RENOVATED under a veil of mystery, Launceston's Chalmers Church reopened last night, revealing what's been hailed as a "most innovative, inspirational and creative work space".
Looking every bit "a million dollars" as co-owners Graeme and Jodie Walker intimated they would be spending on the building when they bought Chalmers in 2011, the new premises for Walker Designs is a contemporary masterpiece of wood, stained glass and laser-cut steel.
Last night 300 invited guests were treated to Tasmania's first glimpse of the two-storey interior, which has been eight months' in the making and as of Monday will be the workstation for 14 graphic design staff.
Mr Walker said he felt overwhelmed by the response to his vision for his company he started 20 years ago.
With tears in his eyes, he confided: "I'm exhausted, I'm very emotional right now.
"I've been putting in 105 hours a week on this place, many of my tradespeople are friends and they've worked so hard, I've pushed what's possible to get finished for today, Jodie and I can't thank them enough."
Tight-lipped on what the makeover has actually cost, both Jodie and Graeme Walker said: "cost is not what this is about, there were probably easier avenues we could have explored, but this is about a vision that expressed who we are, what we can deliver as a design company.
"Too often businesses underestimate the value of promoting themselves as a brand, we have always been a leader in brand design.
"Design can bring so much to the table, and while concepts can be hard to visualise, sometimes you have to take that leap of faith," he said.
"I never doubted Graeme's vision," said Jodie Walker.
"The biggest challenge has been staying true to the building, staying true to its fabrication.
"Knowing what to keep within the walls and what to peel away, in no way did we want to destroy the sense of the building and we were sensitive to its heritage," she said of the building which dates back to 1859.
"Structurally, the building was surprisingly sound and we were determined to keep all the original stained glass windows as much of the flooring and rafter ceiling.
"Much of the timber has been recycled where possible too, joists have become a pool table, for example."
The couple sourced their craftsmen and building supplies within Tasmania where possible. Launceston's Bullock Consulting were assigned for architectural plans, George Town's CTP Engineering was responsible for the intricately patterned steel laser cutting, UCI, of Ulverstone, has supplied the joinery and much of the office furniture and good friend Gavin Lewis, of GLB Constructions, was the builder.
The Walkers bought Chalmers Church, on Prince's Square, from Ken Partridge for an undisclosed price in unusual circumstances.
"I was with him at a meeting with council one day and when a matter concerning traffic in Frederick Street looked unlikely to go ahead, he suddenly put out his hand, I put out mine and in that handshake, Chalmers Church became ours," Mr Walker recalled.
Chalmers, built of convict bricks, hand-chiselled sandstone and cast-iron railings, has been a talking point for many years because of its exterior paint job.
An oil-based paint was mistakenly applied to the limestone and brick facade in 1976, trapping moisture beneath the paint so that it blistered and started to peel away.
Described as a dazzling example of flamboyant gothic revival style, the heritage-registered church was designed by William Henry Clayton and named after Thomas Chalmers, the leader of the Great Disruption of 1843 in Scotland. The original bronze bell, imported from London in 1859, still rings in its sandstone tower.
Last night, it rang out loud - and proud.