In which we plant succulents outside and all my dreams come true

This wasn’t the first project we did at the new house. The first project we tackled was painting our master bedroom… and our master bathroom… and, for good measure, the guest bedroom. We tackled those first because we spent nearly a week in our house without ANY OF OUR STUFF. But that’s a story for another day… a day when I have edited “after” photos when my husband lives full time in California with me.

It’s important to share these updates because you may have noticed in the introductory post for the new house that I failed to take good “before” photos of the backyard. Now I can’t do that without bringing you up to speed on these quick updates we made soon after moving in.

Up first: Swapping this table for our fire pit.

While it was great to have this outdoor eating area when we were waiting for our things to arrive, it didn’t fit in our overall vision for the backyard for a lot of reasons. 1. We have a massive slab (aka future table) and designs for a larger outdoor dining room. 2. This seemed like the perfect spot for our fire pit.

The post of the table is cemented in place, so removing it just required a quick tour with the sawzall.

We kept the chairs – 2 for the fire pit and 2 for the interim outdoor dining area.

Project #2: A planter makeover.

There are approximately 1,000 planters/planting beds at this house. While most of them need to be converted in groups, this standalone guy (no pun intended) was an easy target for ALL OF THE SUCCULENTS! I love succulents and have a Pinterest board to prove it. (Ok, that sounds weird, but it is true.) They grow outside here and this may officially be heaven. So you shouldn’t be surprised when you see a lot of these make their way into our landscaping.

Boom!

Succulents + gray rocks. Be still my heart.

I intended to list the names for all these plants, but those photos are with Aaron in St. Louis. If you’re dying to know, leave me a comment and I’ll swing back with the info. In the meantime, I’ll just be sipping my wine gazing lovingly at these beauties.

Welcome to our SoCal mid century ranch

Even while living at the firehouse, we always lusted after mid century ranches. St. Louis has quite a few (not within our budget) and we’re obviously enamored with the simplicity of mid century modern design. I tell you this because I think it’s kind of cool that in giving up our “forever home” we landed in the only other style of home we’ve ever had heart eyes for.

So without further ado, I present our new home.

It’s a 3 bedroom, 2 bath 1,800 square foot ranch that has only been owned by one family before us. Let’s take a look inside and chat about our renovation plans. (Note: all of these photos are from the day of the inspection. None of the furniture is ours… although if you think we own a recliner you may be new here…)

Reno plans: We already want to paint the exterior, which sucks because the previous owners did a really nice job painting it before they put it on the market. But seriously that yellow beige has got to go! We’re envisioning a blue grey main color and black roof (more on that later). Ultimately, we’d like to change the front yard to water friendly, desert landscape. We’re already noodling it, but we may need help from a professional designer (suggestions please!) because landscaping isn’t our forte.

We also ran into a little bit of an issue trying to get our trailer parked on the pad to right of the driveway. So we’re nixing the light post and curved wall on the right and extending the concrete to the sidewalk. As we work on the exterior, we’ll eliminate the “country” leaning aspects (like the fixtures and the brick around the front door) to give it a sleeker vibe.

To the right of the entrance is a front living room. The photos don’t do the space justice, it’s rather large has gorgeous corner windows with extra deep sills.

Reno plans: The entire house is getting new flooring, so let’s get that out of the way up front. We’re just not carpet people and the Danes have only confirmed that by reveling in every square inch. They’re in heaven. I keep telling them to enjoy it while it lasts, but their very small grasp of the English language leaves me feeling like they’re not getting the message.

I digress. This space will likely become our dining room and contain a desk/working area. I think this will make more sense as we go so bear with me.

It opens into an existing dining area and the kitchen. So looking right you see this:

Looking left you see this:

The kitchen is rather compact… even more so when you realize the large open space in the photo below is the laundry area.

Both the kitchen and existing dining room look into the rear family room, which offers a TON of natural light from a huge slider, two doors and another set of corner windows.

Reno plans: Per usual, I’ll dedicate an individual post to major renovations before we dive in. I mention that because it’s a little hard to describe exactly what we’re going to do to the kitchen/dining areas without sticking you in the center of the space and gesturing… maybe a video is in order? Suffice it to say that we’re merging the spaces together to form a large kitchen, carving out a dedicated laundry room and adding a walk-in pantry. We’re planning to lose even more walls between the front room, kitchen and family room so the space feels super open.

