Historic Church Enters New Chapter as Airbnb, Wedding Chapel |
FOWLERVILLE, Michigan – A former early 20th-century church in Fowlerville served multiple purposes.
It is the former location of St. Agnes Catholic Church, which was turned into a residence in the 1970s. Several families have held weddings and events in the chapel over the years.
Now called Kelmscott Chapel and Concert Hall, the building’s long history has entered a new chapter, reports the Livingston Daily Press & Argus.
Barbra and Chico Thumudo and their daughter Bre Thumudo and her fiancé Kamrin Newman are the building’s new caretakers.
The Thumudos bought it in 2018 and have spent the last few years on extensive renovations to improve the space as a wedding and events venue.
They also converted much of the church into a unique three-level Airbnb with a full kitchen, living and dining room, walk-in closet, two bedrooms, and a loft space with a futon.
“Everyone says it’s a peaceful place with the light streaming through the stained glass windows in the morning. I think we’ve created a comfortable space in a huge, overwhelming building,” Barbra Thumudo said, while taking a tour on the Airbnb side of construction on Thursday.
Barbra, who has a background in historic preservation, said they were trying to restore it as much as possible to its original era while incorporating updates.
They retain some of the features added by Dr Chester “Chet” Summers, a doctor from Brighton, who converted it into his home after the Catholic Church vacated the building in 1970.
“I’m trying to find a middle ground and bring it back,” Barbra said.
She works for the Michigan State Capitol as Deputy Director of Facilities Operations and Events Coordinator. She said she handles all decorative art and design for the Capitol, as well as events. She and her husband Chico, a pipefitter who also worked as a plumber, and their family and friends do all of the renovations themselves.
They held about 30 weddings there, among other events such as baby showers and a small funeral.
In November, they hosted local community theater group The Village Idiots for a murder mystery event. Bre was part of the cast.
“We would like to continue doing (theater and performances) here. We are very hopeful to make it more of a community space and build more business-to-business relationships,” Bre said.
She also works at the Capitol as a registration clerk for the State House. His Howell auto detailing business, Breezy’s Squeaky Clean Auto Detailing, was a finalist for the Livingston Daily “Best of Livingston County 2021” awards.
She and her fiancé live in a renovated one-bedroom apartment in the basement of the church and act as caretakers.
The most important event for the family comes in September when Bre and Kamrin are married in the chapel.
Barbra said they plan to carry out further renovations in the meantime, including the restoration of a balcony which will increase the seating capacity from around 120 to around 150-160 and further expose a large stained glass window to the front of the building.
She said the renovation project healed the family. Their son Corey committed suicide in 2016 when he was 25.
“As a family, we needed something positive to focus on and keep moving forward so we didn’t get swallowed up in our grief,” Barbra said. “Sharing the chapel with people, whether it’s a community activity or just giving someone in the guest suite a break, makes us happy. There’s no greater compliment to our restoration efforts than when someone leaves the chapel with a feeling of peace and contentment.”
Barbra said the original 1880s church was located on a nearby plot of land and was destroyed in a 1901 tornado.
She said it was rebuilt and reopened in 1911.
After the church moved to Grand River Avenue, Summers bought it and turned it into a home and place for an organ he had salvaged from the old Granada Theater in Detroit.
Barbra said Summers was an amateur organist who gave concerts there and was later ordained to officiate weddings in the chapel.
Originally, the church sanctuary was larger. Summers added a wall with a new altar decorated by non-functioning organ pipes and an oak frame that was once part of the church’s confessional booths. The Thumudos kept him where he is.
Behind the shrine, the Thumudos have knocked down walls, restored archways and opened up the space, which now serves as an event and reception hall.
“With the stained glass, the church removed the centerpieces because they represented the Stations of the Cross. The centerpieces are Summers’ 1970s version, her own design,” Barbra said.
During the renovations, they discovered a few medallion-shaped murals that were above the church’s original altar.
Among many improvements, they restored two archways that originally led to the church’s sacristies, rooms where priests prepare before a service and keep their vestments. The archway now leads to Airbnb’s full kitchen and one of the guest bedrooms.
Part of the Airbnb was once a tax office for Karen Ryan, from whom the Thumudos purchased the building. Ryan owned it from 2005 to 2018.
It was also owned by journalist Buddy Moorehouse and his wife Kathy, and by Bill and Louise Neumann before them.
The name Kelmscott is a nod to Barbra’s favorite artist, William Morris, who was a prominent textile designer and artist during Britain’s Arts and Crafts movement in the late 19th and early 20th century. Morris’ family once resided in the 16th century Kelmscott Manor in the village of Kelmscott in Oxfordshire, England.
Barbra has incorporated some of Morris’ designs into the wallpaper and pillows on the Airbnb side of the building.
“Many of the details, like the stairs and railings, are a nod to the Arts and Crafts movement.”