before and afterInteriorssneak peeks

Before & After: An Abandoned Restaurant Is Transformed into A Vibrant Preschool

by Lauren Chorpening


It’s fascinating how resilient homes can be. People move in, change, improve, damage and then move out and move on. A century-old building will see many eras of design, personal or cultural taste, and refinishing by each person to own it. The buyers that can see past the cosmetics of a property and into the bones and original potential can reimagine it to be anything. For Wendy Alhman, a home turned commercial building had been on her mind for over a decade. Her love of the character and potential in the building stayed even after watching it transform from an airy floral and gift shop into a richly decorated Sri Lankan restaurant. After it sat empty for a year, Wendy knew it was time to act.

Wendy has been running an in-home preschool for more than 10 years in Provo, UT. Her specialized curriculum and emphasis on small class sizes has made her school, , incredibly sought after. Wendy uses music education to reinforce foundational principles of language and learning. Her love for teaching and her love for the empty building she’s admired coincided when she decided to move her preschool from her home to a designated space.

The restaurant design that had been there previously was still intact. Tables, chairs, artwork and even menus remained untouched after the business itself had moved on. Wendy enlisted the help of , a neighbor, friend, and interior designer. Businesspeople from the community offered their support and assistance to do some of the labor in the project. “In all, the process took seven months. I began with renderings of what we imagined the space would look like following renovations,” Katie shares. “Since they would be moving to the new space in the middle of a school year, we wanted parents of current students to feel excited and reassured about the new location. During renovation, the walls were re-plastered, the whole place was repainted top-to-bottom, my husband and I sanded and repainted the floors, and walls were reconfigured in the back corner to separate the preschool entirely from the upstairs apartment. We had a goal of creating a space that felt cheerful and carefree and which preserved the historical integrity of the building — but was supremely kid-friendly and had plenty of room to spread out and play.” Chrysalis Preschool is now up and running in its new location with inspiration for Wendy and her students everywhere. –Lauren

Photography by

Image above: Wendy and Katie wanted the space to breed imagination and creativity. They used white as a base with colorful artwork, murals, furniture and accents throughout.

An Abandoned Restaurant Transformed into Vibrant Preschool | Design*Sponge
Before, the building had wood paneling, green ceilings and wall-to-wall carpet.
An Abandoned Restaurant Transformed into Vibrant Preschool | Design*Sponge
As the paneling came down, some plaster was damaged in the process. In some areas they fixed it, but in the music room, Katie and Wendy embraced some exposed brick.
An Abandoned Restaurant Transformed into Vibrant Preschool | Design*Sponge
"We wanted to incorporate a bit of a Scandinavian, colorful feel—Wendy has Swedish heritage and spent a few years in Sweden, and really wanted to incorporate that style into the preschool," Katie explains.
An Abandoned Restaurant Transformed into Vibrant Preschool | Design*Sponge
"Historic homes always have surprises! The floors were probably our biggest challenge; there was a lot of different input about which color, whether to refinish, etc. but in the end we went with Wendy’s original gut feeling to go white," Katie shares. "The process of actually painting them was a challenge as well, because there were so many different people generously contributing their time to help with the renovations, and the building had to be empty for a few days after each coat to let the paint cure. It took about four weeks to get all of the painting and sealing done on the floors, but in the end it turned out so splendidly," Katie muses.
An Abandoned Restaurant Transformed into Vibrant Preschool | Design*Sponge
"The music room is Wendy’s primary teaching space, so it needed to include a workspace for her lesson planning as well as a piano as a great deal of her teaching involves music," Katie explains.
An Abandoned Restaurant Transformed into Vibrant Preschool | Design*Sponge
The fireplace isn't original to the space, but Katie and Wendy kept it as-is to reinforce the charm of the building.
An Abandoned Restaurant Transformed into Vibrant Preschool | Design*Sponge
The writing room surprised Katie during the renovation. She uncovered original pocket doors enclosed in the walls. After shining them out and removing layers of paint, the doors now are a functional feature between the two main teaching spaces - the writing room and the music room.
An Abandoned Restaurant Transformed into Vibrant Preschool | Design*Sponge
White walls and furniture are balanced with a floral mural to the right of the window.
An Abandoned Restaurant Transformed into Vibrant Preschool | Design*Sponge
The entryway before had dark green walls and a reception desk.
An Abandoned Restaurant Transformed into Vibrant Preschool | Design*Sponge
"The entry sets the tone for the preschool with bright white and some cheery pillows, and a spot for the kids to drop off their shoes and coats before they run in to play," Katie says.
An Abandoned Restaurant Transformed into Vibrant Preschool | Design*Sponge
The butterfly artwork is fitting for the entry of Chrysalis Preschool. Wendy's goal is that upon leaving her school, her student will have evolved enough to be ready for kindergarten.
An Abandoned Restaurant Transformed into Vibrant Preschool | Design*Sponge
"We used these IKEA media consoles as reading benches with the help of a few pillows and a whole lot of books," Katie shares.
An Abandoned Restaurant Transformed into Vibrant Preschool | Design*Sponge
"We didn’t want it to feel busy; we knew the space would be plenty busy with learning and play, so we opted to keep the palette simple and bright so that all of the fun toys and instruments that belong in a preschool would have room, without it feeling overwhelming," Katie says. "It was an unusual choice for a preschool, but starting with a base of white made all the difference in achieving an environment that felt bright and welcoming. And wipeable finishes were crucial!"
An Abandoned Restaurant Transformed into Vibrant Preschool | Design*Sponge
"The students rotate between the rooms during school, and the playroom is the first stop. They can get in character with the dressups hanging up, or work on spelling on the magnet wall before class time begins," Katie says.
An Abandoned Restaurant Transformed into Vibrant Preschool | Design*Sponge
"We had an antique door converted into a Dutch door for the entry so parents could see their kids in the playroom without the whole lot of them running out the front door," Katie explains.
An Abandoned Restaurant Transformed into Vibrant Preschool | Design*Sponge
The chalkboard wall is perfect for letter practice by Wendy's students.
An Abandoned Restaurant Transformed into Vibrant Preschool | Design*Sponge
Each room in the restaurant was used for dining. Katie and Wendy imagined this space as a greenhouse and sunroom that students can nurture and care for plants in gorgeous sunlight.
An Abandoned Restaurant Transformed into Vibrant Preschool | Design*Sponge
"We had this reclaimed wood worktop installed at an adorably low height to provide a counter space for planting and messier art projects," Katie says.
An Abandoned Restaurant Transformed into Vibrant Preschool | Design*Sponge
The green plants and cheery blue brackets give the space vibrancy.