Speaking of the family room, there were no photos of this space in the listing and it’s one of the reasons we fell for this place. Hello high ceilings. Hello fireplace.

The kitchen is to the right in the photo above. If you turn to the right, this is what you see… minus Aaron and the inspector. We’re amazed at the custom woodwork and the former owner’s ability to get a TON of storage in this home. But this bar has got to go. It’s totally impinging the flow in this space.

Here’s a shot looking to the other side of the room (with your back to the fireplace).

This corner includes a custom sewing area and you probably already guessed that it’s on the chopping block.

Reno plans: This space has some major issues with flow, mostly because every wall has a window, door or built-in. By the fireplace, we’ll install a different set of built-in cabinets to house our bar and hide a projector screen when it’s not in use. We’re also seriously considering moving the large sliders to the sewing area (in favor of a large window). More to come there. Oh and this space needs white paint like WOAH.

Back through the kitchen and down the hall you come to the smaller of the guest rooms, which we’re planning to turn into dedicated wine storage. Exact renovation plans are TBD, but paint and wine racking are obvious.

The guest bathroom was recently renovated, which is great. It would be more great if it wasn’t a melange of beige on beige on brown, but it works for now. This space also has a huge skylight, which I love.

Reno plans: This is lower on the list, but when we get it to it we’ll de-beige and make it match the rest of the house.

The actual guestroom is at the end of the hall on the left.

Reno plans: It’s mostly basic decorating in here: paint, new light/ceiling fan, then figuring out what furnishings and decor we keep from the captain’s bedroom.

At the end of the hallway to the right is the master suite.   

Reno plans: The bedroom is HUGE and the bathroom is tiny… and has a lot of awkward angles… and there’s no mirror over the sink. So it’s kind of a hot mess. When we get to it (this is probably at the very bottom of our list), we’ll do a total overhaul and give more space to bathroom. For now, paint will tide us over.

I did not take nearly enough photos of the backyard. Another post with some better shots is definitely in order. So let’s hold on that for now.

Three large sheds line the walkway to the garage and were another huge selling point for us. This eliminated the need for Aaron to build a sh-workshop because the storage space freed up all of the garage space for the larger tools.

And here’s the garage/future workshop. It’s #1 on the list (and already in progress) because we need those tools for the other renovations and there’s a BUNCH of boxes that I’d like to get out of my front living room.

Reno plans: Remove all the cabinets, patch the walls, paint, epoxy the floor, new electrical and lighting, then re-install everything that we JUST installed in the workshop at the firehouse. Moving is fun, guys! (Sarcasm)

I mentioned that Aaron got to see the house for the first time during inspections. His eye, along with a lot of input from various professionals, added several major projects to our list:

  • New roof (it was way past due and will require a full removal/replacement)
  • New furnace (it was original) and possibly adding air conditioning (because global warming)
  • New electrical panel and additional sub-panel in the garage
  • Stucco repair around the new electrical panel
  • Tenting for termites (a common need, that is normally covered by the sellers, but wasn’t in our case… and to get into that story I would really need to have you here in person… and a bottle of wine)
  • Minor fireplace repair

So, here we go again… albeit in a much more manageable space. Questions? Encouragement for a video? Or maybe just an extended story on Instagram?

Our SoCal house hunt

Figuring out where to live was a huge piece of the “should we move to California” equation. That’s probably not surprising given we were abandoning our dream home and care enough about our residence to blog about it. Per our usual form, we dove head first into learning about the area and considering our options, which ranged from crazy ideas like living in a relatively rural area (nixed when I drove on a “road” which was actually a dirt path and was convinced I would get my rental car stuck trying to get back to civilization) to crazier ideas like buying land, living in a trailer and building a huge workshop (nixed when we figured out the cost of running utilities to a vacant property & zoning restrictions).

What we settled on when we really got down to it was the following list of criteria:

  • Less than an hour commute from Thousand Oaks
  • Workshop space (probably in a two car garage, but bonus points for an oversized garage, three car garage or detached garage) for Aaron’s woodshop
  • A view and/or a very private backyard
  • Parking for our camping trailer
  • Minimum 1,500 square feet
  • Ideally, under $600k
  • Additional bonus points for a good kitchen, something with some of our style and fruit or palm trees (because California!)

