Photos: a 1920s Church is Transformed into an Artist’s Sanctuary

The Scottish Free Presbyterian church is now the studio of artist Jane Irwin.

October 28, 2016

By Julia Dilworth / Photo: Carlo Ricci

Back in 2007, Jane Irwin was an active sculptor on the lookout for a new studio when her husband, Ross Hill, called with the surprise news: “He said he’d bought a church.”

Hill (of Hill’s of Kerrisdale, Hill’s Dry Goods, Blue Ruby) had been visiting friends in the neighbourhood when he saw a small For Sale sign on the then-yellow Scottish Free Presbyterian church (one of three built in North America) in the Fraserhood. “I thought it was incredible,” says Irwin, describing the first time she saw it. “I love the scale of it, because it’s not too huge, but it feels like this big, beautiful open space with the really high ceilings.”

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Interior designer Juli Hodgson and architect Innes Yates of Bnode Architects were called in to thoughtfully restore the church while adding a full kitchen, bathroom and living quarters. “We didn’t want it to be completely gutted and transformed into a super-modern space,” she explains. “Juli was terrific at coming up with a really great design for that.”

After construction started, Irwin’s focus shifted from full-time artist to arts advocate and philanthropist (she’s now the co-vice-chair on the Vancouver Art Gallery board, busy finding the institution a new home), and her church studio morphed as well. The couple began offering it to the local arts community as a venue for performances, talks, dinners and even as a residence for visiting artists. “I think we realized when we were doing the renovation that it could be an opportunity to provide a space that didn’t exist in the city,” says Irwin.

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Tall Order Four towers of wood-and-steel bookcases house Irwin’s expansive library of art catalogues—some she’s been collecting since she was in her early 20s. A text-based artwork from Derek Sullivan (right wall) and two oil paintings from Miriam Cahn (back wall) are part of her rotating collection.

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Old with the New Thick coats of white paint gave the original wood ceiling and walls a fresh update, while subtle skylight cut-outs were installed above the loft to let in the light and keep things cool during summer months.

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Art Up Close Jane Irwin loves The Last Drop, a new “powerful and evocative” sculpture from Myfanwy MacLeod (the same artist responsible for the giant birds in Olympic Village)—it’s the kind of large-scale artwork that wouldn’t fit in her primary residence.

_a7a2246The Good Books Upstairs, a new loft provides a place to sleep, but the crow’s nest mostly functions as Irwin’s office. Within arm’s reach, a handful of cover-worn bibles sits under a glass case, a “little nod” to the church’s past life.

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