Couple Restores Old Church and Transforms it Into a Lavish Home

This article appeared in Bigglobaltravel and has been published here with permission.

Meet Anastasiia and Gunther – a young couple from Maryland. They were on the market for a new home, but knew they didn’t want to go the conventional route of buying a typical family home. One day, while on a scenic drive around town, they saw a for sale sign outside a gothic church. At that moment, the couple knew they wanted to turn this 120-year-old property into their forever home.

The Real Work Could Begin

To get started, they needed to shell out $320,000 to purchase the old and run-down church, knowing full well that their investment would require tons of work. After six months of saving, they were able to buy it. Now that the property was in their name, the real work of renovation could begin, and as we can imagine, the family had a lengthy list of changes they wanted to take care of before settling in.

The Real Work Could Begin

Historic Charm

Gunther and Anastasiia were in search of a home, and the pioneering couple wanted a place with character, and they longed to be surrounded by scenic views away from the city. They also wanted to stay close to the historic charm of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. So when Gunther and Anastasiia first came across a 120-year-old abandoned church for sale, they had this gut feeling it would make for the perfect home for their three kids.

Historic Charm

At First Sight

“The moment we walked into the church, that was it. It was love at first sight as far as properties go, ” Anastasiia explained. “We looked at each other, and both knew, so immediately we called our real estate agent.” Together the aspiring couple made the massive decision to renovate the establishment into a place of residence. Sure, it would be an ambitious project, but they were excited to turn the neglected church into their new home.

At First Sight

The Church Itself

The All Saints’ Church was originally a historic Gothic-style Episcopal church set in the Talbot County of Maryland. The current structure was first built-in 1900-1901. The church’s exterior features include a bell tower with a shingled spire as the steeple, now that’s something you won’t find in the average suburban home. The inside features stained glass windows imported from Munich, Germany, along with decorative tile floors, a darkly stained exposed timber roof structure, and intricately carved church furniture.

The Church

Bigger Ideas

They had to start planning how they were going to get started with their comprehensive list of amendments. Their first job was to clean the house from top to bottom, which took about two weeks. While the couple admitted the church was liveable when they initially moved in, they had some bigger ideas in mind. They documented the whole thing over Instagram, so their family and friends could witness all the effort and work behind the restoration project.

Bigger Ideas

To Feel at Home

The very first thing they needed to do before any additions were made was to remove all of the clutter, wanting their guests to feel like they walked into a home when they entered the front door. Among the accumulated mess was furniture that had been left behind, old wallpaper, and errant knick-knacks leftover from previous owners. Even though Anastasiia and Gunther removed a lot, there was a rustic look to the interior they wanted to retain.

To Feel at Home

Old-House Lovers

Anastasiia is a teacher, and her husband Gunther, a biostatistician, and they both share a love of old houses and following restoration projects. Inside the abode, there was a quaint and comfortable feel, so they worked with the vibe it gave off. They are a part of a growing Instagram community of old-house lovers and people who restore old houses, so many of their friends on Instagram helped them with advice and ideas for their restoration project.

Old-House Lovers

Keeping the Original Look

Initially, the great hall was spacious and with the high ceilings felt rather empty, so they transformed it into a living area, with the vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows adding a gothic touch. The family did an amazing job of keeping certain aspects while also removing the whole church feel to it all. Anastasiia said, “We tried to keep everything as original as possible, as the owner before us did.” They didn’t want to risk changing the aesthetic integrity.

Keeping the Original Look

Quite a Large Home

According to the Maryland municipal’s website, the church was designed by an architect named Henry Congdon, almost 120 years ago. It was built to replace the church that burned down on December 31, 1899, also designed by Henry Congdon. The entire building was about 2,500 square feet, and the rooms were all quite wide and expansive. For example, the couch in this photo doesn’t look big compared to the size of the room, but it’s 12 feet long!