Besides the budget, which is an obvious limitation (and actually increased over time, because California), the most important factor and the hardest to determine via the interwebs was WHERE we should look. We basically drew a circle around Thousand Oaks and looked at anything within 1 hour… which we eventually learned had to be 1 hour WITH traffic.

While we are far enough out that we don’t get “LA traffic”, rush hour is still a factor and that ultimately made us cut out areas like Santa Clarita, which was a bummer because there are magnificent mountain-side homes up there. I spent a lot of time outside work trying to get a feel for these locales so that that when Aaron came in for the “home buying trip” we could be a bit more strategic with our time. When we “narrowed” down our list (our poor realtor) we ended up looking at about 20 houses in Simi Valley, Fillmore, Ventura and Camarillo over the course of 4 days. Rather than recapping our months-long search in detail, I thought I’d give you the highlights of the four areas we seriously considered.

Simi

Simi Valley

By far, I looked at the most homes in Simi Valley and was pretty convinced that we would end up here. Not only is it relatively close to my work (via highway or surface streets if traffic necessitates) it sits in a valley and has very close, very beautiful mountain views… the kind of views that were driving us to leave the firehouse.

Simi (2)

The top contender in Simi Valley was a house on Colleen Street with a very secluded backyard and a personal mountain view. It had high ceilings in the great room and a lush private patio out front. In the negative column, it had a serious Spanish vibe and needed a kitchen like woah. The thing that blasted it to the top of the list and even helped us imagine life in some of the other homes we toured wasn’t even included on the listing. The backyard included a very large walk in shed which made us consider how much additional workshop space we could get in that shed or by replicating the set up elsewhere. Local building codes don’t allow for the addition of a large structure, but Aaron (ever the thinker) realized he could add two sheds, back to back and subvert the requirements. We quickly coined the term “Sh-workshop” for the shed/workshop we could build on any property with a big enough backyard.

Fillmore

Fillmore

Fillmore is a cute town nestled between mountain ranges, and with an iPhone, I have been unable to properly capture its beauty. It’s a bit of a drive from Thousand Oaks, and the route includes traversing a mountain (read: really twisty mountain road with no guardrail, which is probably my worst driving scenario….) Despite that, it was high on the list because of the value. It was one of the only areas where we could easily afford a three-car garage.

A40B8DFC-2EF9-414E-9DF2-D0F731B1EE2C

The very first house we fell for was in Fillmore. It had vaulted ceilings in the great room (there’s a theme here), three bedrooms, an orange tree, a two-car garage and an EXTRA FOUR CAR DETATCHED GARAGE. It was a dream set up for Aaron’s workshop, but by the time I saw it in person there was already an offer on the table and we weren’t far enough along in our process to be able to make our own offer.

When Aaron arrived, we still looked at quite a few places in Fillmore because value. We actually looked at some new builds (who are we?) and a super charming house in walking distance to downtown Fillmore. Ultimately, we crossed Fillmore off the list because it’s really far from everything… work… the beach… a Home Depot. It didn’t help that we drove from Fillmore to Ventura one day and got to see/feel the difference between living in a valley and living with an ocean breeze. Everyone kept telling me that it’s hotter to live in a valley, but driving a few miles and seeing the temperature literally drop made such a huge difference in our overall house hunt.

Ventura 2

Ventura

When we started looking in this area a LOT of people (here and in real life) told us that we would love Ventura. Honestly, I didn’t see it for a long time. It seemed no different than any other city in the area, except that it was closer to the ocean and therefore the houses were more of the beach bungalow variety (small) and more expensive. It finally clicked when we visited downtown Ventura after a day of house hunting. This super quaint area is filled with shops (antique, thrift and otherwise) and cute local restaurants. It is totally our jam. If we could have afforded to live in walking distance of that area, we would have become very serious about Ventura. Alas, budgets.

 

Camarillo

Camarillo

Camarillo was the last stop on Aaron’s whirlwind trip. I hadn’t spent much time in the area nor had any homes hit our radar that made us go “Ooooh!” So I went into the day thinking we would make an offer on the Simi Valley house. We planned to meet our realtor after lunch so we stopped at a Thai place beforehand and it was so good that I joked that we should buy in Camarillo just to be able to make this “our” Thai place. During the drive through Camarillo to the first house something clicked. Something about this town, with it’s cool ocean breeze (like Ventura) and the number of trees lining the streets, reminded us of a perfect resort town. We were crushing hard.