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  • I love it!! I want to live in this preschool, haha. I’m not sure if I would have gone with the white floors since I’m sure the kids run in from playing outside and track in mud but I love the minimalist design.

    • I painted my upstairs bedrooms and hallway area almost six years ago with white high gloss floor and porch paint. All this time later and not one scratch and they are my easiest floors to keep clean and wash.

    • It was definitely a tricky decision! We decided that it would be a shoes-off school (like it was when it was in Wendy’s home), and we also used glossy paint with a couple of coats of poly on top to make it extra wipeable. :) They already held a few open houses for the public where everyone kept their shoes on, and it cleaned up beautifully! We were nervous about it, but painted floors can actually be pretty durable!

  • I want to go back to school – pre-school – or have my kids go here, but they are high school and University age – and live in Canada, but, but …… oh what a wonderful place to learn. You’ll have a wait list in no time. Stunning.

  • Hi again … I’d like to know the name/brand of the yellow door paint … thanks! Such a lovely space to move through … good luck with your preschool!

  • First, this space is gorgeous, I love these ideas for residential kids’ rooms, including those of my own! Bravo! In my day job, I work with a US state’s childcare licensing entity on center-based design, and from a licensing perspective, I see many elements that would likely not pass muster in my home state. Are there handwash sinks in the classrooms? Are you required to install plexi or other shatterproof covering on those beautiful stained glass windows? Is your licensing entity cool with those little Eames chairs, which could entrap fingers? I’m curious about the number of kids in your program, given that we have a minimum 35sf per child requirement for programmatic space. Is this a licensed center, or is this considered a family childcare program? I ask this respectfully out of my own interest in what other states may allow, as you’ve brought in absolutely fantastic, creative and beautiful ideas. I am just too aware of the design challenges that childcare providers in my area face when adapting former commercial spaces for licensed child care.

  • Wow this space turned out so well, amazing job. The bright walls with interesting posters, wallpapers, and random colorful home decor really makes this space look like a welcoming spot where learning and creativity comes the flourish. The dutch doors was an amazing idea, it is always nice to make sure your kiddo is safe, without having to disrupt things.

  • This is great! I am a teacher and would love to see more classroom spaces. I try to incorporate the Reggio Emilia approach with clean, natural elements, but it’s hard to keep all of the mainstream cartoony/primary colored business out of the space.

  • This is easily the most beautiful pre-school space I have ever seen. I wonder how my daughter’s daycare would feel about me offering to paint everything white? :)

  • This is amazing!! Such a beautiful space that will nurture lots of little minds ☺ I’d love to know where the rugs and any of the pillows are from!

  • SO pretty! I wish I could see this kind of care put into the design in all schools, because it is such a inspiring place to work! I would love to know where the reclaimed wood is from; I think something like that for my art room. Is it durable enough for paint and water? Thanks!

    • That’s so kind of you, thank you! The reclaimed wood was sourced locally by the carpenter, and sealed with several coats of polyurethane to make sure it would stand up to lots and lots of art projects. I think any reclaimed wood would do, as long as you seal it properly!

  • This is so beautiful! I have a toddler and while we love our preschool, this is just stunning! I’d love to know where the wooden alphabet is from – I’d love to hang one in our playroom. Thank you!!!

  • I saw the link for the wooden alphabet, and it says that the height of it is only about 2 ft tall… but the one in your preschool is very big…?? Could please find the right link, I would love to have one in my playroom for the kids.

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