Concordia Historical Institute
When dealing with one-of-a-kind historical artifacts in a remodel, there’s no room for mistakes. This was immediately clear to founder Matt Mierek and the team at Aptitude Design & Build when they undertook a remodeling project at Concordia Historical Institute, a site that’s home to various items of religious and historical significance. “[It’s] where all the Lutheran schools, Lutheran churches and seminaries throughout the country store their documents—so they have documents there from the 1700s,” explains Mierek. And while the documents themselves were not part of the remodel, Mierek and his team did come into contact with several artifacts when completing the renovation of the institute’s foyer, reception area and entryway to the museum.
Whereas the entry to the museum had previously included a standard-issue industrial door, Mierek brainstormed a way to lend more gravitas and impact to the space from visitors’ first steps in the doorway. “We came up with the idea of replacing this commercial metal door with a solid oak door that was from the original church located on the property in the 1800s,” he says. “It had been sitting in a dark, dingy basement for 30 or 40 years, and we wanted to do something with it, so we sanded it down, stained it, polyurethaned it, and then installed it in the opening to the museum. There’s quite a bit of history there.”
Of course, dealing with a vintage door presents its own challenges, but the Aptitude team was well-equipped to handle this historic piece with the care it required. “We actually transported the doors—wrapped in bubble wrap—to our workshop and did all the renovations in a climate-controlled space. Sanding down and restoring those doors is very delicate task, and it really takes a craftsman to be able to do it without damaging something that’s 140 years old. It’s all about having the right experience level,” Mierek explains.
Other elements in the space that required special care included the artworks hung throughout the reception area and entryway, which also had particular religious significance. “We went in and pulled down all the old oil paintings [in the foyer] so we could repaint the walls. These are essentially priceless—they can’t be replaced—so our team knows that we have to take our time and be careful wrapping them and storing them in a controlled environment so there is no ill effect with temperature or humidity,” Mierek recalls. “It’s not something we have to do very often, but it’s certainly something we do our research on, as far as how to handle those paintings so they don’t deteriorate while we’re storing them.”
As for the rest of the remodel, all that was needed were a few upgrades to enhance the overall look of the institute and provide a more welcoming feel to visitors. A fresh coat of paint and some new flooring that matched the original scheme create a cohesive look, while pushing a wall back opens things up for a more airy effect. “We pushed back a wall [in the reception area] so that when you walk in, you’re not walking right into the reception desk—you’re walking into a wider space that can be used for displays of different programs they’re doing at the seminary school,” Mierek says.
With the updates, the restored historic church door and the more open entrance, the institute not only has more personality, but it’s a more accessible space for all. “We wanted to make it brighter and more welcoming,” says Mierek. With a delicate touch, care and attention to historical elements and some expertise, the Aptitude team achieved just that.
Concordia Historical Institute