Cam1

The first house we saw was small – 1,400 square feet, which feels tiny when you’re coming from 5,500+ but the backyard was stunning. It had a charming dining area, plenty of grass and a space for a sh-workshop, but the thing that put it over the top was a terrace that looked weird in photos, but made so much sense in person. It offered the perfect home for multiple fruit trees and sitting areas with views of the mountains (and even the ocean on a clear day.) We were enthralled. We booked a second visit to the Colleen house in Simi Valley and it just didn’t have the same magic after experiencing the weather and seeing the yard at the Camarillo house. So we made an offer… a low offer… and it was rejected. It was a defeating blow to end Aaron’s trip, although the entire trip was invaluable for narrowing our search to Camarillo (with Simi Valley as a backup).

In the midst of this trip, we accepted an offer on the firehouse! That was such a relief, but it also put a bit of a time crunch on the house hunting. Our window to buy and move everything to a new house (rather than into storage) was quickly closing. Aaron headed back to St. Louis and almost immediately a new Camarillo house hit the market, this time on Rowland.

Cam2

It had high ceilings in the living and dining room, a good (albeit small) kitchen layout, the potential to open up the space between kitchen and living area, white walls (hello no painting), a good two car garage and a natural space for the sh-workshop. The biggest negative was the backyard. It backed up to several two-story homes, many of which looked down into the yard. The backyard also lacked landscaping. If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time, you may have noticed that landscaping is not our forte or our passion. Still the interior stole my heart and we deiced to make an offer. When our realtor called to find out the status she discovered there were already 4 offers, including one full price, cash offer.

So I did what anyone would do at this point: I cried. Stress and frustration (mostly at myself for falling for a house before it was ours) just welled up. I took a shower and eventually gave in to Aaron’s suggestion that we offer anyways, because you never know. I called it an early night and didn’t even write back to his text about a new-to-the-market house that looked promising.

Camhouse

Nothing recharges me quite like sleep and after the emotional rollercoaster of Rowland, it was just what I needed to look at yet another potential house. By the next morning Aaron was really excited about the new property, and when I looked I agreed that it hit just about every one of our requirements, which we tweaked slightly as we got to know the market. It had:

  • Good garage space
  • Laundry not in the garage (this is really common in the area, and besides not wanting to schlep my clothes in and out of the garage for cleaning, it would take away space from the workshop)
  • Sh-workshop potential – This property listing included three existing sheds on the left side of the house
  • Private backyard – It’s surrounded by single-story homes
  • 1,800 square feet – A little larger than average thanks to an add-on in the 70s
  • An extra wide driveway for parking the trailer

Having learned how quickly homes go under contract, we contacted our realtor immediately and found out there was a midday open house I could attend with her. The house was good enough that I awkwardly face-timed Aaron to give him a tour. Seeing it in person yielded a few additional positives and negatives for the house.

  • Positives included:
    • A vaulted great room in the rear of the house with a fireplace
    • Mature avocado tree
    • A peekaboo mountain view if you stand in the right spot of the backyard (“Peekaboo” may be a bit generous, but it makes me happy nonetheless)
    • A window and some vaulted storage in the garage
  • Neutral but interesting: There’s no direct access from the garage to the house, which worked just fine for us because it would be easier to contain the workshop as a workspace (including the inevitable sawdust.)
  • Negative: The laundry is in the kitchen.

For those of you who don’t know, the home buying process in California is very different from the Midwest. In the Midwest, you can view the seller’s disclosure before making an offer and once an offer is accepted, you’re pretty set. In California, buyers make offers with less information, but have 15 days to do the necessary inspections and can walk away much easier. So even though Aaron hadn’t seen the house, we decided to make a slightly above asking price offer. This was on the Thursday of Memorial Day weekend and we ended up having to wait until Monday for an answer. Ugh! In the interim, the realtor hosted THREE MORE open houses, which gave me a chance to scope out the house again and also caused us a bit of angst in the form of “JUST ACCEPT OUR OFFER ALREADY!” Ultimately, we were asked for a best and final offer and it was accepted!

In escrow, but not fully committed – emotionally (learned that lesson) or financially – we booked Aaron’s travel, a home inspection including scoping the lateral line (we always recommend this) and separate termite and HVAC inspections.