Quite a Large Home

The Best Part

Here is the master bedroom, which is located in the loft upstairs that overlooked the living room. It was just one of three bedrooms, but the best part of this room was one of the walls, which consisted mostly of one big window, allowing for natural light to flood in the room, and starry nights to shine through and giving an incredible view from the bed. This was obviously not something the couple wanted to alter.

The Best Part

A Functioning Church

According to Anastasiia, the Church served as a place of worship until the 1950s, and since then, it has remained empty up until its deconsecration in the 1970s. Since then, it has seen a few owners who have added lofts and built on extra rooms. The alterations and additions that have been made to the building are not permanent and can be taken down, and the property can be made into a functioning church again.

A Functioning Church

Gothic Architecture

This spiral staircase was located directly underneath the loft and led down to the other two bedrooms. It was the ideal place to display their family photos, which they had plenty of. Despite all the additions and alterations, the building’s original Gothic-revival architecture has been preserved for nearly 120 years. To this day, the church features its original finishes, but one thing they made sure to keep was the grand piano that was used in the church service.

Gothic Architecture

The Family Room

When the temperature dropped in the winter months, this was the room the family spent much of their time in. Since a church has a large and open structure, it is difficult to heat all the corners of the building properly. A room that typically might not be closed in with doors may need them to keep in the heat. This space was originally an altar, but now it’s where they watch together their family films.

The Family Room

The Belfry Tower

The church also came complete with a belfry tower containing three floors, the third of which even had the bronze bell from the early 1900s. This is just another tangible example of the history contained within the walls of the antique building. The first floor was a library, which they made into a guest bedroom, and the second floor was converted to a Victorian-styled bedroom they hoped to rent out via Airbnb. They also removed the bell to make a lounging area.

The Belfry Tower

The Biggest Project

The restored kitchen is the biggest project they’ve done so far. The three-month-long kitchen revamp included redoing the flooring and replacing the supporting structure, overhauling the plumbing and electrical work, and fitting new cabinets and countertops. The most difficult part of the entire restoration process was making sure the additions complement the church’s original style, which was very important for the couple. “My husband always says that we’re just caretakers of this place,” she said.


Preserving the Property

“This property has been here for over 100 years, and it will be here long after we are gone. Our job is not to just make it what we want, but to make sure we preserve it.” Behind the house is an old cemetery, some might think to own property with a cemetery was spooky, but the small one in the backyard didn’t bother Anastasiia or Gunther at all. In fact, they maintained the area and tended to the garden.

Preserving the Property

Youtube Inspiration

Anastasiia and Gunther spent about $45,000 on renovations. Their approach was to preserve the church because “this place has been here for over 100 years.” Craziest of all, however, was how they developed the skills to complete the project, as much of the work the couple completed was largely thanks to YouTube instructional videos giving them some serious inspiration. They both said once they began, their imaginations ran wild; of course, they had other DIY renovations to draw ideas from, too.

Youtube Inspiration

Restoring the Old Church

When it came to decorating, Anastasiia and Gunther had to replace all their furniture because what they had was too small. Anastasiia remarked that she believes the best part of owning and restoring the old church is the inspiration and creativity it has given her. We know that behind the beautiful photos of this renovation project, there was a lot of hard work. The changes they made were a balance between preservation and development, which happens any time a building is adapted for another purpose.

Restoring the Old Church

A French Chateau

Another couple that tackled an ambitious remodel was Jean-Baptiste and Erin Choa, and they had their sights set on a French chateau. The couple first met on foreign soil in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh in 2010. Erin was a doctor from London, and Jean-Baptise was a French mechanical engineer. They realized how much more they can get for their money outside the capital and so they opted to have more space and maybe a garden over the convenience of the inner city.

