For several months, Tatiana Seelinger had been looking at barns, old railway stations -- anything that would offer a large, affordable space for a home and gallery -- when she heard friends mention a big, empty church in Glenelg.
A Sunday spin to the western Howard County community was all took to convince the artist that, indeed, the boarded-up white-frame structure known as Providence Methodist Church was for her.
"The building itself was pristine. It almost looked like a picture-postcard New England scene. And it was perfectly sited, on a knoll with beautiful oak trees around it," says Tatiana, who is legally and professionally known by her first name only.
There was no "For Sale" sign in front of the property, on Triadelphia Road. But Tatiana was so excited that she immediately sought out her real estate agent. As it happened, the agent was in the hospital, having her fourth child. "She orchestrated the whole deal from her hospital bed," Tatiana says.
The transaction occurred 20 years ago at a price Tatiana considers a good buy. Admittedly, the 104-year-old church was a shell, with only the remnants of an electrical system and no heat or plumbing. But just $15,000 bought a solid structure and a full acre.
Tatiana and her first husband, the late William Potts, a self-employed architect, bought the property. He designed the interior structural walls, as well as plumbing, electrical and heating systems. The couple invested $30,000 to transform the old church into a home for a family of five and two businesses.
The design allowed for a two-story gallery and shop at the front, on its southern side. To the rear of the gallery are living areas, a workshop and a large eat-in kitchen. On the upper level are four bedrooms, two bathrooms and a laundry area.
"When you walk into the front door, you still have the illusion of unbroken sanctuary space. It's a rather unique and amazing concept," says Tatiana, who works in clay to create large ceramic vessels, many ornamented in gold and platinum.
So well-designed is the home that it "flexes with changing needs," Tatiana says. Five years after her first husband died, she transformed the deck into a sun room with a tile floor, a gray sofa and a round table that seats eight.
In 1980, Tatiana married Joe Seelinger, a U.S. maritime administrator who makes a daily 70-minute commute from Glenelg to Washington. As the artist's children grew up and left, the house was adapted to serve the couple's changing needs.
The children's living room became Tatiana's workshop area, where she keeps her pottery wheel. The children's bedrooms became guest rooms. And an office area became a suite of personal rooms for Tatiana and her husband.
Convinced that homeowners shouldn't be bound by convention, Tatiana is often called upon by friends to rethink their living areas.
"Before you buy a house, I think it's really healthful to think who you are and how you want to live," she says.