Couple converted CT church into an artsy home — it’s for sale for $1.8M

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According to Santiago and Bonnie Suarez, not at all. The couple, who owns the former church on 1035 North Street in Greenwich, said they used to be asked that question all the time. Santiago said he even stayed in the church by himself before committing to its purchase in 2005. 

“The next time I went [to the property] with our broker, I said, ‘Do you mind if I just stay by myself for a couple of hours?’” he said. “I sat there for a couple of hours and the sun was streaming in.”

For Bonnie, what makes it feel less like a sacred structure and more like a home are those tall windows that flood the home with light. 


“If it had stained glass, it might have felt more religious,” she said. “But these windows are glorious.”

“Glorious” is just one of the words used to describe the North Street property, which is currently on the market for $1.8 million. The word that comes to mind for listing agent Liz Forrest is “special.”

“I’m actually honored to have this listing,” she said. “It’s just so special and so well done, inside and out. It’s just unlike anything else on the market, particularly in Greenwich.”

The steeple on the church home on 1035 North Street in Greenwich, Conn. 

Christopher Meech / Contributed Photo

Long before it ever hit the market, the church was a focal point of local life. Located in the Conyers Farm area of town, the Banksville Baptist Church was built in 1852 in what is known as Banksville, a section of Greenwich that sits about 10 miles from Greenwich Avenue and a stone’s throw from the New York border. When the church was built, it followed a similar design to the Middle Patent Methodist-Episcopal Church in town, but featured “a large baptistry beneath the platform at the front and a balcony above the vestibule,” according to information from the Greenwich Historical Society. 

The church was the site of an “active Sunday school,” according to the historical society, along with church picnics and strawberry festivals. On Nov. 11, 1918, the church’s bell “rang out the good news across the farms and meadows in the Mianus valley” of the end of World War I, the historical society notes, though in the following years, membership at the church diminished despite several attempts in the 1930s and 1940s to revitalize it. Eventually, it was converted into the private home it is today.

Enter the Suarez family in 2005, who toured and eventually purchased the converted two-bedroom, two-bathroom church. While it was obvious to them that it was a unique property to own, they quickly became aware of how much work it needed to make it the downsized studio and living space they imagined after their three grown sons left them empty nesters.

“We sat around looking at it and saying, ‘What the hell did we just do?’ Santiago said. “We inherited this beautiful building, but once you started looking at it, it’s like it needed everything.”

Describing a “hippie family” that lived there before they bought it, Santiago recalled the “red shag carpet” that “was all over the place” in the church, as well as the altar-like structure in the home. They also uncovered the baptistry that was “the size of a septic tank” as they began renovations. Leading the charge on its “gut renovation” was New Haven-based Gray Organschi Architecture, which Santiago said they stumbled upon a year after buying the property on a trip to the Elm City to look at its architecture — and sample its pizza.

“We started looking all over the place [for an architect], and we went for pizza near Yale, and we discovered a guy that had a company there that was doing some pretty interesting things, and that’s what started the relationship,” he said. 

The church on 1035 North Street in Greenwich, Conn. was previously the Banksville Baptist Church. Now, it is a private residence. 

The church on 1035 North Street in Greenwich, Conn. was previously the Banksville Baptist Church. Now, it is a private residence. 


Christopher Meech / Contributed Photo

The living room in the church home on 1035 North Street in Greenwich, Conn. 

The living room in the church home on 1035 North Street in Greenwich, Conn. 


Christopher Meech / Contributed Photo

The kitchen in the church home on 1035 North Street in Greenwich, Conn. 

The kitchen in the church home on 1035 North Street in Greenwich, Conn. 


Christopher Meech / Contributed Photo


Inside the converted church on 1035 North Street in Greenwich, Conn. (Christopher Meech / Contributed Photos)

Stripping the church down to its studs, they set out to create a revamped living space as unique as the property itself, though its overhaul was not without structural improvements, including repairs to the steeple. 

“The next thing we saw was that they took the bell down,” Santiago said. “I was like, ‘Why did they take the bell down?’ The contractors came and started talking about it, and they said they took the bell down because the bell was pulling the steeple over to one side…it was totally straightened and reinforced.”

Instead of putting the bell back in its former home, they decided to place it on the lawn as decoration. Putting the bell on the lawn also made the steeple accessible, according to Forrest, who said the spot has been used as the site of several parties at the home. 