More details and loads more photos next time!

 

Assorted musings:

– If you need a realtor near Thousand Oaks or up into Santa Barbara, I can’t recommend Natalie Miller enough. She listened to our needs – explicit and our reviews of each home – and by the end she could tell as quickly as I could whether we would like a particular home. She made herself available for our whirlwind house hunting trip and expertly planned each day’s itinerary. Her service didn’t stop after the offer and she patiently answered our 101 questions about the details around buying in a brand new area of the country. On top of all that, she’s just a lovely person to hang out with and gives expert restaurant recommendations.

–        We looked at a house in Simi Valley that was completely turnkey – white walls, updated kitchen, good backyard, good RV parking – and it convinced me that we could never buy a house that is totally done. I felt like we kept wandering through the space and just NOT bonding with it. It was even a really good price, but we just didn’t care.

– The fastest way to turn this introvert into an extrovert is to make me move to an entirely new area. EVERYONE became a person to interview. “Oh you’re from here. Where do you live? Do you like it? Have you heard of Fillmore?” The most extreme example came one Tuesday evening when I drove to Fillmore to view the 4-car garage house. I stopped at a Mexican restaurant to grab a quick dinner and walked into the restaurant behind a threesome of elderly, local women, one of which invited me to dine with them. To which I would normally reply, “Oh, thanks but I’ll pass” but instead I said “Oh, do you live here, because if you do I will absolutely take you up on it.” They are incredible ambassadors for their town. Besides answering all of my questions, when it was clear that dinner would not arrive before my viewing appointment, they offered to buy my dinner and get it to go. I swung by their house on the way out of town, to grab my tacos and try to express my gratitude for their kindness.

The final firehouse post

It’s honestly hard to sum up the last few months and my thoughts about leaving behind our dream home. It’s been a gamut of emotions – sadness at seeing our courtyard empty (the only time I cried during the packing and moving), happiness about turning the firehouse over to the perfect family, trepidation, exhilaration, loneliness, and many times where I’ve tried to shut down the loss I feel at moving away from our family (blood and chosen).

IMG_0050

There’s only one thing left to do to wrap up this chapter of our lives: read the letter we drafted to ourselves where we captured all of our dreams for the space right after we bought the firehouse We wrote it, printed it and deleted the file. It has been sitting, awaiting our 5th anniversary of owning the firehouse – a point when we knew the firehouse would be done. Oh Past Aaron and Heather, I love your naivety.

IMG_0057

So in honor of the anniversary that will never be and faithfully re-typed to match the original, I present our first love letter to the firehouse.

Dear future Aaron and Heather (and firehouse),

Your past selves thought it would be fun (ok, maybe just Heather did) to write up all of the crazy plans we have for our dream house (looking at your firehouse), seal up this love note and open it 5 years later to see how things have changed. We already know that a space this big is bound to have some surprises. In fact, we’re still reeling bit from the discovery that our neighbor beat us to the punch and bought the lot at 3930. Suck! So, our original plans have already taken a hit, but that’s ok.

Since we’re on the subject, let’s cover a few exterior details. We’re building in some funds to add windows to the bottom floor. Yay natural light! In lieu of the plan change, we’ll buy the 3938 lot and fence that in. It will make a great yard, but we really need to think about connecting it to the house at some point. Maybe a picture window or French doors in the living room? Part of the construction funds we’re building in to the loan will cover a new patio and carport. Within the first year, we’ll add a garage door to close the loop so we can let Mojo out to do her business solo. We’re also thinking about an overhang and maybe some ivy for the outside. Of course, we’ll have some sort of fire pit and eventually enclose the garage. We have plans for concrete planters and we’ll need wood storage. Also, I’m toying with the idea of doing a small garden, especially for herbs. Aaron mentioned something about a small greenhouse, but I still have no idea what he is talking about. We need a spot to stick the trailer. Right now we’re thinking we’ll just claim the alley that apparently runs by the building as our own and use it for the trailer. Ultimately, we’d like to buy this strip of land and fence it in as well.

