Please explain yourselves

At the end of my last post, Kati asked some very valid questions about the origins of the firehouse and our desire for an untraditional space. I’ve been remiss in giving you some background as evidenced by my pathetic, one sentence “About us” page. Truthfully, I’ve been working under the assumption that anyone reading this blog would know us (friends, family, co-workers who are forced to hear real-time updates about the firehouse), but the web is a big place and virtual friends totally deserve a bit of background.

So, let’s start fresh.

Hi there! We’re Aaron and Heather. We moved ourselves, our photography business and our Great Dane, Mojo, to St. Louis a few years ago. Welcome to our piece of the worldwide web… actually it’s about a third of the puzzle. You can also find us posting pictures of awesome people on our photography site and blog. I also like to cook and blog about it over at Modern Meals for Two. That poor blog isn’t getting much love lately because on top of our usually crazy lives, we just bought a firehouse.

Mo

Those are words we never thought we’d utter, although living in an alternative home has always been on our wish list. I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of taking something that’s not a home and turning it into one. It turns out that Aaron also loves old buildings and envisioning how to repurpose space. Seriously, we love old buildings. Our idea of a good time is poking around and taking pictures of abandoned spaces.

Anyone still left or did the nerd alert scare everyone away? We know it’s quirky, but we embrace. So, we’ve always dreamed of buying our very own building. A cool old factory or abandoned school (there are lots of both in St. Louis) topped the list. But when reality checked in we knew we’d never be able to afford anything that big… or be able to heat a space like that…

We were always on the lookout for the right space and the right opportunity. When the foreclosed firehouse hit our radar, my first question was “where is it.” The thing about St Louis is that it is SOOO pocketed. Really nice areas butt up to sketchy scenes. In some areas it literally comes down to what block of what street. Like everything with the firehouse, all signs pointed to “this is YOUR chance to buy a unique space.” It sits a few blocks north of a thriving university and a few blocks west of a popular arts and entertainment area. It has no immediate neighbors: just a few Lots, an abandoned house, and a power substation. It faces an elementary school and the streets that flank ours have large, new construction, suburban style homes, which stand out against the traditional row homes that St. Louis is known for. It’s a bit of a transitional neighborhood, but it’s sandwiched between a lot of great things. Honestly, if the firehouse was a few blocks in any given direction, we probably wouldn’t have bought it. If it was closer to the great stuff, we wouldn’t have been able to afford it. If it was closer to the not great stuff, we wouldn’t have felt safe.

The price was another “OMG we can’t pass this up” situation. It was right in the sweet spot of “we’ll save money because we’re not renting a studio and a condo” and “it needs a lot of work, but a lot of it is actually cosmetic” and “we’ll have instant equity.” (We learned that lesson that hard way thanks to being stuck in a cookie cutter suburban house in Kansas City when the market tanked. But that’s another story for another day.)

firehousefirstlook

Two things kept us (albeit momentarily) from signing on the dotted line: the amount of space and the amount of work that needed to be done. I totally lucked out in marrying Aaron. He’s incredibly handy and likes working with his hands. The firehouse is a monster project, but we’re breaking it down into (somewhat) manageable pieces, reminding ourselves that it’s not going to be perfect in a day (or 10… or a year… or maybe even 5) and calling in help where we need it.

Ultimately we decided that we couldn’t pass up on the firehouse because of the abundance of space. We knew we’d never find a perfectly sized live/work space in a cool building on the perfect street in our budget. If we had to give on one point, having TOO much space seemed like an easy thing to live with.

So that’s (a long winded version of) why we bought the firehouse. Bonus points for anyone who made it all the way through.

Tour – Exterior

So you’ve seen inside and even peeked at the roof, but let’s step outside for a second and talk about the exterior. 

The exterior space has actually given us a lot of heartache. It’s a long story, so if you’re here just for the pictures feel free to scroll on by. 

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We knew when we made an offer on the firehouse that the plots on either side were owned by the city. So our original plan was to buy the plot on the left and the plot on the right (heretofore known as Left Lot and Right Lot). We wanted to fence in Left Lot and add a patio. This plan lasted until just a few weeks from our final closing date when we discovered that the land just to the left of the firehouse… the asphalt that is literally touching the building… the space where the previous owner abandoned a bus… is an ALLEY.

