Soggy bottom (floor)

File this post under: It could have been worse.

One day over the winter we walked into the basement to find moisture around the cracks in the basement floor. You might remember that before we moved in, we spent a few evenings sealing the walls of the basement. We didn’t touch the floors because there were no signs that water was an issue.

So what changed? We’re not really sure. Maybe the water table shifted? Maybe the manhole they filled in our alley caused water to back up. No matter the cause, we were getting more and more water in the basement each time it rained. Aaron set up a camera to confirm the source.

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We needed help! A variety of quotes left us with a “for now” option at a few grand or a “make it right” option at several grand more than that.

Let me back up. I mentioned that we’re not tackling the kitchen as part of the first floor reno because of financing. The long story is that we always planned to refi the firehouse after 1 – 2 years to ditch the PMI and use the equity to overhaul the living space on the first floor (kitchen included.) Then we got totally screwed by our appraisal. Our mortgage guy said he’s never seen an appraisal that was so far off of expectations. And thanks to the mortgage crisis we had no recourse for getting a different opinion unless we wanted to wait 30 days (and risk interest rates increasing) then roll the dice with another appraiser AND pay for the new appraisal. The amount of money we could take out based on the (crappy) appraisal wouldn’t cover the kitchen reno, but it was more than we needed to cover the renovations of the rest of the space. It was an angsty night in the firehouse when we realized that our dream kitchen was further off than we planned.

After some thought (and maybe some wine), I pointed out that the thing holding us back from entertaining the way we want to isn’t the kitchen. The kitchen works. I can make some great food in that kitchen. What IS holding us back is the lack of a dining room and chillaxin space. So we decided to take all the money we could, focus on everything except the kitchen, and use any extra funds on a different project (maybe the wine cellar?!)

Fast forward to the water in our basement. The “make it right” quote equaled the extra funds we received from the refi. If that isn’t a “it happened for a reason” moment, I don’t know what is. While it will never be the way we WANT to spend money, it was a relief to know that we had the money to take care of the basement. We have way too many tools and bottles of wine going down there to worry about everything being ruined by water.

So, what I didn’t mention in the week from hell post, was that we also had a crew working to dig out the perimeter of the basement and install a weeping system that should keep us water free. It was one more thing during the week that had us a little on edge and kept Aaron super busy acting as a general contractor and new puppy warden. So many words! Let’s get to some pictures.

The crew started by jack hammering the perimeter of the basement and most of the landing. Then they dug two feet down to get past the footings.

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Weeping tile and corrugated drain pipe was added to direct any excess water to the sump pump. Then everything was covered with fresh concrete.

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So far, so good. There’s no water and we have a multi-year guarantee from the company that it will remain dry.

If you’ve been following closely, you’ll know that the basement workshop was supposed to be done over a year ago. Instead Aaron decided to surprise me with a living room makeover that took a bit more time and effort than he thought. That led straight into getting our fence and garage finished… which led into a vacation and prime wedding season… You get the picture. It kept getting put off. There have been many times I’ve walked through the construction zone that is the living/dining room and wished that the workshop was done. BUT I’m so glad that it fell down the list so none of that work had to be undone to fix the water problem. Now that the basement is sealed and the trailer is OH SO CLOSE, Aaron can (finally) turn his full attention to the workshop.

Plans for the first floor

Now that the dust has settled (and been removed) let’s chat about the major reno for the year. We’re taking on most of the rest of downstairs. Functionally, that means we’re tackling the entry cube (fire hose lights, your days are numbered), downstairs living room, dining room and half bath. Here’s a bit of the floor plan for reference.

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When we are done, the only part of the first floor that will be relatively untouched is the kitchen. We really wanted to tackle everything at once, but a financing hiccup put the kitchen on hold. It’s a bit of a bummer (and a story for a different day) but we’re both very excited to use space that has basically been a landing zone/construction area the entire time we’ve lived here.

So what’s on tap? Here’s a high level overview.

