Checking in

It’s been a bit of an unintended absence the last few weeks and I apologize. It felt like we literally spent the last few days of the 2015 hanging onto a thread and hoping the universe wouldn’t notice and send some other tragedy our way. It worked and 2016 has really turned the corner! So I thought I would check in, chat a bit, show you pictures of our dogs. It’s basically like my Instagram account, but with more words.

The flood waters have receded

Like the rest of St Louis, we faced an unprecedented amount of water falling from the sky in the warm weather of late December. Our basement nearly flooded. Truthfully we were only saved by the drainage system, which Aaron was able to divert most of the leaks into. Our sump pump ran constantly. I spent a sleepless night worrying about the basement literally filling up with water. At the peak of the crisis, water started shooting in OVER Aaron’s head. It was like the firehouse was suddenly built in the middle of a pond.


But it precipitated (see what I did there) a welcome change. The massive amounts of water and a call from one of our neighbors (we’re not sure who, we tried to to call the sewer department and couldn’t get through) brought out a crew to pump the storm drain. That gave us a chance to tell them about the entire truck of concrete that was emptied into a now nonexistent manhole in preparation for tearing down the building by the substation. That prompted a massive project to fix the line and now the water is gone. It’s like it never happened. Barring an act of God (or another misplaced load of concrete) we think our basement is finally once again safe… and now has added protection thanks to the drainage system.

The workshop is happening

FOR REAL. I’m a broken record when it comes to this space, but things are getting real down there. The lockers are in place and full of supplies. The dining room is being freed of construction paraphernalia. And if it weren’t for an incorrect order of pvc pipe joints (it was marked incorrectly on Home Depot’s side) we would be JUST about done with that space. You’ll get a real update soon!

I got a Roomba!

Aaron surprised me (despite our “no gifts this Christmas”) with a Roomba he scored on an awesome Amazon deal. It is AHHHHHmazing! I feel so fancy, like a have a cleaning lady… even though she’s really only good at floor maintenance.


Hank is huge!

Hank is still growing, but we think he’s reached his max height. The situation behind the couch went from this…


To this:


So that is what’s new with us. Things will get back to their regularly scheduled programming around here very soon. We’ve got our sights set on the dining room/living room and can’t wait to get going!

New desk and new(ish) conference table

I’ve hesitated to call the studio completely done because we’ve been reserving a space in the rear for a conference/work table. Exhibit A


We’ve even been hoarding a table base for it since late 2014. (Should I be embarrassed by that??) But as you probably know, 2015 didn’t leave much time for extra projects.

We can cross this need off the list thanks to Ikea, which opened just down the street from us last autumn. We used our first free weekend from weddings to check it out and walked out spending just over $100, which is a massive feat and probably deserving of some sort of medal. The trip reminded us that Ikea is offering sit/stand desks, and after mulling over it all night I told Aaron just to go get one. So the second trip to Ikea was not as easy on the wallet, but it resulted in this new set up.


Ikea has a cool powered base for around $400, but we opted for the cheaper, man-powered Bekant frame that came in at just $119. After installing a white top, some cable organizers and a felt half wall that hides some of the mess, Aaron was up and running (standing?) with a new office.


So far we’re really happy with the quality of the desk, and he has yet to lower it to a seated position. This may be because I stole his desk chair… but to be fair I’m rarely in the studio during normal business hours so he could take it back anytime he wanted.

That left us with a spare table. (Here’s a tip: if you need a big desk just buy a table. It’s usually cheaper than an oversized desk.) And we had the perfect spot for it.


Ultimately, Aaron will probably still build something to sit on the other table base, but for now this works great. It also makes this area look less like a chair graveyard. Those beauties are in a holding pattern and destined for the dining room.



We are dangerously close to calling this space finished! According to the list, we only have a few items left:

  • Build a cool light fixture to hang over the conference table <– Probably will get scratched because we don’t really need more light here
  • Build a new front door <– We need a workshop for this. Any guesses as to what is at the VERY TOP of the list for this year?
  • Design and build a screen door for the garage door <– Interesting concept…. I would give this a 5% chance of actually happening


Good bye, 2015, and good riddance

There’s an adage that goes, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I generally subscribe to that for blogging. Besides the fact that I doubt you want to come here and read a Debbie Downer tale, I certainly do not want to look back and vividly remember the low times. I’m a glass half full kind of gal.