The studio will obviously be the first room we tackle. Everything is getting a coat of white paint. Aaron plans to build a platform for his desk, and the meeting area will be a 3-sided cube that is painted black. I’ll score some office space in the back and the windows between the studio and living spaces are coming out. We also have a space for a huge conference table, which Aaron wants to build. Of course, the whole space needs lighting and a gallery system. An end grain wood wall is in the plans to cover the furnaces. Long term, we want to fix the garage door and figure out a screen system to let in some fresh air. It’s a lot of work, but it’s the top priority so I doubt much will change. Although who knows what our style will look like five years later.

We have grand plans for the living room, dining room and kitchen. Ultimately, we want to build a Scandinavian-style, wood-burning fireplace in the living room. We’ll probably keep a TV in there, but it won’t be the focal point. Aaron has plans for a big table in the dining room, which will rest under an oversize, multi-bulb chandelier we’ve been dreaming about for a few years. We’d love to open the kitchen up by cutting the end off the long wall and adding an island. We’ll add cabinetry to the outer wall and a built-in microwave and wall oven near where the range used to live.

Oh and we recently decided that we’d love to put radiant heat floors in the whole bottom level. We would probably raise the floor up an inch or two to take out some of the awkward concrete risers (near the entryway from the studio and in the kitchen).

Upstairs is a bit of a conundrum. There is a ton of space, but it’s not the most functional. We have two trains of thought: either accept the layout and make the best of it or completely blow out the rear half and rearrange it. If we leave it as is, the captain’s bedroom becomes a guestroom. We’re still muddling over the attached bathroom because there are not fixtures. We’ll either deal with it when we update the kitchen or scrap it and turn it into a large closet. (Not that we need more storage in this place.) The other room will be a workout room and secondary guestroom. We’re thinking a futon will work well in there. We would like the main area to be a great TV/movie watching space, complete with a projector and Aaron-build mega couch. Skylights almost made the list for the loan-funded renovations, but we’ll have to address those later.

Aesthetically, this living room needs some work. We’ll take down the plaster on the outer wall to expose the brick and then paint it white. All of the rooms need painted and the original firehouse doors need to be refinished. The floors… ugh… the floors. We’re not sure the coating will actually come up without grinding it off. It’s a possibility, but we’re also considering painting it or covering it with another flooring medium (reclaimed wood or glossy tile).

Even if we change the layout, we’ll probably still keep 2ish bedrooms and a living space. Our current thought is to take the back section (captain’s bedroom and associated living space) and turn that into a family room. The hallway would be extended and a bedroom would be added to the left. We want to live with the space for awhile before we decide.

No matter what, we’re keeping the super awesome community bathroom. A little paint, cleaning and new faucets are at the top of the list. Aaron also has plans for an uber modern LED panel ceiling to replace the ugly drop ceiling. We’re also excited that one of the shower stalls will become a Mojo washing area. I’m already planning to wash her once a month. We’ll see how long that promise stays in effect.

The 4th “bedroom” has absolutely no use to us right now. It’s too small and there’s no window. It will probably become a catch all for now and may become another guestroom long term.

We have very few plans for the laundry room, except to fix the holes in the floor and add some clothes drying racks.

The master suite will be another major overhaul. I can’t wait to take down the half wall but since it’s the ONLY space to put our bed, it’s safe for now. Ultimately we want to take out the closet to the right (as you enter). The pole closet may stay, but I’d lobby for taking that out too if we can make the other closet work. Of course the other closet isn’t perfect. A pole closet (and the associated hole in the floor) needs integrated to make it one chunk of usable space. The master bath has an odd layout, but we may leave it just to avoid punching more large holes in the floor. No matter what, the finishes need to go. “Suburban Fuck” is probably our favorite term right now. Aaron will finally get the rain shower he’s always dreamed of. I’m thinking a claw foot or modern tub in place of the whirlpool tub that is already there.

Oh and let’s not forget that we have a huge basement, which will also get utilized after we Drylok it. We’ll keep some space for storage, but the back left corner is going to be Aaron’s workshop. We’ll need some space to build all the furniture on his list. Arguably my favorite “Oh my gosh this is really our dream house” moment will stare you in the face when you walk down the stairs: a wine cellar. Aaron’s designs for that seem to get a bit more show stopping each day. I can’t wait to see what we end up with. When we were proofing this note, we decided that the stairway would look awesome drenched in a single color. We’re also thinking of adding an on-demand water heater down there.