The rest of the home’s renovations were chronicled in a Dwell magazine profile, which highlighted Santiago (a former advertising executive) and Bonnie’s (a professional chef) journey in revamping and redesigning the home. The changes included the addition of a “birch pod” that “floats above the great room, hovering where the choir loft stood silent as parishioners entered the church,” according to the Dwell profile, which houses the main suite. 

The kitchen was also upgraded to suit Bonnie’s professional standards, though it came in a second phase of renovations. They also removed stone from the church’s basement that was used outside to construct a wall in the back of the house. Forrest noted that their additions only enhanced the church’s intrinsic features, like the 16-foot tall windows in the “grand room” with 20-foot ceilings, or the dramatic S-curved foyer that abuts the kitchen and serves as its back wall. 

“It is very dramatic, actually,” Forrest said. “When you’re standing outside in front and looking at those columns, they’re just beautiful. They frame that front door magnificently.”

The S-curved foyer in the church home on 1035 North Street in Greenwich, Conn. 

The S-curved foyer in the church home on 1035 North Street in Greenwich, Conn. 

Christopher Meech / Contributed Photo

The home’s drama doesn’t solely come from these large-scale features. The Suarezes also incorporated several unique finishes throughout the home to polish off its design. Look no further than the front door to see that it’s not a standard church entry. 

“The front door was inspired by a sushi bar in Japan that was admired by Santiago and Bonnie,” Forrest said. “So they came back here and had a replica of this door made. It’s just gorgeous, it’s just like a piece of art.”

The door is just one of several globally-inspired features part of the home. Inside, there are two Murano glass chandeliers that the couple got from Venice — something that was no simple feat.

“We have a Venetian friend…and we were looking for chandeliers with the right proportion for a 20-foot ceiling,” Bonnie said. “One weekend, it was a Friday, he says, ‘I got two chandeliers, you gotta come now — can you come this weekend? Because people are sniffing them out.’ It was a Friday afternoon, and we took a flight Saturday morning, and we’re like, ‘Are we crazy?’”

They purchased both chandeliers — one made of multicolored glass and one made of clear glass — which were shipped from Venice and arrived at their home disassembled. 

“There were no instructions,” Santiago said.

“It took Santiago a week to open up all the crates because they put miles of cotton netting all around everything,” Bonnie said. “He unwrapped all these pieces, put these piles of glass all around the rug, and when we were in Venice, he had gotten up on a ladder and was taking close-pictures of exactly every arm, every angle, how everything was supposed to be.” 

With the help of two Greenwich locals who worked on chandeliers before, Bonnie said it took the four of them a week to reconstruct the chandeliers. 

One of two bedrooms inside the church home on 1035 North Street in Greenwich, Conn. 

One of two bedrooms inside the church home on 1035 North Street in Greenwich, Conn. 

Christopher Meech / Contributed Photo

The home’s renovations were completed in 2007, and since then, the couple has split their time between the North Street church and New York, where all three of their grown sons reside. When the COVID-19 pandemic crept into the region, the Suarez family found themselves spending more and more time in the Hudson Valley area with their sons and grandchildren than in the isolation of Greenwich.

“I used to only go back to Greenwich to go to the dentist and for a knee replacement,” Bonnie said. “And that was because I hadn’t found local doctors. So really, during the pandemic, I only went back for those services.”

They have since moved and joined their sons in the Hudson Valley permanently, becoming one of many movers in the Northeast to migrate during the pandemic. Besides enjoying the open space and less traffic the area presents, the Suarezes also get to enjoy their sons’ success. One finds new talent for music recording companies. Their second son, Nick Suarez, owns and operates Gaskins — an eatery with a locally-sourced menu profiled in The New York Times in 2016 — located on the ironically-named Church Avenue in Germantown. The restaurant serves beer made at the Suarez Family Brewery, run by his brother, Dan. 

But making the move across state lines means letting go of their Greenwich church and finding a buyer who sees the same value they saw in owning the unique property.

“It’s great for someone who’s creative,” Santiago said. “Greenwich people would not think of living in a church. That’s going to be the hardest thing in selling it. It’s like, ‘I don’t want to live in a church!’…But since the pandemic, people are starting to think differently: ‘What do I really want? What do I really need?’”

According to Forrest, there’s still that post-COVID appetite among home buyers to find one-of-a-kind properties like the church.

“People are looking for different things…They want something completely different from the traditional house — something cool,” she said. “They’re moving to out West, they’re looking for properties that are different. And this home is a very inspiring home. You’re just inspired inside and out when you’re there.”

The 1035 North Street Church is listed by Douglas Elliman – Greenwich and is presented by Liz Forrest (203-651-9674).

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