Three years ago, while searching for space to open a
home-furnishings shop, Wanda Crossley wandered into a vacant church in Fauquier County. The 175-year-old structure in Upperville, eight miles from downtown Middleburg, had sat unoccupied for five years. It was infested with termites, the exterior stucco was falling off and the inside was dreary, damp and architecturally dated.

Instead of turning away and running for the Virginia hills, Crossley, an interior and landscape designer, got excited.

“Everything was dark, drab and smelly,” she says. “But I loved it. It needed a tremendous amount of work, but it had great bones, great potential and a great feel.”

Less than a year later, in May 2009, Crossley opened the newly painted original church doors to Matthews House and Garden, a home-furnishings store from which she also runs her interior design business. The former church congregation hall, a 700-square-foot structure adjacent to the store, is her design studio.

The exterior of the property exudes small-town charm: A gravel driveway leads to a white picket fence surrounding a garden, a bluestone walkway lined with boxwood and a set of pale blue doors flanked by topiaries and black lanterns.

Inside, natural light bathes the 16-foot ceilings and the wide-open, 1,200-square-foot space arranged in vignettes of old and new furniture, accessories, artwork, lighting and garden accents. The look is sophisticated but lived-in.

“I love pretty things,” says Crossley, “but I want them to be comfortable, too.”

Items vary from a hand-painted French sideboard ($5,100) and a set of 70 rustic Belgian wooden spoons being sold as a piece of artwork ($1,500), to a pair of Victorian wire garden chairs ($595), a vintage bamboo side table ($75) and hand-poured beeswax candles (from $6.50).

An interior designer for 25 years, Crossley is no stranger to retail. She previously owned a larger home shop in downtown Leesburg called English Manor Gardens and Interiors, which she closed in 2008.

Her new shop’s name is the same as her son’s (she also has two daughters), but that’s not the only reason Crossley chose it. With a difficult period very recently behind her, including a recovery from thyroid cancer, Crossley felt as though she was entering a new phase in her life.

“Matthew means ‘gift from God,’ ” she says, “and this church and this shop came at the right place and at the right time.”

The transformation from church to design shop took 10 months. With the help of two carpenters, Crossley and partner Kevin Chadwick, an artist and former illustrator from the District, did most of the work themselves.

Outside, the couple designed the parking lot, sidewalk and landscaping and planted the gardens. Inside, they removed the drop ceiling, rebuilt the walls and hung tongue-and-grove paneling, sanded and painted the original heart-of-pine floors, widened the archways, added two storage closets and painted almost everything a soft, creamy white.

Maintaining a primarily neutral palette for the architecture and the merchandise has a dual purpose, says Crossley. “I wanted to keep the integrity of what I thought a country church would look like, so I kept it white and simple. And it’s a small space and I don’t like things looking cluttered.”

(Crossley says she looked at “hundreds of colors” for the walls before finally deciding on Behr’s Cottage White, which she had color-matched in Sherwin-Williams Cashmere paint. “It’s luminous, high-spectrum paint,” she says, “and it goes on like butter.”)

A fierce believer in using what you have, she repurposed the wood from the original church pews to make a small set of stairs in the back of the shop as well as the flooring in the design studio.

The former church vestibule is now a garden-style seating area that warmly welcomes customers when they enter the store. Where the altar once stood is now an alcove styled as a cozy reading area and workspace.

Now that the church renovation is complete, Crossley is doing it all over again. She and Chadwick are in the midst of renovating another church down the road and turning it into a home.

Having a home and a shop so far from the District would be a deterrent for many. For Crossley it’s a small price to pay.

“I’ve lived all over the country, and Virginia is my favorite place,” she says. “Being out here definitely affects my business, but the compromise, being here, is worth it to me.”