Design Matters

A good project reflects good lives

by Val Nehez
Posted 1/25/24

We took up our restoration project of a former church in Landenberg, PA, with gusto. Once done, we had to celebrate. 

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Design Matters

A good project reflects good lives


Avid followers of this column will remember that back in May of 2023 we wrote about our restoration project, a historic clapboard church in Landenberg, PA. The new owners of this property found our design studio because our offices are located in a former United Methodist church – a building that we purchased and converted into office suites. 

I remember exactly when and where I was when their call came in. It was March 2021, and I had just tested positive for Covid.

As a result, I was isolated on the third floor of my house. My chest was beginning to feel constricted, and I felt weak. My husband, who had also just tested positive, was stuck in a hotel room outside of the Denver airport. So our 15-year-old daughter was in the downstairs part of the house, left alone to figure out what and how to feed me. 

All this was happening before we had a working vaccine. And to make matters that much more interesting, someone had been fatally shot on our quiet, safe residential block of East Falls just three nights prior. The world, and my world in particular, had never felt more uncertain. 

So when I received the church project inquiry from Angus Fredenburg, and he shared the story of this yellow clapboard rural church, which had been built in the late 1800s and had been converted into an artist’s salon sometime in the 1970s, I felt somewhat cheered. From where I was at that moment, it presented a brighter future that I could “live into.”

And did we ever “live into” it! After we left Covid behind us, we took that project up with gusto. And when we concluded the journey in December, we realized we had to celebrate. 

So we invited all the neighbors, all the still-living artists who used to live and hang out there, all the carpenters and craftsmen who had worked on the project, all of the artists whose work had been curated to hang on the walls, all of the design team and many of our friends and family. Altogether, more than 80 people celebrated the rebirth of this sanctuary. 

At the event, I met a man whose mother had been pregnant with him when she attended the last service ever held in the church. I met a man who grew up on the family farm across the street, and he remembered his grandfather bringing him there as a boy early every Sunday to light the coal, so the building would be warm for Sunday Services. I met the daughter of the artist Bernie Felch, who had grown up in the church her father had converted into their home and studio. She shared with me that the land and the church would have been underwater by now if Dupont, which had been planning to build a dam project nearby, had gotten their way. It was saved by a group of women artists who lived in the barns and outbuildings of the Landenberg church. They fought the project, using pristine scientific research, and not only saved the church compound but also saved the adjoining land. That is now a state park. 

So it turns out that when you work with people to design their personal spaces, you can wind up uncovering the network of lives that they, and those who came before them, have touched. Those lives, and the choices made by the people who lived them, are sometimes as integral to that space as the foundation itself.

Val Nehez is the owner and principal designer at Studio IQL in East Falls, which you can find at and on Instagram at studio_iql or for smaller projects quickandlovely_design.