It wasn’t initially the quaint feel of Haw River that drew Raleigh native Andrew Leager to town. Rather, it was the long-empty, nearly 125-year-old chapel overlooking the town on West Main Street that caught his eye as he sped by on an Amtrak train.
“I’ve been looking for 20 years to have a building that is like a church,” he told The Alamance News last week during a tour of the site, which has been under steady renovation for months. “This building happened to be exactly what I was looking for. My jaw dropped and I said, ‘There it is.’”
Leager, 72, who aims to finish moving into the 3,200-square foot church by the end of January, explained that the layout of the building — a large center room bordered by smaller rooms in the front and rear — lends itself to the combined home and studio that he spent the past two decades on the hunt for.
The future studio area is set to accommodate, in large part, his wooden barrel-making operation. In addition to that trade, he’s been a contractor and cabinetmaker since the 1970’s, an architect since the 1980’s, a former brewery owner, and remains an avid musician, artist, and cook.
The future living area will also share the room with the studio, while Leager’s bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom will be at the rear of the old church. The front rooms will be converted into guestrooms. The 1,800 square feet of basement space will function mainly as a workshop.
“This is what happens when you get into construction on an old building,” he told the newspaper. “You get this situation that opens up possibilities.”
As of last Monday, the rear living space had been outfitted by Leager with insulation and sheetrock, and the walls were expected to be fully painted by the end of the week. After painting is completed, European white oak floors are planned to be placed over the church’s original hard pine subfloors.
The tall, ornate windows in the chapel area were described as a “one-at-a-time project,” with the owner having already restored one on the building’s west side.
Even as his primary residence is still in Raleigh, the soon-to-be Haw River resident has enjoyed meeting his new neighbors, including mayor Kelly Allen, who has also toured the building.
“I’m here to bring some new life to this building,” he said. “I feel like I’m inside a significant piece of architecture.”
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