The current state of the yard

The thing about landscaping (or anything having to do with plants) is that the reward is not immediate. Being a very visual person, I always find this frustrating. So if you asked me what my least favorite project was over the past year, I would definitely say starting the yard. It was an entire weekend of hauling of trash and buckets full of bricks out of the yard, manually tilling some of the bare spots and laying expensive seed that didn’t take root. The whole time I told myself, “Someday this will be a gorgeous yard. This will all be worth it.” Well, someday got here a little sooner than we expected.

Let’s take it way back – to the only picture we have of the “yard” right after we purchased the lot.

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It was blank canvas that didn’t stay that way for long thanks to the addition of a huge patio. The patio came with a side of jacked up dirt, which we shaped into a yard in the aforementioned weekend. After we procured the correct type of grass seed, Aaron gave it lots of water, 3 total rounds of grass seed and 4 rounds of fertilizer and weed killer.

Here’s the view from the back of the yard looking forward (before, during and now)

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Near the patio stairs looking forward:

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Front of the yard looking to the rear:

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The concrete guys got a little overzealous with the bobcat so we had some work to do up front as well.

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What a difference a year makes! We’re really happy with how the grass is coming along, especially in such a short time frame. The cor-ten fence is also rusting beautifully. The vision is finally coming together!

Is anyone else starting a yard from scratch? Or maybe taking over a yard that’s seen better days? Aaron got lots of yard rehab experience at our first house, which he’s putting to good use here.

Oil that wood

Lest you think we’ve turned this site into something X rated, I’ll jump straight to the point. In my excitement to share the ipe portion of fence, I neglected to wait until the wood had been oiled. (That’s why she said?)

Recently, we’ve been explaining ipe as “nature’s composite.” It’s weatherproof and insect resistant. If you leave it in it’s natural state, it will weather to a gorgeous silver color.

But! But if you oil it, it deepens the color of the wood to a rich tone. It brings out the grain of the wood. It also protects the wood from stains, from things like a metric ton of mulberries. (For those who don’t stalk us on the regular, the mulberry tree has been saved thanks to the electric company hacking down our other tree.)

Oiling the ipe also makes this never ending project OH so worth it.

Pre-oil

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Hello, baby! Come to mama!

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Looks Ok.

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What the what?

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That wood seems nice.

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OMG! Can we build everything out of ipe?

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I can’t stop staring at it. As a bonus, unlike the rest of this project, applying the oil was a very quick process. I rolled both sides and Aaron followed up with  brush to get closer to the posts. The other side turned out just as beautiful, but we’re at the point in the year when it’s a poison ivy filled jungle over that wall, so I didn’t snap any pictures on that side.

At Home in the St Louis Post-Dispatch

Just popping by on a busy Memorial Day weekend to give a shout out to the St Louis Post-Dispatch for our feature in their Home & Away section in Sunday’s edition. It’s on stands now if you’re local and want to grab a copy. The link to the actual article isn’t online yet, but I’ll be back with an update when it is. [UPDATE] Here’s a link to the article.

We’ve been featured a few places, but this may be our favorite article so far. Susan, the writer, did a great job capturing quotes and taking note of some of the features and furnishings that we love the most. She also said some lovely things about Aaron’s DIY prowess. (I’m so proud of that man.)

Mojo had more than one cameo, which probably makes her more famous than us. She’s certainly cuter.

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Photo by David Carson for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

They also shot a bonus video in which we blabber on for two minutes when they only wanted one. #talkers Here we are trying not to look awkward.

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Photo by David Carson for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

How the firehouse got to us

The third most popular question we are asked when someone finds out we own and live in a firehouse is “What’s the history of the building?” The most popular question  remains “Does it have a fire pole?” (It does.) That’s usually followed by an inquiry is about our heating/cooling bills. (Which I touched on here.)

We’ve been piecing together the history of this place ever since we fell in love with it. Here’s what we’ve learned.

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We’re still on the hunt for more info. We would love to get our hands on the blueprints or some old pictures. Supposedly there’s a St Louis fire fighters museum, but we’ve heard mixed reviews about the contents. Have you ever tried to dig up facts on your house? Any tips?