We’ve had a few CRAZY ideas that I thought I’d include. Originally, I wanted to keep mine a secret, stick it in this letter and see if we get around to it. But because I’m the world’s worst at keeping a secret from Aaron, I already told him. I think it would be cool to add a floating (or really open) staircase to the roof and have a rooftop patio. We don’t necessarily need more space, but it would be really cool. Of course, he trumped me by suggesting a glass room off the living room. Sadly with the change in what property we can purchase that will likely never be a reality. I still thought it would be fun to include.

So that’s where we’re going as of right now. In between now and where you stand, I’m sure we’ve done a lot of hole filling, painting, demoing, building and more. Hopefully it was all worth it.

Dear Past Aaron and Heather. It was worth it. Every minute.

We took the firehouse as far as we could in the time it was ours. The sale helped us afford a life and a home in California. And that’s exactly where we’re headed, with this blog and in real life. We hope you’ll stick around for the next chapter of our journey. We already have lots of plans for our new space.

Next time: the California house hunt

What a difference paint makes

NOTE: We accepted an offer! While it will always be bittersweet to leave this place, we do so in full confidence that the new buyers love it as much as we do. (They sent us a letter. I cried.)

It’s probably not a surprise that the process of interviewing for, thinking about and ultimately accepting a role that would relocate us happened over the course of many, many days. During the very necessary interim period, we faced a major choice in the downstairs renovation: finish it the way we wanted or finish it to sell. In order to put that decision off until the future became more clear, we started making changes to other areas of the firehouse. It was a list of “If we move, we’re that much further ahead and if we don’t at least we have made some of our untouched spaces better.”

First up on that list was the master bathroom. It was a good target because all it needed was paint and virtually anything would be better than the light blue it was already sporting.

Before:

016secondfloorbefore

After:

FirehouseFinals0064

We wanted to go with gray to tone down the blue in the tile (which the old paint color highlighted) and to tie it into the master bedroom. We coated our bedroom in Behr’s Dark Cavern about three years ago, which is apparently long enough for Behr to discontinue a color. In lieu of going with a lighter shade of that, we opted for Behr Silver Bullet.

Ultimately, it reads a bit too dark in this space, but I’m splitting hairs because it looks so much better overall! We opted to paint the trim around the tub to give it more of “built-in” feel and less of a “LOOK AT ALL THE WHITE TRIM” vibe. That’s all this space needed besides art, a fresh coating of caulk in the shower and fixing the GFCI outlet that never worked (because the previous owner ran a wire that stopped mid hallway and was helpfully marked “master bathroom,” but not helpfully connected to an outlet. I just can’t.)

At this point, we still didn’t have a clear answer on move vs. stay. So we decided to tackle the “4th bedroom.” It has always had quotes around it because it’s never been used as a bedroom and, as previously mentioned, good friends of ours didn’t even know this room existed. Basically it was a sometimes organized storage space with no windows, very little light and a furnace dominating the room (you can see it at the top left of the photo below). To get this space ready to sell (or just happier to look at if we stayed), we needed to repair some peeling plaster on the ceiling, give it a paint makeover (the ceiling was teal), install a new fan and light (and center it between the air ducts), and install new floors.

We had a few decisions to make regarding the paint and the floors. Initially, we dubbed this whole project: Project Greige…. as in, we have to go with a “sell-able” color and grey/beige is popular. After looking at a lot of greige swatches (and losing a little bit of our souls) we decided we just couldn’t do that to the firehouse. Instead, we opted to go for a light gray that we would like in our extra bedrooms and could continue through the downstairs spaces if we did renovate to sell. We grabbed a bunch of swatches and settled on Behr White Metal, which happens to be one shade lighter than the Silver Bullet we used in the master bath.

Floors were another adventure, but let’s look at a before/after set first!

016Four_years_in

FirehouseFinals0052

We installed a new fan and LED light kit, along with a light in the closet (not pictured) which made a huge difference in the space. We also wanted to cover up the furnace, but not totally enclose it and screw over the next owners. The best solution we came up with was a huge curtain. It does a great job of not drawing your eye to the ceiling and also won’t be in the way for any maintenance that is needed. (Thanks to my mom for her seamstress skills!)

We also put in new floors! And that is a story in itself. Originally, we wanted to match the floors in the workout room. They weren’t particularly nice, but at least we wouldn’t be introducing another floor type to the building. (Feel free to scroll down to the next pic to see what we were working with.)