002exteriorbefore

You can see why we were surprised at this turn of events. Dead giveaways like “a break in the sidewalk to allow a vehicle to pass” and “clear passage to another alley or street” are non-existent. Instead, there’s a patch of grass-covered asphalt that ends in a fence. Our best guess is that the city gave the alley to the firehouse but never made it official. We can make it official, but it’s costly and will take some time so we’re still mulling it over.

That revelation lit a fire under our butts to get the process started to buy Left Lot and Right Lot. A call to the city real estate office revealed that our neighbor (I use that term loosely as no one actually lives in the broken down house that’s two lots over) applied to buy Left Lot mere days after we made an offer on the firehouse. What a welcome to the neighborhood, eh?

Not surprisingly we pounced on Right Lot and got the official “ok” to buy it last week. So the patio and yard are flipping to that side of the building. There’s not much to see there right now, but back on the left side you’ll notice the numerous windows that were bricked over (although the contractor is making progress adding windows!)

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The back is more shoddy asphalt surrounded by a tall, barbwire-topped fence. (View from Left Lot.)

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The back has a few windows that need replaced, a few windows that have been bricked over, a few satellite dishes (how many is too many) and a ramp leading to the kitchen door, which is totally getting chucked. This is the view from the soon to be installed oversized carport. More on that later.

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So that ends our initial tour. You’ve caught of glimpse of what we fell in love with. So tell me, do you think we’re crazy? I won’t blame you if you say “yes.” We have lots of plans for every space in the house. Which are you most interested in knowing more about?

This week at the firehouse 3/8

Aaron has received no less than 5 “I’m so excited” text messages this week thanks to the progress at the firehouse. They’re very witty texts along the lines of “EEEeeeee!!” and “Wooohooo” and “Yay progress!” Here are the highlights:

  • The new windows arrived!
  • Aaron got the first look at our roof that wasn’t aided by Google Maps thanks to a local flat roofing company we found to make a few repairs.

roofpeek

  • The contractors scraped the old plaster off the ceiling in the studio and dining room.
  • Two old windows in the stairwell (ones that weren’t bricked over) were replaced with new windows.
  • Aaron made more progress mudding and taping the studio side of the big wall that separates our work and living space.
  • ADT activated our security system (would be thieves: beware!)
  • The old windows that were sandwiched between brick and drywall were removed. More on this next week!
  • We finished sealing the basement.
  • The contractors started knocking out the brick and installing windows!

 windowdemo

We owe you lots of progress pictures, which will be easier to come by when we MOVE IN next week!!

Holes

Let’s take a quick break from the tour to talk about holes. No, not the 2003 movie about about a “wrongfully convicted boy sent to a brutal desert detention camp” that has a surprising IMDB rating of 7. Literal holes in the firehouse. There are holes EVERY (wait for it) WHERE.

It could be inspiration for a Dr. Seuss book on holes…

Holes in the floor,
Holes for a door.

Some filled with stuff,
some, not so much.

Seriously. There are a lot of holes. Let’s take a very brief look.

Here’s a great one in our master bedroom. It’s what I like to call a “filled hole.” There’s something up there, but we don’t know what.

001holes

A few holes in the workout room. Please pray that they are not due to plumbing problems in the big bathroom.

002holes

 

Just a hole in the ceiling of the downstairs bathroom. No big deal when you consider this entire ceiling is basically a giant cluster F.

003holes

This dining room hole is a real beauty. Someone should really be proud of this handiwork. (Insert sarcasm.)

004holes

It’s cool. Just a hole in the inches thick concrete in the studio floor.

005holes

Hey! Look! A hole with mysterious spigots! It’s like a bonus hole. Any guesses where this hole lives?

006holes

Floor hole. This is the most classic firehouse hole. We have 4 of these that are in different (mostly questionable) states of repair thanks to missing fire poles.

007holes

We’ll be expert hole patchers when this is all over. Is there a boy scout badge for that? If so, I hope it’s one that Aaron earned…

Tour – Basement

 The basement is not very exciting right now, but we have big plans for this space. It’s also one of the first areas to undergo a huge visual transformation. So I figure it deserves a spot on the tour and proper “before” pictures.

There’s not much to look at: stone walls, some columns down the middle, water pipes in the back.

001basementbefore

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Water heater, sump pump, old coal shoot that needs removed and sealed with something better than a pillow. You know, the usual.

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If you haven’t checked out the more interesting parts of the firehouse, click on the Take a Tour tab above and have a look around.