Overall

  • Finish the HVAC
  • Fix the drywall
  • Remove and repair the plaster on the ceiling
  • Paint walls, ceiling and now the floor, because blah

Entry cube

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This connects the studio to the living space. The only “finished” thing about it is the lights. Besides that it’s a jumble of half-mudded drywall. Here’s what we’ll do:

  • Ditch the fire hose lights (Don’t worry. We’ll find a good home for them.)
  • Install a commercial door that fits the character of the space
  • Hang a new light and maybe some art

Half bath

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This small bathroom got a big upgrade when we replaced the windows on the first floor before we moved in. It’s totally functional, which is great because it gets a lot of use since it is the only bathroom on this floor. This space only needs some cosmetic touch ups:

  • Refinish the sink
  • Fix the ceiling – It has some random holes, a few fans (one works, one doesn’t) and an old, ugly light fixture
  • New lighting
  • Add some functional storage and a mirror

Dining room

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The dining room also got a new window. Since then it has basically been a staging place for tools, except for the one time I cleaned it before our open house. In this area, we’ll:

  • Add a window
  • Procure/buy new furniture (we’re pondering a custom table)
  • Build the coolest light fixture we can imagine that we’ve wanted to hang somewhere for years
  • Finish it with art and accessories, maybe an indoor tree?

When we tackle the kitchen, we’ll bust down the wall between these spaces. In the interim, we’re going to close the kitchen off with a swinging restaurant door and new frosted glass for the transom.

Living room

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We have big plans for this space! We already have a very comfortable TV/movie watching area, so we want this to function as a great place to relax and entertain. We’ll still incorporate a TV (in case we want to toss the football game on during Thanksgiving) but the main focus will be chilling in front of the fireplace. Here’s the plan:

  • Add TWO news windows that flank a new fireplace (EEE!) You can sneak a peek at the layout at the end of this post.
  • Create (or buy) a storage unit that includes a hidden TV and firewood storage
  • Layer in furnishings, accessories, lighting and art

This project is actually slated to start AFTER the workshop, but we wanted to take advantage of the nice weather to get the windows cut out (by a mason) and then installed (by Aaron.) So I’ll have another post on that when they go in, then work in this space will halt while we get the workshop done and finally make a home for the tools.

Powering the basement and starting the first floor reno

One advantage to living in a space before you make any changes is that you really get the chance to think about things and get input from other people. A big hurdle for the basement, in particular the workshop, is the lack of power. There is only one circuit down there, which, frankly, isn’t enough for all the power tools and lights that need to live in that space. Aaron was resigned to only using one tool at a time, when a conversation with my dad led to the revelation that adding a sub-panel would be remarkably easy.

It required running conduit from the panel in the living room, through the studio and down to the basement through the furnace room. Which worked out really well, because we already needed to reroute some electrical runs in the living room to account for two new windows we want to add.

Let’s take a look. The living room power ran from the panel, over the stairwell door and then down to provide outlets in the space.

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We decided to push all of this higher and add a run of conduit to power the basement subpanel. While this is well within Aaron’s capabilities, in the interest of time, we decided to get a few quotes for the work. The winning bid came out to just a few hundred dollars for labor (we considered parts a wash as we would need them no matter who did the work), which seemed well worth it! Over the span of a few days, the electrician added the new runs and removed the unnecessary conduit.

Before

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After (Don’t worry. We replaced the cover on the panel.)

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Before

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After – The conduit is much higher! It’s touching a portion of the wall that the previous owner decided to paint (well… started painting) black. Because it’s always a good idea to make your ceiling feel lower than it is. (Sarcasm.) Eventually, this will all get painted (predictably) white.

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Before

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After

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Before

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After

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This is a super functional update, but it paved the way for exciting things, like new windows (!!!) and FINALLY tackling the workshop. And maybe you already figured out from the tape that we’re going to add a fireplace! I’ll give you the full low down on the plans for the first floor in the next post.

Last week and an addition to the firehouse (4 more paws!)

Last week was one for the history books. And I’m glad that it’s finally history. It was a rough one.

Let’s start with the good stuff. The highlight by far was bringing a new addition to the firehouse. Meet Hank!

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When we moved into the firehouse (after a few cocktails one evening) we got it into our head that with so much space we could totally handle another dog. Mojo is AHmazing, but sadly she won’t be with us forever. She has always been great with other dogs and puppies so we reasoned that we should get another dog (Great Dane was an easy decision) while she was still around to help an maybe instill some of her good qualities. Plus we figured having a playmate would keep her active.

