The Old Church
Is there something slightly sacrilegious about putting a pearly, mosaic torso in the niche above a church altar where a statue of the Madonna once stood? Something decadent about suspending a three-metre-wide chandelier above the nave? Or decorating a loo with shiny black tiles and a crystal-drop light?
Karen Sandler’s answer would probably be ‘no, it’s just fun’. In transforming the 109-year-old former St Mary’s Church at Meeanee into a glamorous restaurant and function centre, The Old Church Restaurant and Bar, she’s done all that and more.
“Come and look at this,” she says, swinging open doors to the confessional. The twin cubicles are intact, penitential wooden seats, and grille between.
‘‘I don’t know who’ll use them, but and up here ” Narrow wooden stairs to the tiny choir gallery where a single, romantic table overlooks the candle-lit restaurant below.
‘‘I wanted to create a fun, exciting experience for people and I think it’s the unexpected details that matter. I want people to say ‘oooh, look at that’.”
Her excitement is catchy; Karen says everyone involved in the two-year project, builders to plumbers, entered the ‘only-the-best-will-do’ spirit and pushed the boundaries, companies like Gran Marbelo who created an illuminated top for the altar-replica bar. And the architect whose gothic- look windows blend the new dining conservatory perfectly with the original building.
Karen combines avant-garde decor tastes with an appreciation of historic buildings.
‘‘I like real. I’m not a chrome and glass person,” she says. “Everyone in Hawke’s Bay loves the church. I just wanted to bring it into the here and now.” So, to preserve the nave unspoilt, the kitchen was added behind rather than inside; the altar, one of the few fittings remaining after the church’s several different uses since deconsecration in 1972, has been restored; stained glass window surrounds shine anew and the antique-crazed, modern-colour paintwork is sympathetic with original colours.
Karen describes herself as an “eternal renovator”. Church complete, the 1913 villa presbytery next door, is now being revamped as upmarket self-contained accommodation,
Photo caption – New life has been breathed into the Old Church on Meeanne [Meeanee] Road, Napier.