A French Chateau

Moving to France

After they married, they moved once more. The country of choice would end up being JB’s homeland — France. This was somewhat complicated for Erin because, as a doctor in the U.K., she needed to get reinstated in France and her French was far from fluent. So, Erin explored other income options for their residency in France and after doing some research, the two of them concocted a plan that made their family slightly nervous…

Moving to France

A New Venture

They decided to try something completely different from their day jobs and venture into entirely new territory. They wanted to purchase a property in France and begin renting it out to guests. Driven by their passion for history and architecture, they pictured themselves as having a sundowner and relaxing into a new way of life. Erin and JB imagined the classic beauty of a French chateau, or castle, in the countryside surrounded by pristine gardens and sun-drenched hillsides.

New Venture

The Search

This would come with a hefty price tag and a lot of DIY work but the couple was prepared for the investment and with their decision made, they packed up their lives — including their cat, Oscar. Once they arrived in France, the search for the perfect chateau began. Most of the sprawling mansions were out of the question for their budget. It was crucial they found something that had the traditional design they wanted but was in good enough shape that their guests wouldn’t fall through any of the foundations.

The Search

Chateau de Bourneau

It wasn’t easy to balance these requirements — the chateaus within their price range were usually run-down. They were beginning to lose hope in finding their dream home when they found Chateau de Bourneau. While possessing all the charm of a much older style chateau, it had been rebuilt in 1863. Practically a new construction compared to most! You can find cheaper properties in rural France, but this particular castle cost them 680,000 euros, which is roughly $765,000.

Chateau de Bourneau


Tucked away in a forest near the village of Bourneau, in the western French region of Pays de la Loire, was the exquisite Chateau de Bourneau. Having a plumbing system in place and a newer build meant it would be slightly less involved to remodel. Besides the work that lay ahead, the chateau spoke for itself: the look was exactly what they desired, almost as if it appeared out of a fairy tale. At least, on the outside.



Repairing an old and neglected chateau would cost them a lot of money, and they had very limited funds given the purchase of the property had taken all their savings. Fortunately, they had a bank loan, which they hoped they could eventually pay off when they began renting the chateau out to tourists. Erin and JB worked day and night to get the castle into a decent state, and even though they were working 14 hours a day, seven days a week, it felt like things were taking forever.


There Was Much to be Done

No one had made any attempt at maintaining the interiors of the castle since the 1970s, and there was so much to be done. With so much of the castle left to repair, this ambitious couple really did have their work cut out for them.  Thirty years of neglect left the residence in need of a ton of TLC. Repairs, paint, and structural improvements were all on the to-do list of the overwhelmed but excited couple.

There Was Much to be Done

A Unique Castle

To begin with, they had to remove some pretty awful 70s wallpaper in the corridors and the paint that was chipping and peeling. Once they started exploring, they realized they had a lot more more than they bargained for. The front doors, interior walls, and stairs all demanded repairs. The castle also has some very unique and remarkable attributes that your regular suburban homeowner would not have to deal with, such as repairing and restoring the moat that surrounded the chateau.

A Unique Castle

A Daunting Undertaking

When they first arrived and set to work, the living conditions were basic, but at least functional. It’s true that this particular region of France is one of the warmest and sunniest in the whole country, but that doesn’t mean that the Chateau de Bourneau would be pleasant year-round. When your ceilings are 13 feet high, and your property is a whole thousand square feet big, you can’t exactly get away with a small space heater in winter.

A Daunting Undertaking

French Renaissance

When we think of the French Renaissance style, we think of elegance, opulence, and ostentatious luxury, right? Erin and JB had this kind of vibe in mind when they were creating their vision for the interiors. In the 1970s, however, the inside of the chateau had been revamped by the foundation that owned it. Thanks to their commitment, the castle was slowly but surely restored to its former glory. They repainted the bridge white, as it had been initially, and sanded back all of those bright blue doors.

French Renaissance

An Authentic Historical Experience

It was important for them to present an authentic-feeling historical experience for their future guests! Once they had enough rooms renovated, it was finally time for the couple to start furnishing their beautiful chateau. It was such fun choosing different pieces and deciding what the final look would be. Eventually, each room began to come together, and their vision was one step closer to completion. Erin and JB were finally able to fling open the newly-painted doors of the Chateau de Bourneau and invite guests to come to stay.