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Thus far she isn’t quite sure how to handle Hank. We think the size difference is making her leery of any sort of playing. Mostly she tries to sleep on a different bed than him, even if it means wedging herself into his puppy-sized bed. He’s doing his best to play with her, but is appeased with the million toys we’ve pulled out from her younger days.

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He is absolutely adorable, which totally makes  up for all of the pee I’ve cleaned off the floor. But seriously, he’s really smart and already doing great in the kennel overnight.

Unfortunately, he (and we) walked into the most chaotic week we’ve ever shared as a married couple. I owe you SO many posts, but we started some of the contractor-fueled parts of the living room/dining room makeovers. First up was cutting holes for three new windows! Working through three layers of brick stirred up a lot of dust and a tear in the plastic + complete oversight at blocking the top of pole closet left our house a complete disaster. (In case you don’t know/remember the floors in the picture below are actually dark brown.)

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When we filmed our House Hunters: Where Are They Now episode, they asked for any and all crazy renovation stories. The only one we could come up with (which I talk about briefly in the episode) was when the paint started melting off our studio walls. That was bad. This was so much worse.

Not only did we not see this coming, it totally ruined (albeit, temporarily) most of our second floor. I’ve talked about it briefly before, but I firmly believe the way we get through renovations is by creating a sanctuary. It’s any no-reno zone that we can retreat to. Usually it’s our living room and on Tuesday it was coated in a 1/16 inch of dust.

Our newly refinished guestroom actually took the brunt of the dirt. It was basically like the dust dancer from Adele’s Rolling in the Deep video… except with less dancing… and more tears. Basically it was horrific.We were both completely overwhelmed. And the dust wasn’t done. Wednesday, Thursday and even Friday created a cloud that really couldn’t be stopped even when we doubled down on plastic and tape. The stairwell, the kitchen, the guestroom, the outdoor patio and garage were all coated. Not to mention the scene of the crime – the living room/dining room.

We kept the upstairs living room at a tolerable level and opted to tackle the living room/dining room/construction zone ourselves on Sunday. For the rest, we called in reinforcements. Today (literal) angels  from Green Angels descended on the firehouse and restored peace and order. Over the course of a day, they cleaned nooks and crannys that would have taken us weeks to address. My kitchen has never been so clean. I keep noticing things they touched, places that sparkle and being amazed. And, for the first time in a week, we are both able to breathe a sigh of relief.

I owe you SO many posts (more puppy pics, plans and windows in the living/dining rooms, more pics of furniture in the guestroom now that is has been cleaned), but I wanted to drop in and document this moment, even if it’s only for us to look back on. We’re doing so many things (puppy, new windows) that will pay off over time. I want to be able to look back and say “That really sucked, but it was really worth it.”

In front of the camera

Sorry for the radio silence. We have SOO much going on right now and not enough hours in the day. So I’ve been prioritizing wine and the couch over blogging. I’m sure you understand. We’re friends like that.

A few weeks ago, before things got crazy, we coaxed our friend, Stacey, to this side of the state to take our picture. We can be incredibly awkward in front of the camera, which is why Stacey’s “day in the life” session was perfect. It doesn’t hurt that we’re already friends, and he and Aaron bond over the love of film cameras. #photonerds Stacey brought a bunch of film (!!!) and we took him out to our favorite spot in St. Louis: a beach on the Mississippi River that only exists in the winter months when the water level is low. It’s the perfect spot to explore: cameras for us and nose to the ground for Mojo.

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And, because it wouldn’t be us if we didn’t WORK on something, we also used the trip to grab some (too much?) driftwood. The shot below is one of my favorites from the day!

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Then we headed back to the firehouse for some forced cuddle time out front. Because when you have a firehouse blog, people will ask you for pictures of your FACES in front of the firehouse. Weird, right? So we decided to get some proper blog profile pics.

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The only problem is that now I want to redo this shoot when everything is leafed out and green…

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Then it was time for dinner and relaxing in the courtyard, as you do.

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I love all of these images. They really do capture what life is like for us right now…. well, the days we’re not working on the firehouse. Trust that we basically killed ourselves before Stacey arrived to make sure the guestroom was ready for a human occupant.

I’ll be back (maybe next week?? It’s going to be a crazy one) with some more substantial updates. As always, if you want a sneak peek or a real-time look at our lives, feel free to follow me on Instagram.