We looked online with little success and decided to pull a piece of the floor to take to Home Depot. The option that came the closest was some of the cheapest, ugliest, still doesn’t super match floor I have ever seen. We kept wandering the aisle looking for something else… anything else. In doing so, we noticed a clearance palette of some really pretty, dark brown engineered hardwood. It’s a perfect mid-century tone and we instantly said “Oooh we wish we could put this in… but then we’d also have to re-do the workout room…” I’m sure you know where this is going…

We decided that having some hardwood floors in the firehouse would only help with the value. So we bought enough for the 4th bedroom, workout room and downstairs living nad dining rooms. (You may remember that the epoxy floor downstairs space we irrepriably damaged when we left a piece of treated plywood on it for too long. Oops!) If anyone in St. Louis happened to also fall in love with Home Legend Wire Brushed Forest Trail Hickory engineered hardwood at the clearance price of $1.53 a square foot, sorry not sorry but we cleaned out all the stock in the metro area… and bought a few boxes online at full price.

So that’s the story of how we decided to put down new floors in the workout room. It also (desperately) needed paint… because the sea foam green/dark purple/light purple combo wasn’t working for anyone. The benefit of putting down new floors is that we could spray in this space and not have to worry about protecting the floors. It also made it much easier to paint some of the “WHY DID YOU PAINT THAT” items, like the duct work, which was sporting green stems and purple vents… because who doesn’t want to highlight their HVAC in contrasting colors….

This space also got a coating of Behr White Metal, including the small amount of exposed brick. Sorry exposed brick purists. It made more sense and I’m in love with how it turned out.

015Four_years_in

FirehouseFinals0049

011openhousecleaningfrenzy

FirehouseFinals0050

Truth be told – at this point, we hired painters to help speed some of the renovations along, and I regret nothing! I have never felt so fancy as when we had someone else painting spaces in our house. Besides being a luxury it also made sense considering the amount of work we needed to be done. At this point we knew we were MOVING!

I’m so happy with this change… so happy that it makes me think “maybe we should have done this sooner.” More on that later. Besides the paint and floors, we did some plaster repair, replaced the light kit on the fan and finished some trim work in the closet and around the door.

The awesome bathroom was up next. It is one of the least photographed spaces in our home. Probably because until about a week before listing it had a drop ceiling with damaged tiles (from a fixed roof issue) and missing tiles that allowed an ugly fluorescent light to hang below it. I never took proper before photos of this space, and I regret it. Aaron replaced the ceiling tiles, added recessed LED lighting and fixed the duct work. The difference is incredible! I can’t show you that, but what I can show you is the awesome dark blue paint we picked.

008secondfloorbefore

BAM!

FirehouseFinals0045

I love this color so much. It really draws your eye to the beautiful stone, and thanks to the new lighting the space is bright despite the darker color.

That completed ALL of the rooms in the upstairs and it was so weird to be completely finished with an entire floor of the firehouse!

The kitchen needed a little prep work, like taking down the exit sign and conduit, but this transformation is mostly thanks to paint and I basically can’t….

006masterplan2014

FirehouseFinals0027

001kitchenbefore

FirehouseFinals0028

GAH! It looks so good. That yellow glazed brick was making this room so, so sad. If you haven’t caught the theme yet, the paint is Behr White Metal. It makes everything in this room look better – the cabinets, the countertops and the floors.

And so, do I wish we would have done this earlier? We’ve gotten that question from quite a few people. The answer is yes… and no…

Yes, because OMG look at that kitchen! And the workout room feels like a chic Ney York City loft.

But, actually, no… because I stand behind our rationale for tackling spaces one at a time and doing them to completion. We took a long view because we were in it for the long haul. Painting a space just because seemed a bit like a waste, let alone paying for and installing new floors and lighting. The captain’s bedroom is a good reminder that when we do a space from top to bottom is sings. It wouldn’t be nearly as beautiful if we had simply painted.

So while I’m happy that we touched these spaces (which needed to be done just to sell this place as finished) I don’t see our ultimate vision. They fit with the look of the firehouse, but they don’t feel like us. A coworker asked if it has been emotional to let go of the firehouse. It has. But projects like this – finishing spaces but not feeling like their ours – have helped us (or at least me… Aaron is still recuperating from many, many weeks of work. I’ll ask him when he wakes up) begin to see this place as someone else’s home.