An Authentic Historical Experience

As They Posed For A Selfie, Someone Crept Into The Background…

The Richter Family

To spend some quality family time together, the Richter family decided to take a road trip. They like their home state of Oregon, but Amber, Erik, and their three daughters wanted to see some greener pastures during their vacation.

richter family photo

They Decided To Take A Trip

There was excitement in the air, as it was spring break. None of the family had to worry about homework, final exams, or doing reports for work, so all the Richters were in a good mood. This giddy atmosphere filled the car, as each member of the family was happy to not only be free of work but also to be together for the holiday. Before they were ready to hit the road in earnest, they had a couple of logistical hurdles to sort.


In The Hot Seat

It had been a while since the whole family crammed into the car together, and although it was an SUV, it still felt pretty narrow, somehow. The kids rarely argued, but they got passionate over legroom. As the argument over who was going to sit in the middle escalated, Amber stepped in and decided who would sit where which eventually restored the peace. She and Erik sat in front, and the three daughters fit in the back, with the youngest at a window seat, as she gets carsick.


But First Let Me Take A Selfie

Finally, all the kids were settled, and Erik had started the engine. But before putting the car into reverse to leave the driveway, he decided that he wanted to document the happy moment. Usually it was Amber who was the one who wanted to take selfies, but this time, Erik was the one taking out his phone. He told the kids to say “cheese!” They were happy to smile along, and in a genuine way too, as they were simply happy to be on spring break.

but first

New Addition

The photo was not only to send to their cousins over the phone, but Amber planned to print it out for a scrapbook that she was putting together. Erik was considerate and remembered to take photos for it, even when Amber wasn’t around. However, this permanent documentation made two of the Richter daughters have mixed feelings. On one hand, they wanted to be in the scrapbook, but on the other hand, they were not exactly dressed for the occasion. They were wearing comfortable clothes for the long car ride.

new addition

Strike A Pose

Erik flipped the camera on selfie mode, and he adjusted his arm to make sure that everyone’s face could clearly be seen. Smiles turned into an impatient clenching of the jaw, as they waited and waiting for the artificial click of the camera phone. Even the youngest of the family realized that the phone was on the wrong mode; it was on video mode instead of camera. This was a mistake on Erik’s part. Or was it? He was not so unsavvy to make such a basic error.

strike a pose


Erik kept filming, despite originally setting out to take a photo. Although some of the Richters were more sporty, and others more into fashion, the one thing the whole family had in common was a go with the flow sort of attitude. So when they saw the red light of the phone recording them, they decided to keep posing, smiling, and doing a little in-the-seat dance for the camera. In the middle of the movie, something extremely startling occurred, and it was all captured in the video!

photo faux

Unexpected Passenger

The video started out light-hearted, but ended in horrific gasps and screams. Out of nowhere, a man in a black hoodie popped into the frame of the movie. It looked like he was hiding in the trunk of the car, and somehow was not there when the family packed their duffel bags for the overnight trip. When the family noticed the man in the frame of the movie, they turned and saw him, and started to shriek at the top of their lungs!


Rowan Richter

The piercing screams of the Richter family would scare anyone who was in the car, and surely could even be heard from outside loud and clear. The eerie, hooded figure got the family to scream, but the cries were not for fear of their lives, but screams of surprise and jubilation. The man in the black hoodie was someone who they all recognized immediately as a guy named Rowan, the son of Erik and Amber, and the brother of the three daughters!


