There’s something about the charm of an old school house, barn, fire house, or even an old silo or water tower. These unique structures have history, unique features, and spark the imagination. They may be fun to visit and tour, but they’re even more intriguing to live in.
Many people have renovated old, often abandoned structures into new lives as homes. Most projects retain as much history as possible, keeping the charm and old functional appeal of the structure intact. And often, the unusual designs of the structure lead to interesting living spaces, such as completely round silo homes, church houses with choir lofts, and barns with wide open spaces and original rafters.
Take a peek into 23 of the most interesting repurposed home projects we’ve seen. They offer inspiration for your own home — or even taking on a repurposed home project yourself! We’ve also included tips and resources for finding historic structures to renovate into your next home.
The Hillside Schoolhouse was once a one room school house in the New York Catskill Mountains. It was built in 1893, used as a schoolhouse for more than 50 years, and was turned into a gospel church in the 1950s. But it was abandoned in the early 2000s and nearly forgotten about. The property was purchased in 2012 and restored with major upgrades to become the Hillside Schoolhouse two bedroom inn. Now on the market, the former school house has original hardwood flooring, handmade furniture, and a full kitchen. The bedrooms are underneath the original bell tower with a cast iron bell.
This small, uninhabitable garage was once abandoned, but turned into a cozy living space with smart design and a low budget. Located in a protected historic area near the Pont de Pierre river, the garage is near antique houses and the roof could not be raised. The space was designed into two separate areas with a small courtyard, an open kitchen, and a living room with one large piece of furniture functioning as a bedroom loft, bathroom, living room, study room, and wardrobe.
Once the garage of a restored 19th century summer cottage, this Victorian carriage house had aluminum siding and an electric bay door. When new owners purchased the summer cottage property in 2014, they turned the carriage house into a single family home. The exterior is historic, but the interior is updated with exposed wood beams, lots of light, huge doors, and a full modern kitchen and bathrooms.
Located in Garrison, New York, this big red barn dates back to the 18th century. With broad meadow and mountain views, it is located in a beautiful part of the country. The old red barn is sleek and stylish with polished concrete floors, a stone fireplace, exposed beams, and large window doors. In all, this former barn was transformed into six bedrooms, five bathrooms, and more than 5,600 square feet of finished living space. There is also a guest house and studio as well as a pool and tennis court. The estate sold for just under $3 million in 2015.
On the Scottish Isle of Coll, a mid-1700s house sat abandoned for 150 years. The crumbling stone walls turned into a ruin on a sandy foundation. The ruin was transformed into a modern home with environmental sensibilities and protection against the tough Atlantic winds on the island. Now, the house has ocean views, open living spaces, and environmentally friendly features. The stone walls and foundation were firmed up and a new home was built inside the walls. The house now features a glass lined living room, natural cooling, a green roof, and elements of glass and steel that make the home contemporary.
Located in London’s Shoreditch neighborhood, this Victorian building was a warehouse. It is now a two bedroom apartment with an open plan layout, exposed brick, and beams along with contemporary tiling, lighting, and appliances. The living area has floor to ceiling bookshelves and two work spaces along with a kitchen and dining area.
Located in Sonoma County, California, this wooden barn was derelict not so long ago. But now, it is an artist’s studio, office, and home. The barn has both a main studio and a concrete kitchen and dining area with an indoor tropical garden. The original barn’s roof was inverted for double height spaces to accommodate art production and storage. The all weather concrete pavilion has skylights and cement walls with insulation.
This Hungarian weapons factory complex dates back to between 1913 and 1915 with a four level concrete industrial tower. Reimagined as a home by an architect and art director, the entire project took two years to complete. It now has a studio, show room, living areas, an open kitchen, and even a pool, sauna, gym, library, and roof terrace.
The Old Village School in Wells River, Vermont was built in 1874 and served as the town school until 1967. It features French Second Empire Architecture and is amazingly well preserved. The property was added to the Register of Historic Places in 1976. The Old Village School now holds two apartments and four businesses. The original bell tower and many of the original decorative flourishes remain, with light fixtures, doors, and molding preserved for more than 140 years.
On the banks of the Provo River in Utah, this former grain silo is now a beautiful home. They’ve turned the metal building into a round home with green features including solar heat automation. It has stunning views from huge windows, a balcony that extends around half of the silo, even even cute sleeping cubbies and a kitchen designed to fit the round building.
Built in 1869, St. Joseph’s Church is an ornate Gothic church conversion in Carlinville, Illinois. It now has multiple potential functions as a residence, bed and breakfast, and restaurant. The amazing architecture and stained glass windows remain, along with a secret garden between two buildings. The complex has 10,000 square feet, six beds, and six baths in the church and duplex.
The former bunker silo of the Atlas F missile has been turned into a comfortable bachelor pad complete with solar power and more than 1,000 square feet of living space. Built in 1960, the silo has 6,000 pound blast doors designed to protect occupants from a nuclear attack as well as a latticed debris door. All four of the doors are still functional. The owner lives in the old crew quarters, a large space that is completely round.