So it means something when I say, “This year kind of sucked.”

Mainly, we are frustrated by the lack of progress on the things we wanted to tackle at the firehouse. We’ve also hit a LOT of bumps in the road

On top of that, our wedding photography season kept us running like crazy until we escaped for a short trip to London in November. So the last part of the year was a bit of a whirlwind.

To cap it all off (literally), we had to get a new roof.


After London, I continued to Hamburg for a work conference and Aaron flew home to what I imagine was one of the worst nights of his life. In the midst of extremely heavy rain, the leak in the awesome bathroom re-opened and two leaks in our living room sprung up. So he spent the evening watching his hard work in the living room literally crumble.


The good news is we already have a roof company (MLK Construction/St. Louis Roofing Company) that we know and trust. The bad news is that we have to eat Ramen for the entirety of next year. (I kid! … But send wine.)

Unwilling to let the structure of our house crumble, we opted for a full re-covering.

(Photos below from MLK Construction. I don’t need anyone getting the impression that I would willingly climb a 40 ft ladder.)


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In another good bit of news, they were able to start and finish our project within one week of signing the contract.

We are so happy with everything and highly recommend MLK Construction. They do everything you expect from a service provider and things you rarely receive from contractors (respond promptly, provide a range of options, tell you where you need to spend money and what is overkill).

They went above and beyond in so many ways: reinforcing our ceiling hatch (which we have yet to open from the inside), removing the terra cotta caps and waterproofing underneath, working late into the night on Saturday and blowing the crud (and leaves) off of our driveway.

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So that’s it! Not much else can go wrong this year. (RIGHT? We had a slight scare when Ameren showed up last week asking to look at the power pole in our backyard that is SURROUNDED by concrete poured for our patio. Thankfully the pole is not rotting… and we feel like we dodged a bullet.)

2015 is winding down and we are so ready for (even a symbolic) shift to a new year. 2016 – we are coming for you! We have plans!

Thanks, as always, for coming by our little corner of the interwebs. We truly appreciate all the love and support that comes our way as we tackle this crazy dream of ours. We are absolutely giddy to tackle the projects that got delayed (looking at you, downstairs living and dining rooms) and sharing them with you next year. Cheers, friends!

All I want for Christmas is a guy with a Bobcat

Really, all I wanted for Christmas was a Roomba, but Aaron got that for me. So the guy with a Bobcat moved to the first slot on the list.

I should probably explain.

We talked about it briefly when we bought the extra, extra lot, but property in the city is weird. In the suburbs you have a yard and your neighbor has a yard, and not much is going to change that. It’s even better in the country. You have land and your neighbor has land, and you probably can’t even see each other from your house. Everyone is good with that, and not much is going to change.

The city is totally different. It’s the wild, wild west of property ownership. You own property and your neighbor owns property, but it’s RIGHT next to yours and sometimes your neighbor is a church that decides to expand a parking lot (explanation near the end of this post).

This time the change is to our east side. This side has been a bone of contention since our “neighbor” bought the lot that we envisioned as our yard out from under us. The main reason we wanted that lot was because most of our windows face east. Until we added windows in the downstairs living room, we had to physically walk outside to see anything on the west side of the building.

I digress, to the east of the firehouse, within a few narrow lots, is a power substation and a massive old brick building. Actually, there WAS a massive brick building. It nearly encompassed our view and being lovers of old buildings we… well, we loved it.


That is from the kitchen window. Here’s a look from the upstairs (moving from the back of the building to the front.)

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At a meeting last year, a bride’s father who works for Ameren (our local power company) told us that the building was slated to be torn down. This was not a huge surprise to us. The power company had a demo permit a few years ago but let it expire. We know this because in the wild west of real estate, you get really familiar with the city’s online real estate resources.

Still it wasn’t something we actively thought or worried about, until we woke up on a Friday in October to see chain link fence being assembled around the perimeter.

The time had come, and it wasn’t going to be a quick or silent farewell. Over the last two months we’ve watched this awesome old building literally be destroyed (not salvaged in the least). We have slammed our windows shut in the nicest part of the year to avoid the demolition dust. We have felt our building shake as they jack hammered the foundation. We have called the police and the Ameren hotline and our alderman to get a 24/7 demo permit revoked. (I wish I was joking. They literally planned to – and did for two nights – set up lights and jack hammer next to our building through the night.)