No Man Left Behind

What is going on here? Was there not enough space in the white SUV for the daughters and Rowan? Did he draw the short straw and have to stay at home alone? It doesn’t make any sense because the rest of the family loves to spend time together and take many happy selfies together. It’s strange that they would leave Rowan behind and be so cheerful about it! The answer is shocking, and explains why the family screamed so loudly in disbelief when they saw him.

no man

Scary Stunt

For a millisecond, Amber maybe thought her eyes were playing tricks on her when she saw her son pop out of the trunk. It was only the screams of the other Richters that showed she was not seeing a mirage. Although she had a spike in fear and surprise she finally calmed down, and in a confusing mix of happiness and scolding said, “oh my God, you scared the hell out of me!” Not everyone was shocked at Rowan’s appearance, though.

scary stunt

Sweet Embrace

After the initial shock of the sudden emergence of a family member from the trunk died down, Rowan crawled into the backseat to greet his siblings, giving them hugs. The geometry of the trunk to backseat hugs made the embraces a bit awkward, but the love and feeling behind the hugs were extremely strong. They had not seen Rowan in a long time, as he usually was not in Oregon, in fact, he was usually on the other side of the country, or even overseas.


Popping The Question

Amber wondered how in the world Rowan was able to pull off this surprise visit. No chance he could have done it alone, she thought. Her prime suspect was her husband Erik. Looking back on the last week or so, Amber thought back on Erik’s behavior. As far as she remembered, Erik had acted like everything was normal: he didn’t take any mysterious phone calls and he didn’t close his laptop when she came in the room. Finally, she just asked, “Did you know he was doing this?”

woman closing/opening her laptop

Scheming In Secret

Erik is a very honest person by nature and was unable to contain himself when Amber asked him the question. He turned bright red and began to smile a guilty smile. He and Amber had been together for so long, she already knew the answer just from his face. Still, he answered that he had, “went and got him at the airport,” confirming Amber’s hunch. She wasn’t expecting to have the wool pulled over her eyes so masterfully, and she so playfully yelled at her husband: “you’re evil!”


Solving The Mystery

After Rowan had said his emotional hellos and had a good squeeze with each of his sisters, he crawled to the front of the car, to the shotgun seat. Amber had already thrown off her seatbelt and jumped out of the car, as the surprise was almost too much for her. Rowan waddled awkwardly to the empty seat, eventually able to get up and give a huge hug to his dear mother. Everyone was smiling as hard as they could as mother and son simply enjoyed each other’s presence.



As the Richters got used to that familiar feeling of having Rowan back, Erik stopped the video recording. He was feeling satisfied, as he had the perfect shocking yet moving video in hand, and he wondered what to do with it next. Putting it in Amber’s scrapbook wasn’t possible, so he decided to document it by putting it on YouTube for the world to see. He didn’t necessarily expect anyone to watch it, but, the clip became a big hit pretty promptly.


Going Viral

The video got a surprising amount of views quite quickly, and officially went viral, with the video reaching a peak of 1.4 million views. At least 200 of those views were just from the Richters themselves, as they loved the surrealness of seeing themselves so shocked over and over again. Even though the video was so personal, it was, after all, just one family’s reaction to seeing their son, the number of views and user comments showed that a lot of people really related to the video.

going viral

Comedic Comments

The video got tons of comments on social media, and Rowan read them aloud to entertain the rest of the family as they sat around one night. One Facebook user said, “[I] don’t know what I liked better, Mom’s extreme reaction or the love in Dad’s non-stop smile! It’s a tie.” The love the family felt from strangers around the world added to the bond they all felt with Rowan. The Richters also liked to joke how funny everyone’s face looked when Rowan first emerged.



