A North Grenville newcomer is planning on turning a century-old building in Bishops Mills into his dream home. When Kevin Willey retired from the federal government in 2018, he went looking for a new challenge. A life-long artist, he had always dreamed about living somewhere unique where he could have the space to do his metal art. “I was tired of living in a traditional house,” he says, talking about his home in Barrhaven. “It was too big for me and my dog.”
Kevin had his heart set on finding an old property that he could make his own. He came across the barn in Bishops Mills early on in his search and says he just kept coming back to it. “As soon as my house sold, I put in an offer,” he says.
His new home on St. Lawrence Street began as a church in the 1890s; but, when the church moved, it was converted into a barn and a carriage house, sometime in the 1920s. Kevin believes that when the horse and wagon gave way to the car, the building stopped being used. He says the owner tried to put in an apartment in the 1970s, but the project fell through.
Kevin’s plans for the barn are as extensive as they are unique. He is planning on building 15-inch thick walls on the inside of the structure to accommodate insulation, while still keeping the look of the old barn intact. The 1,500 square foot main floor of the barn will include a kitchen, living room and laundry area, as well as a space for a studio. His bedroom will be in the loft and accessed by a spiral staircase. “There is 26 feet up to the roof from the first floor,” he says.
Perhaps the most unique part of Kevin’s new home will be the 30-foot medieval-style tower that he will be constructing on the south side of the building. He says the idea for the tower came from his ex-wife. “She said I needed somewhere to put my dragon,” he says.
Yes, you heard it. Dragon. As a metal artist, Kevin will be creating one large project a year, and his first one will be a 15-foot dragon that he will be installing on the tower. He says he will also be adding an addition to the barn to accommodate his workshop where he will be building these large metal sculptures. “The pieces will be like totems on the property,” he says.
Kevin plans on reusing as much as possible from the property in the construction of his new home. This includes the casing around the old church windows, an old bathtub that was left on the property, as well as a few mature trees. “Recycle, reuse, repurpose,” he says. “There is so much waste in construction.”
He is planning on doing all the construction himself, noting that he renovated many houses in the Glebe in the 1990s and has been surrounded by the trades his whole life. “My dad was in the heating business, and I learned a lot from him.”
The plan is to start construction as soon as the frost is out of the ground, and Kevin expects the project to take about two years. He has been in touch with the Municipality’s Heritage Advisory Committee and Building Department, both of which are supportive of the project. “Once I start construction, it will be a full-time thing,” he says. “I am hoping to have it enclosed and be living in it by next winter.”
Kevin is planning on joining the North Grenville Artists Guild and hopes to have the property included in the local artists tour. Once the project is complete, it will be a unique home that could draw a lot of people to the area. “It’s a labour of love and it’s going to be done my way,” he says. “I can see it all clear as day.”