘If you can do it anywhere, you can do it in the church.’” He found this one on Facebook Marketplace

 

The bedroom of the Sheffield church that photographers Matt Barnes and Nikki Ross converted into a whimsical playhouse
The couple repainted the loft’s dark wood floors a glossy white to brighten the space

 

The dining room of the Sheffield church that photographers Nikki Ross and Matt Barnes converted into a whimsical playhouse
Matt looked for hand-painted Spanish tiles for the dining nook, but they were over budget. The Damask tiles were an affordable alternative

 

A vintage Eero Aarnio ball chair in the living room of the Sheffield church that photographers Nikki Ross and Matt Barnes converted into a whimsical playhouse
Matt purchased this Eero Aarnio ball chair from Southworks Antiques, in Cambridge, and had it repainted gold and lined with blue velvet. The wool tiger rug is from Etsy
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