Illusionist Lawrence Larouche is renowned for his sleight-of-hand skills and mind-reading abilities. But when he and his wife, Cynthia Martin, Head Librarian at the Champlain Library, as well as partner in their performance company Majinx, bought a rundown Baptist Church 33 years ago, it was they who were the happy victims of illusion.

“We had no idea of what lay ahead of us,” Cynthia laughs. “We thought it might take a few weeks to make it livable.”

“But we fell in love with the metal ceiling, the arched windows and the lilac bush that was in bloom.”

It took the couple three months of work to even be able to move in, and the work continues to this day. Their latest improvement was new casements for the beautiful arched windows, expertly installed by Gauthier Glass.

The 100-year-old church had no insulation, no electricity or plumbing and no septic system.

“We had to tear down the lathe in the walls to put in insulation and drywall them,” Lawrence explains – no easy trick when the walls are 20 feet high.

Much of the work was done by the couple themselves. Lawrence had worked briefly for a cabinet maker and as he says, “I learned a lot from my boss at that time, as well as inspiration from books and magazines.”

The kitchen cabinetry, finished in vintage style, as well as other furniture in the house, was all built by him.

An open soaring space

Lawrence converted Cynthia’s childhood piano into a desk. Photo: Bonnie Liang

The result of that effort is a glorious open light-flooded space, with a sleeping loft and bathroom reached by a winding staircase, which the couple added. The entrance way was stenciled by Cynthia. A downstairs bathroom completes the main floor.

Both partners come from artistic families. Striking artwork covers the walls. There are works on display by Cynthia’s sister Mavis Martin, Lawrence’s mother Christina Hall and son Nathan, as well as contributions from local artists.

Then there are the fabulous installations that have been recycled from the couple’s Majinx shows, including a molded life sized profile of Cynthia and a clock in which the hands stand still while a series of mechanisms circle around them. Lawrence converted Cynthia’s childhood piano into a desk and several of his paintings hang on the wall, as does a magic box created by Cynthia.

Adding on

About 20 years ago, when the couple’s two children were growing up, they put an addition onto the back of the church, containing two bedrooms and sunroom that overlooks the outdoor deck and pond. Then 13 years ago, they added a workshop where Lawrence creates
and stores his exquisite Majinx Illusions.

“It’s a lot easier to build from scratch,” Lawrence notes.

In Practice

While rooms with high ceilings are a delight, be aware that they can also be difficult to heat. Lawrence and Cynthia rely on their woodstove and have installed propane forced air heating as well.

If you are thinking of buying an old house or building, know that it will probably require insulation plus electrical, plumbing and heating upgrades.

Wells on rural properties may be contaminated by surrounding agricultural operations
and require regular testing.

This is the first in a monthly series of articles The Review will be publishing about local people who have done amazing things to their homes, gardens or workplaces. If you know of someone we might feature, please send us an email to: [email protected]

Lawrence and Cynthia purchased the former Baptist Church which serves as their home 33 years ago. Photo: Bonnie Liang