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The Chapel Apartments

It was time for this elegant building to 'pop' but in a way that was respectful of its heritage and the heritage of the surrounding buildings.

On a prominent corner site in the centre of Dunedin stands the former Moray Place Congregational Church. It is one of the oldest buildings still standing in Dunedin and was opened for worship in 1864. Designed by noted Dunedin architect David Ross, in 1876 the entrance was reconstructed by another of Dunedin's most significant architects, Robert Arthur Lawson. For over 100 years it served the Congregationalist Church as a place of worship. It now houses a number of impressive short stay apartments – but, until recently, its well designed interior did not match its neutral exterior.

The Chapel Apartments

Blue apartment exterior

Despite its prominent position, the former Church merged into the heritage streetscape. It was time for this elegant building to 'pop' but in a way that was respectful of its heritage and the heritage of the surrounding buildings.

The owner and client, Jon Leng, is constantly looking for something different in an aesthetic – a joy for an interior designer but also an instinct that needs to be occasionally reined in. The challenge then was balancing the desire for an exuberant colour scheme while complementing the building's history and the existing heritage streetscape.

Converting a church into apartments

Chapel Apartments

The former Church, now known as the Chapel Apartments, is also a Category 2 building on Heritage New Zealand's List of Historic Places. It is also a scheduled building, protected in the Dunedin City Council's District Plan.

The colour selection had to cover two competing interests – the desire for the former Church to 'pop' versus the need to work with the existing heritage streetscape. An easy option was to choose a neutral colour which would blend with the surrounding buildings. A braver choice was to choose a wild card palette which drew the eye and accentuated the building's architectural features in an appropriate but modern way.

Dark blue apartment exterior

Light blue apartment exterior

Leaving the competing interests to the side, the building was viewed long and hard – from various angles and over different times a day. It is a beautiful and grand building. Designer Shelley Wright Chalmers wanted people to turn the corner and for their eye to immediately to be drawn to the Church. The stained-glass windows were a striking feature, particularly the red glass in the ground floor windows. The building needed a colour which would bring the glass to life and would not be easily missed.

On a warm summer's day, a number of Resene duck egg blues were painted on the exterior of the building. While each was beautifully toned the warm bright light bleached out the colour. In cooler winter light, the paint would require a warmer and deeper base than the duck egg blue shades provided.

Blue and white apartment exterior

The Chapel Apartments 2

For two long years, Shelley Wright Chalmers had carried around in her supplies a colour that she adored – Resene Half Smalt Blue from the Karen Walker Paints collection. Its moody tone and warm murky base, echoes the layered depths of the ocean, a captivating colour. There just hadn't been the right project for it. This was the wild card, was it too much for a building of this impressive size and scale? Shelley grabbed the testpot from her car, painted a wide swathe on the building and walked across the road with the client. It popped! Love it declared my client. So, Resene Half Smalt Blue it was!

Resene Half Smalt Blue by Karen Walker ticked every box. The warm base was necessary to combat the cooler light of a Dunedin winter. Over the course of the day Resene Half Smalt Blue proved chameleon like. In different lights various shades emerged – in the same way the ocean appears bluer in some lights and greener in others. The trims contrast in Resene Half Bianca, a truly warm white, the perfect complement for the window trims and the architectural details.

The Chapel Apartments 3

The Chapel Apartments 4

The colour was checked in various lights and the colour held its own. Heritage NZ was surprised by the choice, but encouragingly said that the past was much more colourful than we gave it credit for. Interestingly blue is associated with the Virgin Mary, faith, truth and heaven – very suitable for a former church.

Deciding on the colour for the doors proved difficult. Instinct suggested navy and Resene Tangaroa stood out. Those involved were not convinced – plain navy was the general consensus. More experimentation showed that Resene Tangaroa had the same warm base and greener hues pulling through as the Resene Half Smalt Blue. Overriding the opinions of experienced tradespeople and others is never easy. As Resene Tangaroa went on the sizable Church doors, toning beautifully with the Resene Half Smalt Blue, the instincts were proven right.

The Chapel Apartments 5

The Chapel Apartments 6

Painting was very soon underway and the former Church began to emerge from the surrounding heritage structures; it was the building in the street which immediately drew the eye. The stained glass began to come to life with the warm white detailing and the depth of the Resene Half Smalt Blue walls. Pleasingly people began to stop and comment, some taking photos. The local Resene ColorShop had any number of people requesting the same colour as 'the old Church' in Moray Place.

The exterior of the building has in part a somewhat rough uneven surface, with some blockwork, concrete, plaster, a variation. The finish needed something with easy coverage, resilience and weathertight. Resene X-200 was perfect as it fills in and adheres to all the nooks and crannies that comes with a heritage building that time has weathered.

The windows and trims are painted in the ever trustworthy Resene Lustacryl semi-gloss waterborne enamel with easy application and a slight sheen to show up the details and repel the weather.

The doors and railings are in Resene Super Gloss – tough and durable, a true high gloss worthy of this heritage beauty.

The site was a busy corner. View Street is one of Dunedin's steepest streets and it was difficult to erect scaffolding. The amount of passing traffic and pedestrians also caused difficulties on the tight corner site, although it did provide a supportive audience!

Client: Jon Leng
Interior designer: Shelley Wright Chalmers
Painting contractor: Jen Long, Izaak Auperule
Photographer: Shelley Wright Chalmers
Project: Resene Total Colour Awards 2020

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