Two small town restaurateurs have transformed a vacant 19th century church into this bright modern cafe, blending old with new in the most brilliant way. Located in Upstate New York's charming village of Tivoli, Murray's brilliantly preserves and showcases the original architecture of the once functioning place of worship with stained glass windows, church pews and exposed brick. The resulting sanctuary has become a favorite neighborhood haunt that serves exquisite, locally-sourced seasonal fare. Take a peek inside this stunning renovation in the gallery below.
Owners Jake Stortini, a Washington state native, and Jesse T. Feldmus, out of New Jersey, met at nearby Bard College in 2009. They ran the original Murray’s cafe in a tiny space for 4 years, but they were beginning to have to turn patrons away due to the size limitations. So when a large, empty, unused church across the street became available for rent they jumped at the chance to relocate, even if it was a challenge. The church was dark, run down, and in need of serious upgrades — but Jake and Jesse saw serious potential. The space hadn’t been used as a place of worship since about the 1950’s, and since then had functioned as an office and even a single occupancy residence before it was more or less abandoned. It wasn’t until Jake and Jesse’s landlord purchased the building that the two had the opportunity to turn it into the space of their dreams.
In the Spring of 2015 the two began what was to become a 4-month renovation. The partners decided it would be best to strip it down and let the history of the building shine. Co-owner Jake Stortini says, “The most important thing for us was letting the materials speak for themselves.”
With virtually no design background (aside from Jesse’s brief stint of architecture study at Bard), the two let their design concept evolve as they peeled away the layers of history. Instead of sandblasting 125 years worth of paint off the brick walls, they decided to strip away a small amount of it and leave a whitewashed coating. The resulting textured look tells the story of the building’s past.
Jake and Jesse faced many challenges during their renovation, but they turned those obstacles into brilliant design features. At first the pair regarded the stained glass windows as an eye sore (mostly because it didn’t look so hot next to linoleum flooring and less than complimentary paint colors). But when they held a white paint sample against the prismatic glass, they quickly realized the light contrast would make the windows shine like vivid gems. That along with custom white oak flooring and LED lighting made an otherwise drab area seem ever so bright.
Unlike most churches, this one’s nave is situated upstairs, the first floor almost like a basement. After the building owner gutted it to its bare bones, Jake and Jesse requested that they lift the ceiling of the main floor to create more light in the cafe, and turn the upstairs church nave into a rentable event space for weddings and other events.
At Murray’s you’ll find the freshest ingredients and a seasonally rotating menu from local farms, but its locally-sourced roots truly begin at its design. Jake and Jesse were careful to not only source local materials for the renovation, but also commissioned skilled local craftsman for the job. The central grand stained glass window was restored by Donald Moore Stained Glass in nearby Woodstock, NY; the custom milled wood flooring and woodworking by The Hudson Company in Pine Plains, NY and Rowan Woodworking in Kingston, NY; low-VOC painting was all done by Tivoli painter Rochelle Redfield and their good friend Arno.
“It was important to develop relationships and use people we know that are local in our process,” says Jake.
The new Murray’s is expansive, modern and bright, but it has the welcoming vibe of a tiny hole in the wall. In fact, Jake and Jesse encourage their patrons to camp out at their laptops for hours. Jesse says that all they wanted was “a hidden spot that people can make all their own.” And if you’re wondering why it’s called Murray’s — it’s an ode to their beloved pet cat. The next phase of design? Jake and Jesse say a portrait of Murray is currently in the works.