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Winter 2006 | Volume 29, Number 1 | Features

New Life for THE KILNS

Eight-Year Renovation Project Involved SPU Faculty, Staff, Alumni, and Students

THE STORY BEHIND THE restoration of C.S. Lewis’ home in Headington Quarry, Oxfordshire, England, has a distinctly American twist. It began when American Joy Davidman Gresham married Lewis and moved into The Kilns in 1957, only to discover it was in danger of complete deterioration. Joy was the first of her compatriots to set about rescuing the house, calling in roofers, painters, electricians, and plumbers.

Long after Lewis’ death in 1963, patchwork additions, makeovers by subsequent owners, and general disrepair again threatened to obscure all trace of Lewis’ legacy at The Kilns. The C.S. Lewis Foundation of Southern California intervened and purchased the house in 1986. Its members, under the leadership of President Stan Mattson, dreamed of restoring the property as a year-round study center. To do that would require annual volunteer summer work parties (totaling 200 people) over eight years and significant fundraising.

In 1993, Kim Gilnett, fine arts marketing associate at Seattle Pacific University, was invited to take a lead role in the restoration project. A Lewis expert with Oxford connections, Gilnett accepted the invitation, joined the United Kingdom board that managed The Kilns project, and spent the following summer hammering nails and serving as chaplain for the work crews. “We began each morning with a devotional on Lewis,” he says. “It was an honor to be involved in the actual construction, but for me, the Christian community that developed was the most valuable part of the experience.”

After working on the restoration for two summers, it became clear to Gilnett that the team needed someone with period design expertise. So in 1994, he persuaded Mattson to invite Don Yanik, Seattle Pacific professor of theatre, to take on the role of restoration designer. For Yanik, overseeing the detailed restoration was a labor of love that called upon all of his design training and skill. “Don did renderings for each room, created models, and drew the blueprints,” recalls Gilnett.

The home’s revival meant painstaking care to match the exterior and the interior to Lewis-era photographs. In the restoration of the structure’s original 12 rooms, all nine sealed fireplaces were reopened; quarry tile floors were “unearthed”; cabinets and bookcases were built; hard-to-find “retro” furnishings were purchased; and a new rose trellis was constructed.

C.S. Lewis’ bath, a room with a large porcelain tub, bears a plaque placed there by friends of Seattle Pacific University “in grateful appreciation” of the contributions of Gilnett, Yanik, and the scores of other volunteers, including some SPU alumni and students. It’s a fitting place for such commemoration: Gilnett and fellow volunteers spent weeks demolishing the 1970s olive-green fixtures and installing a proper claw-foot tub. “Lewis always said he loved taking baths,” says Gilnett. “He wrote to children that he liked to submerge his head under the water and allow his nose to stick out like a hippopotamus.” “The Kilns renovation project is an example of Seattle Pacific faculty and staff engaging the culture in a unique way,” says SPU President Philip Eaton. “They have helped to keep alive the legacy of one of our greatest Christian apologists and authors.”


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