Beyond being excited by the shrieks in the video, many who saw the clip were deeply moved. One user said, “There were lots of emotion [and] hugs. [It] will always be one of my most favorite memories, nothing can compare to the love of family.” Another user even choked up, saying that she watched the video with, “a few tears in [her] eyes, remembering when our family’s special Marine landed his jet.” Many people related to the sense of loneliness you feel when your soldier son is overseas.

misty eyed

To Grandmother’s House We Go

Erik and Rowan were not done yet, though. They had planned one more video to film, and this time everyone was in on the prank. They headed to Rowan’s grandmother’s house, who had no clue that Rowan was not away dealing with his serious responsibilities overseas as a US Marine. The reaction was sure to be as dramatic, if not more dramatic than the one that Erik and Rowan got from Amber and the girls. Grandma was at home watching TV, and expected to have a normal day.

to grandmothers

The Golden Child

The family spent some time to map out a plan to surprise grandma Richter. The plan was set in motion after Erik called to tell his mom that he and the girls of the family were going to drop by for a visit. Erik did not even have to say Rowan was not there- that went without saying. Everyone in the family and even extended family understood that Rowan had important duties to the country that required him to be away for long periods of time.


The Great Reveal

Grandma Richter got the house ready for guests, making treats that everyone in the family loved. She made her famous moon cookies, which are shaped like crescents, and some sweet tea. Erik, Amber, and their daughters spent an hour eating, catching up, telling her all about how relieved they were to be on spring break. Eventually, the family decided it was time to go. According to their plan, Rowan was hiding in the living room, and Erik coaxed his mother into that room. Rowan slowly got behind his grandma.

great reveal

Shreik Of Terror

Rowan used his Marine training to tiptoe undetected behind his grandma, but as he got very close, her senses told her something wasn’t right. She quickly swiveled, and she couldn’t believe her eyes! She felt an extreme shock in her chest, and wondered if she was seeing things. She reached out to touch him to see if he was real, and when she saw he was, she let out a shocked howl, similar to the one that Rowan’s mom let out when he popped out of their car trunk.


Shame On You!

As the fear subsided, Rowan’s grandma became very happy to see her grandson, and started to laugh at the whole situation. She doubled over giggling as her dog greeted Rowan. Upon realizing the level of planning that she was left out of, she jokingly scolded Rowan for the big scare she just experienced, saying “shame on you!” Of course, she got over the scare pretty instantly as she went in for a tight hug with Rowan, who she had not seen in countless months.

shame on

Toy Soldier

Following their long embrace, the whole family plus Rowan could sit and talk, and eat a bit more. Luckily, there were some leftover moon cookies and sweet tea for Rowan, who eats like only a soldier could. They reminisced about how Rowan used to come and eat those same treats at grandma’s house when young, and then go off to build forts out of cushions, pillows, and blankets. Hours after the family was supposedly leaving, they were still sitting and talking.

toy soldier

Back To Base

Everyone was reluctant to say goodbye, but the Richters still had a lot of driving to do, as they had a reservation for a hotel in Olympia to get to. They were to have a short vacation all together going hiking in the Olympic National Forest. Shortly after the spring break vacation, though, the kids had to go back to school, the parents had to go back to work, and Rowan had to get back to base. Grandma Richter packed them some food and finally let them go.

back to

Until Next Time

The goodbye with grandma was especially tender, and was drawn out for what felt like almost half an hour! It’s understandable, as they probably would not be seeing each other for quite a long time. With deployment overseas, you never know what is going to happen. All she knew is that she would be prepared next time, and be super suspicious of any family visits. The rest of the family felt the same way, saying that Erik and Rowan would not trick them again.

until next

Off Duty

The level of shock that came from Amber and the girls in the car was so incredible that the video garnered over a million views. They were so shocked because they expected Rowan to be away on base and not allowed to leave. There was no way Rowan would ever go AWOL, as he was an excellent soldier. In fact, he was so good that the Marine leadership promoted him to the rank of Lance Corporal. Since that rank has many responsibilities, he rarely gets to go home.

off duty

World Wide Traveller

Rowan rose quickly from Private, to Private First Class, and is now the third enlisted rank, a Lance Corporal. He is being considered for a position as a Corporal, but that would mean even more time away from home. There is also a lot of work to be done as a Marine. Luckily, he is able to get away and meet his family every once in a while, and although this instance went viral, Rowan is happy just to see his siblings and parents without the surprise.

world wide