What it’s like to live in a 143 year old church (turned kebab shop, turned student apartment)
Abby Wallace and Ruby Tsatsas’ apartment included a sofa, two old wooden benches, a washing machine and a fridge.
But that’s where the resemblance to most student residences ends. The friends live in a 143-year-old Gothic-style Methodist church.
They moved into the house, in Dundas Street, Dunedin, last month with four other housemates.
“It’s an amazing building,” Wallace said. “It’s so spacious.”
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The old church stands to one side of the property, with soaring rafters and full-height stained glass. It has more recently been rented out as a café and kebab shop, following the installation of a commercial kitchen.
Currently it’s empty, but housemates sometimes use the space for workouts, storage and when they’ve had to self-isolate due to Covid-19.
On the other side is a two-story former Sunday school with six bedrooms upstairs, where the housemates live. The ground floor space has been used in various ways as a folk dance hall, a comedy bar and a theatre. A broken stereoscope in the wall also marks its era as a cinema.
It is also currently empty – owner Mandy Callender says there were ‘plans to convert the ground floor of the Sunday school into student accommodation ready for February this year, but Covid got in the way. across the way”.
A brick-floored courtyard with a Santorini-style white and blue color scheme, which the housemates call their “Mamma Mia courtyard” after the movie, connects the two buildings.
The main courtyard doors open onto the street, often attracting curious passers-by (and sometimes curious drunks).
According to Dunedin City Council, the church was built in 1879 and the Sunday school was added in 1905. But as families moved away from the area, more and more students began to live around it. The church closed in 1980 and three years later was bought by a couple who converted the rooms to let them into an apartment.
Wallace, Tsatsas and their friends decided to rent the apartment after meeting at residence halls in 2021. “It’s pretty competitive to get in there,” Wallace says.
Living in a former Sunday school can be a bit drafty, she admits – “it was a bit chilly” – but they liked making what was an empty space their own. “We tried to add a bit of decor in the hallway just to make it a bit friendlier,” says Tsatsas.
Their walls are decorated in student style – they’re all sophomore university students, except for Tsatsas who is taking a year off to figure out what she wants to do and get back into the study headspace. There are liquor store posters, liquor wrappers, and pages cut from Review Te Arohithe University of Otago student magazine.
Each visitor to the apartment receives a printed photo added to their wall. “People who come always say what a mini room it is,” Wallace says.
There are huge bedrooms and “a very small living and dining room,” but despite its size, friends tend to come back to the living room to eat and make cups of tea together.
They brought old park benches into the living room to provide extra seating.
Getting into college in the middle of the pandemic “was a little disappointing,” Wallace says. “It’s not what you really want, for your freshman year of college, to be sitting in front of your laptop all day.”
During the day, they attend online lectures and tutorials in their room, then have lunch and dinner together. One person does the cooking and groceries for one meal every day.
Luckily, the housemates found good company in each other. They are also happy to all have the same standards of cleanliness and be financially savvy.
“We all have student loans which is very helpful…once you’ve paid the rent and the electricity there’s not much left […] for food and other living expenses. said Wallace. “We try to be economical. We do not use the dishwasher or the dryer. We therefore have a policy that you must wash and dry and put away your dishes.
They also agreed to take short showers, wash clothes cold and turn off lights in unoccupied rooms.
Future home ownership isn’t something Wallace and Tsatsas are really thinking about right now.
“House prices are really, really expensive, as our parents like to remind us,” Wallace says. “I think there’s an underlying pressure to think about buying homes in the future, like in the mid-20s.”
“But obviously not in the near future…especially with student loans,” adds Tsatsas.