We recently sat down with Greg Kil and Sam Lima of Kil Architecture to talk about designing the renovations for the women’s home. (This interview was edited for flow and clarity)
So you guys are kind of the leads on this project:
Greg: Yeah, Sam did the detail designs, and I’m kind of the principal on the project. The thing to me that makes the most sense about this project at this location, is what used to be the pastor’s rectory is now back in the fold with the mission of the Upper Room.
I think it’ll be really exciting when it’s finished.
Sam: It’s really an ideal building for the use, in so many ways. It was previously a residence, so it already has plenty of bedrooms. We had to add showers and stuff like that, but the way that it’s set up is really natural for residential use.
Greg: A lot of the finishes were in great shape.
Sam: Yeah, the floor, the historical character. Really solid building. And the location is perfect, too.
So how did you first hear about the project?
Greg: I heard from a board member. He had done some photos for us and he told me about the project, and followed up with a call. “Hey, we’re looking to do an upgrade for the Upper Room.” So through him I had heard about the Upper Room and then we got in touch with Rich, [the Executive Director.]
Sam: and I heard about it through Greg.
What are some of the really exciting things about working on a historic home like this and what are some of the challenges that come with that territory?
Sam: Hmm. Well every old house or old structure has specific issues; this one had a lot fewer than some other old buildings we’ve worked on.
Greg: This one had a roof, it had a heating system,
Sam: Solid walls.
Greg: Yeah, solid walls.
Sam: Newer windows.
Greg: Newer windows! And finishes that were sound. Like a typical building might have some exterior masonry problems, a leaky roof, site constraints. This one does have a pretty constrained site, that is one thing.
Sam: That is one of the hardest things. In trying to figure out how we could eventually create a fully accessible route to the first floor, the site constraint was one of the hardest things.
Greg: We know from work on other women’s shelters that the issue of security is a big one, so we don’t want a big obvious feature out front advertising what it is.
Sam: Positives are, it’s a beautiful building. It contributes to the cityscape, the architecture matches the church next door really well without being overstated. The front porch is really nice, too.
Greg: Great brick exterior. No work was required there. The interior wood floors, I think they’ll be doing some refinishing but much of them are very serviceable. I think they’ve removed some carpet and glue from some of these floors.
Was there anything in walking through this building and making these plans that surprised you?
Sam: Architecturally, a couple quirky things about the building would definitely include the rear porch. There are two formerly exterior parts in the back. One of them is going to end up being part of the kitchen, so we’ll be able to recapture part of the house that wasn’t being used. I think the other is that they have the AC equipment in a little alcove in the rear that really isn’t accessible from anywhere inside the house.
Greg: Well in many ways, it’s a lot like [our office], which was a former house and then was converted to another use. That’s one of the things we understand as architects and designers is how to reconfigure and repurpose existing structures; how do we breathe new life into old buildings.
How old is this house?
Sam: Nineteen-teens, I think? Right around a hundred years.
[We took a break to check.]
Greg: 1920, there you go. The GIS is a wonderful thing. Almost exactly 100 years.
Sam: My house is the year after that.
Greg: This place being right downtown, in that Near-Northwest Neighborhood is a great fit.
Sam: It’s also—architecturally—kind of an Arts and Crafts style house with a few informal gothic details.
Greg: I think symbolically, the renovation of this building is a good symbol of how these women will be able to regenerate themselves.
That’s really well put. I think It really fits the spirit of South Bend’s second chapter, giving this old space a new use that will help the community. Thanks to both of you for sitting down with us and for your work on the project.
Greg: Yeah, sure thing.
Sam: Yeah, I’m excited to see how it turns out.