A Sperryville landmark evolves, leaving its original character intact

By William Smith
Special to the Rappahannock News

While taking a stroll down Main Street in Sperryville, it doesn’t take long to realize that one of the primary charms of this village is that it is easy to get a sense as to how it looked one hundred years ago.

StudioSmith, LLC’s, final rendering of the new Stonewall Abbey wellness center and gym, which is currently under construction on Main Street in Sperryville. Courtesy phho

Historic structures line the street in various styles, sizes, materials and colors. While many of these buildings are constructed in similar architectural styles, there are subtle yet visually pleasing variations on a stylistic theme.

Over time many of these village buildings have evolved to fit the ever-changing needs of the current day society and yet have retained their inherent beauty found in their functional simplicity. One specific building that falls into this category is the old Sperryville Episcopal Church, which is now the Stonewall Abbey Yoga and Qigong studio.

Originally built to house a congregation, its uses have changed to a bookstore, café, and now a yoga and qigong studio.

This adaptive reuse is a great example of sustainability in architecture. While the function of the original building has changed, the original character has remained intact. This concept forays into the fact that large cities, towns, and small villages are never static but are ever growing and adapting, while not necessarily in terms of size, but also in how they are inhabited and through the direct needs of those who inhabit them.

The latest inhabitants of what is now the Stonewall Abbey Yoga and Qigong have successfully grown their business to the benefit of Sperryville and all of Rappahannock County. The latest development to this business is soon to be the addition of a gym and massage studio.

Space requirements for these new uses also require the expansion of the existing structure. Adding more space onto an existing structure, especially an historic one, is always a challenge. This new addition sits far to the rear of the open site adjacent to the Abbey, inherently becoming subsidiary to the original building.

In paying homage to the old architecture, the new building’s massing, form, materiality and proportion are directly inspired by the old church. White clapboard siding and a green standing seam metal roof tie the new building directly to the old. New rooflines connect to the existing and the massing of the new space remains shorter and secondary to the church at the forefront.

New large windows play into the concept of flooding the space with natural daylight, just as the original windows do for the Abbey space. While the placing of the windows nearest to the existing building start out in an even rhythm, as they move away they become more asymmetrical as a nod to breaking away from the original.

In another nod to historic church architecture, a small “chapel” creates a bookend to the building. The proportions of the new end chapel are a directly scaled down and simplified version of the original church. An abstracted version of the high pointed arch window which directs the view and gives an uplifting sense, is added to the new gable of the addition.

The style of Carpenter Gothic which pertains to the historic church, is simplified and abstracted for the new addition, which allows the new to have a direct conversation with the old, while not taking away the prominence and importance of the existing architecture but by complementing it. Modern architecture isn’t always about making a statement, but can be a unique gesture that strengthens the surrounding context and gives new life and energy to an historic streetscape.

William Smith, who owns a home in Sperryville, is the founding principal of the architectural firm StudioSmith — www.studiosmithdc.com — established in 2008. He has taught several architecture studios at The Catholic University of America and is published in numerous trade publications. 

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