Historic Church Is Adapted to House Women Affected by Domestic Violence

Because no graves could be moved or disturbed, entry into the housing portion was raised 30 inches off the ground with supporting piers placed selectively to avoid grave shafts.

The First Reformed Church of New Brunswick, N.J., originally constructed in 1812, lost the majority of its interior in a 1971 fire set by the abuser of a woman who was seeking sanctuary in the church. This tragedy was the inspiration for a renovation completed in 2016 that included updating interior spaces for the still-functioning church, as well as adding housing for women affected by domestic violence.

Because the church was designated a State of New Jersey Historic Building, the design team at DIGroupArchitecture, New Brunswick, was challenged to maintain the church exterior and interior balcony. Consequently, the team designed two stories of residential units—four studio units and two two-bedroom units on the first floor and three studio units and one one-bedroom unit on the second floor—as well as two stories of church space. A shared third floor, which features a two-sided elevator for handicap access, is key-controlled for security.

To meet the program goals of the church, the first floor hosts the community gathering space and features four original wood columns supporting the balcony and second floor. The second floor now is home to the sanctuary/cultural center and receives abundant light from four large circle-head windows on the north-to-south sides. Central to the design concept was the idea that natural light invites First Reformed Church congregants and the public to the sanctuary/cultural space and signals to the community the haven created within.


The housing component of the church renovation was named Dina’s Dwellings after Dina Van Bergh who, in the late 1700s, was known for her service to the New Brunswick, N.J., community.

ARCHITECT: DIGroupArchitecture, New Brunswick, N.J.

  • Jeffrey Venezia, AIA, principal in charge
  • Jaime Masler, project manager
  • Swarupa Samant, project architect

STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Harrison-Hamnett P.C., Pennington, N.J.

MEP ENGINEER: Kelter & Gilligo, Princeton Junction, N.J.

HISTORIC PRESERVATION CONSULTANT: Westfield Architects & Preservation Consultants, Haddon Heights, N.J.


CLADDING: Oko Skin from Rieder

CEILING TILE: Certainteed

TILE: Daltile

FLOORING: Pastiche Oak Golden Hardwood Flooring and TecWood from Mohawk

COLUMNS: PermaLite from HB&G Building Products Inc.

ELEVATOR: Thyssenkrupp

PHOTOS: Nick Venezia

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