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Slowly it crumbled and sank and was covered and it still isn’t done… But the damage is evident. Our view is profoundly different. We feel exposed.

On one hand, it makes our location feel more urban. You can see much more of the area and there are some cool buildings. But it is also less secluded.

(Upstairs moving from back to front of the building.)

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The view from the kitchen took the biggest blow. Here’s a before and after.

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It’s worse at night…
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Our plan has always been to create a living fence out of evergreens (specifically Green Giant Arborvitae, which grow fast and tall) on this side of the property. Mostly, because we knew this day would come eventually. So when we saw the fence go up, we started to discuss whether we could move this project up the list. Before we got too far we had to check the status of the ground. If you haven’t been here since day one (hi mom!) you may not remember that the lot immediately east of the firehouse is actually deemed an alley (albeit an alley to nowhere).  It’s covered with half asphalt, half grass but we had a strong assumption that the asphalt ran to the edge and was simply covered with grass. A quick poke with a long screwdriver confirmed our suspicion. There is asphalt and no hope of planting tress until we remove it.

And that – all of that – my friends, is why I need a guy with a Bobcat… And a free dumpster… And maybe a gift card to a tree farm this Christmas. Someone send this to the North Pole for me.

Fireplace install

The fireplace hunt had us looking near and far (mostly far) for the right model. The process required contacting Stuv to see if they would sell a fireplace directly to us (rather than through a dealer because there wasn’t one in the immediate region). They were happy to oblige, but told us they were interested in having a rep in our area. They asked if we would be willing to work with someone local for the install and we said we were open. Stuv reached out to Forshaw, the preeminent dealer of all things fire in the St Louis area. Seriously, if you live here, you know the Forshaw jingle from their radio commercials. When I told my mom they were involved she said, “Oooh! They’re very high end.” Long story long, they were interested in the project. The owner actually came out meet with Aaron and give us a bid.

Ultimately it was a win-win-win for everyone. We bought the fireplace from Forshaw and basically got the installation (setting it in place) for free. They also beat the quote we had for the flue installation. Score!

Forshaw bought the model at a subsidized cost and can now install the Stuv model throughout the city. I’m sure after this blog post there will be a run on Stuv fireplaces… And Stuv has a company they can refer and sell too in St Louis, and ultimately they sold another unit.

Because of our layout, there was still some framing work for Aaron to do.


First, he drilled holes and anchored the base.

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Then he constructed the rest of the structure. You can actually see the fireplace in the photo below. It’s the silver box with the blue plastic hanging off.

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Next, he needed to create a sturdy, heat-resistant base for the fireplace to rest on. We wanted to keep the fireplace low to the ground, so he added some 2x4s and topped those with two sheets of cement board.

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Then it was time to get rid of the glass blocks! A chisel attachment on his hammer drill made quick work of it.

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Here’s how things were looking from the outside.

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With everything prepped, the crew from Forshaw came out to set the unit in place and install the new flue! As a DIY-er it’s always exciting to see OTHER people working on your house, especially when those other people are as courteous and professional as the crew from Forshaw.


Code requires a 45 degree angle for flue vents, so that required removing a few additional bricks above the window.


This part of the project has been complete since early September. I’ve been waiting to tell you about it because we’ve had a HUGE HOLE in the side of our building! The mason we used for the window cutouts majorly flaked out. It took some time to find a new contractor we liked and who wouldn’t charge us an arm and a leg for this project. Then it took a long time schedule the work… but finally on Sunday a mason arrived and made our building whole again!

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The mason did a fantastic job and got even closer to the flue than we expected. There’s a small gap at the top, which is hard to photograph, that Aaron will insulate. Forshaw is coming back out to add a collar and then we can call this phase of the installation complete!


The mason is also coming back out to give the new section an acid wash that will help it blend in better. Even without that step, we’re thrilled with the work and how everything looks.

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Here’s a view from the inside. If you watched the most recent walk through video you got a peek at this already.


Basically this is how things will sit until we do the finishing work. That involves covering the framing with our choice of cladding and running the vents (you can see the holes on the right side of the fireplace).


All of that is going to wait until we get some of the other bones done in the room: HVAC, boxing out the windows, electrical, lighting and paint. So we’re on the cusp of winter with an 80% installed fireplace. I keep walking by and muttering “next year… next year” Which is to say that this feels like much needed progress at the firehouse.