How (and why) we bought a firehouse

We’re still slogging away at the fence/carport wrap. It’s officially becoming the project that never ends, which totally inspires renditions of “The Song that Never Ends” in my mind:
This is the build that never ends,
It just goes on and on, my friends,
We started building it, not knowing what it was,
And we’ll continue building it forever just because…

Anyways, a recent realization that our general site needed a little TLC and updating, caused me to read our (very long) “About Us” page. While the story of how we got here seemed like a good one when the blog launched, I thought a more streamlined, up-to-date “Hi. How ya doin?” was in order. Not wanting to lose that story (and assuming that most of you have not read our About Us page), I thought I’d expand and share it in a post.

So without further adieu (for anyone is still reading), here is the story of how and why we came to own a firehouse.

To really understand it, I think it helps to have a little background. When we got married in 2005, we shared the aspirations of any young, Midwestern couples: a house with a yard and a dog. In just a few short months, we bought a great starter home in the Kansas City suburbs. The year is important here, because unbeknownst to us, we were buying at exactly the worst time.

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A few years passed and we began to realize that we didn’t know ourselves at all when we jumped into this housing purchase. We were not suburb people. We craved the energy and excitement of city life. We started to dream about a loft in downtown Kansas City and even put our house on the market. It was quickly clear that it was not a good time to sell. So we changed course and opted to redo our basement into a true office and meeting space for our burgeoning photography business.

In the ensuing years, the itch to move to the city only intensified. We also started shooting more weddings in St Louis and began to realize that our style stood out (even more) on that side of the state. When it was time for me to look for a new job, I applied to listings in both cities, eventually landing a job that would take us to St Louis.

The next 6 months were totally insane. In October, I moved to St Louis and into my parents’ basement while Aaron stayed behind to try and sell our house. In January, he joined me so we could open our St Louis studio at the peak time to book weddings for the coming year. Eventually our house sold (after a pipe burst in our garage and mere days before we were planning to take it off the market and figure out how to be landlords from afar). We trekked our remaining belongings across the state and stuffed them into my parents’ garage. (I have great parents if you couldn’t tell.) We told ourselves we needed to regroup and wait to rent a place to live, which lasted all of 3 months. We quickly fell in love with a condo in an old parochial school in Benton Park (a neighborhood in South St Louis city). It was much smaller than our suburban house, but we loved the tall ceilings, white walls (which we painted, of course), little patio area, secure parking AND the fact that it was in a converted building.

Foreshadowing? Maybe. We have always loved old buildings and dreamed of owning something unconventional. A cool old factory or maybe our own abandoned school were on the “If we win the lottery” list. Realistically, we knew these were pipe dreams.

Still, we were always on the lookout for the right opportunity. When this foreclosed firehouse hit our radar, my first question was “where is it.” St Louis is SOOO pocketed. Really nice areas butt up to sketchy scenes. In some areas it literally comes down to what block of what street. The firehouse sits a few blocks north of a thriving university and a few blocks west of a popular arts area and right on the edge of the Central West End. It has no immediate neighbors: just a few empty 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 are a contrast to the brick 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 our experience in KC.

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Two things kept us (albeit, momentarily) from signing on the dotted line: the amount of work that needed to be done and the sheer size of the building. I totally lucked out in marrying Aaron. He’s incredibly handy, likes working with his hands and he’s very practical. He gave the firehouse a serious inspection at the outset. When we thought about owning an nontraditional space, we knew we would need the major systems to be there (mostly from a cost standpoint). The firehouse ticked all the boxes with working electric, plumbing and HVAC. The building itself was also structurally sound. And there are more than enough finished living spaces for us to use while we make our mark throughout the building. While we have a lot of work ahead of us, most projects are finishings.

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 compromise on one point, having TOO much space seemed like an easy thing to live with.

So that’s the loooong version of how we got here. Do you have an interesting “how we came to buy our house” story? I’m working on a post about the history of the firehouse, which is a question we are frequently asked.