Located on two acres in Tewksbury, New Jersey, the Cokesbury Chapel began in 1880 as the Cokesbury Presbyterian Church. It is now a historic home with amazing grounds including gardens, a pool, and outside dining area. The interior has a living room, kitchen, and dining area with thick stone walls and bark covered beams. Stained glass windows and wide pine floors from the church remain. The old church even has solar panels in a back field. and access to nearby New York City train commutes.
This bus was purchased off of Craigslist and transformed into a modular living environment. It features a kitchen, bathroom, beds, and storage. The main furniture can be moved to create different arrangements of beds, shelving tables, and other furniture. The floor is made from old gym floors. And the bus still runs!
This round house is located in Dover, New Hampshire. It has a Gothic style and was once a bunker and former 19th century water tank. Warm brick walls, spacious living areas, exposed beams, and wide pine floors make this a comfortable place to live. There’s even a dungeon bar and workout area in the basement, a cupola room, and secret rooms buried deep inside the home.
An old locomotive trailer sits at the heart of this residence in Uvalde, Texas. It overlooks the Nueces River on a steel framed structure that includes significant patio space and outdoor decks. The outdoor living space even includes a barrel style bath. Behind glass walls are sun lit eating and living areas with a riverfront view. Inside, the locomotive features built in banquette seating, constructed bed and side tables, and a concrete and wood bathroom with circular windows looking outdoors.
Located in Waterville, Washington, this home was the historic Douglas County Bank. Now, it is a beautifully restored home with a residence on the lower level and commercial space upstairs. The house has Italian porcelain tile, original doors, and stinny windows with a striking exterior. It even comes complete with the bank’s original vaults and dumbwaiter.
A water tower in Belgium is now a beautiful livable home. Known as the Chateau d’eau, the tower was built between 1938 and 1941. Now, it is a modern residence with amenities including a bedroom, bathroom, storage space, and a panoramic terrace. The entire structure is six stories high and built to house a single family.
This historical stone home is located in the village of Barneveld, New York in the Adirondack foothills. It was originally built in 1810 as a Presbyterian Church and served as a meeting hall. In 1970, the structure was purchased and converted into a single family home with attention to preserving historic detail and character. The home still has original plank floors, pocket doors, and stained glass door panels. It has five bedrooms, three bathrooms, a wrap around balcony, and 19 foot high ceilings in the living room. They’ve even added modern updates with blown in efficient insulation, a high efficiency boiler, and new windows.
The first Salvation Army barracks in Australia laid vacant for a decade until in 1996, they were purchased and converted into a 6,000 square foot three bedroom home. The original 1884 structure still shines through in double brick walls, signage, and bluestone foundation. It now features a mezzanine level with bedrooms and a carpeted entertainment area.
In Rye, England is this former ambulance station built in the 1950s. It’s now a four bedroom vacation home. The house features an open common area and an added level for bedrooms. Brick, oak floors, and whitewashed walls are found throughout the home, along with minimalist fixtures and lots of natural light.
This home is a former train car in Portland. It has an impressively spacious modern interior with a full electric kitchen, seating and sleeping areas, and a bathroom.
The Ghostbusters converted a firehouse, and so did the owners of this home in Pennsylvania. It once functioned as a trolley maintenance garage and firehouse. Now, it is a residence and rental loft with 5,000 square feet of living space. Industrial design elements from the former structure remain throughout, including ornamental steel, concrete floors, and reclaimed lumber in the millwork on the stairs.
Find a Converted House of Your Own
- Circa Old Houses: Circa Old Houses shares old houses for sale with extensive photos, information, and even ideas for fixer uppers.
- OldHouses.com: On OldHouses.com, you can find historic homes and converted buildings including old school buildings, carriage homes, grist mills, and warehouses.
- Historic Properties: Historic Properties’ listings include converted homes.
Tips for Converting a Historic Structure into a Home
- Don’t expect it to be cheap: Some structures are old, abandoned, and have little value, so they can be picked up for bargain prices. But others may have significant real estate values, especially if they’re located in a central part of town that gives the structure land value. This may be the case with old banks, school houses, churches, and other structures.
- Plan to spend time and money on renovations: Most people wouldn’t expect a 19th century school house that’s been sitting vacant for 50 years to be move in ready, but it’s still important not to underestimate the amount of work you may be looking at. Electrical and plumbing systems may need serious updates, walls, fixtures, and kitchen and bathroom equipment may need to be brought in, and older structures may have unusual surprises that pop up in the renovation process.
- Research zoning: Many repurposed homes are former commercial or industrial buildings. You may need to petition to change the zoning on the structure before you’re able to use it as a residence.
- Accept that the building isn’t like regular homes: Converted structures often have unusual shapes, such as completely round silos or even missile bunkers. Traditional furniture may not work, and you may have to build your own or hire someone to create custom pieces for you.
- Preserve the building’s historic charm: Part of what makes converted buildings so appealing is their history. Be careful not to bulldoze right through replacing original fixtures, ceiling tiles, or wood flooring unless it just can’t be salvaged.