FOWLERVILLE — A former early 20th-century church in Fowlerville has served several functions.
It is the former location of St. Agnes Catholic Church, which was converted into a residence in the 1970s. Multiple 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, the Livingston Daily Press & Argus reports.
Barbra and Chico Thumudo and their daughter Bre Thumudo and her fiancee Kamrin Newman are the building’s new caretakers.
The Thumudos purchased it in 2018 and spent the past few years on extensive renovations to improve the space as a wedding and events venue.
They also converted a large portion of the church into a unique three-level Airbnb with a full kitchen, living and dining room, dressing room, two bedrooms and a loft space with a futon.
“Everyone says it’s a peaceful place with the light coming in through the stained glass in the morning. I think we’ve created a cozy space in a huge overwhelming building,” Barbra Thumudo said, while giving a tour of the Airbnb side of the building on Thursday.
Barbra, who has a background in historic preservation, said they are trying to restore it to its original era as much as possible while also incorporating updates.
They have kept 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 happy medium and bring it back,” Barbra said.
She works for the Michigan State Capitol as an assistant director of facility operations and event coordinator. She said she manages all of the Capitol’s decorative art and design, as well as events. She and her husband Chico, a pipefitter who has also worked as a plumber, along with their family and friends, are doing all of the renovation work themselves.
They have 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 among the cast.
“We’d love to keep doing (theater and performances) here. We have a lot of high hopes of making it more of a community space and also make more business-to-business connections,” Bre said.
She also works at the Capitol as an enrolling clerk for the state House. Her Howell auto detailing business Breezy’s Squeaky Clean Auto Detailing was the runner-up in the Livingston Daily “Best of Livingston County 2021” awards.
She and her fiancee live in a renovated one-bedroom apartment in the basement of the church and act as caretakers.
The most important event for the family is coming this September when Bre and Kamrin get married in the chapel.
Barbra said they plan to complete more renovations by then, including restoring a balcony that will increase seating from about 120 to about 150-160 and expose more of a large stained glass window on the front of the building.
She said the renovation project has been healing for the family. Their son Corey died by suicide in 2016 when he was 25.
“As a family we needed something positive to focus on and to keep pushing us forward so we weren’t swallowed up by our grief,” Barbra said. “Sharing the chapel with people, whether it’s a community activity or just giving someone a break from life in the guest suite, makes us happy. There is no greater compliment for 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 parcel 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 purchased it and remodeled it as a home and place for an organ he had salvaged from the former Granada Theater in Detroit.
Barbra said Summers was a hobby organist who held 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 some oak framework that was once part of the church’s confessional booths. The Thumudos kept that where it is.
Behind the sanctuary, the Thumudos knocked down some walls, restored archways and opened up the space, which now functions as an event and reception hall.
“With the stained glass, the church removed the centers because they depicted the Stations of the Cross. The centers are Summers’ 1970s version, his own design,” Barbra said.
During renovations, they uncovered a couple of the medallion-shaped wall 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 get ready before a service and keep vestments. The archway now leads into the Airbnb’s full kitchen and one of the guest bedrooms.
A portion of the Airbnb was once a tax office for Karen Ryan, from whom the Thumudos purchased the building. Ryan owned it from 2005-2018.
It also once belonged to journalist Buddy Moorehouse and his wife Kathy, and Bill and Louise Neumann before them.
The name Kelmscott is a nod to Barbra’s favorite artist, William Morris, who was a prominent textiles designer and artist during the British Arts and Crafts Movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Morris’ family once resided in the 16th-century Kelmscott Manor in the village of Kelmscott in Oxfordshire, England.
Barbra incorporated some of Morris’ designs into wallpaper and pillows on the Airbnb side of the building.
“A lot of details, like the stairs and banisters, are a nod to the Arts and Crafts Movement.”
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