Living in an Unconventional Space – The good and the bad

I wanted to give this idea some time to simmer before I responded to your requests to know what we love and don’t love about living in the firehouse. It’s very easy for me to focus on all of the good things. I love living in an unconventional space. This is literally a dream come true for both of us, and it’s very hard to picture what our lives would look like in any other dwelling. I’m also an optimist so I tend to focus on the good and let negative things fade away. But the truth is there are some not great things about owning and living in a building like ours. So here’s my list.

The Good

So much space: When the weather is bad outside, I frequently toss the ball for Hank in our studio. I stand at one end and he happily fetches repeatedly. Every time we do this I think “I really love this building.” That’s just one example of the how great it has to have so much space at our disposal. We have room for everything! Want to horde a vintage fireplace? There’s room for that! Want to invite a massive amount of people over for a party? No problem. The only limitation is seating and silverware. We can dream big and put all of this space to use – like sectioning up the basement into a wine cellar, workshop and storage (in descending order of importance).

Design freedom: Every house has a particular feel to it and I think it’s important to maintain that character. IMHO it’s insane to put a sleek, modern kitchen into a clearly Spanish style home. It just doesn’t jive. (Side note: Has anyone else noticed that when there’s a kitchen makeover on House Hunters: Renovations the designer ALWAYS suggests shaker style cabinets as a way to bridge people’s styles? It literally doesn’t matter what styles they’re trying to bring together, the answer is always shaker style cabinets… and “a take on subway tile” that is usually a bit bigger than average or colored. It’s cracking me up.) The firehouse comes expectation free, like a blank canvas, and we love that. It has so many beautiful features that make it feel like a firehouse (I always think of the banister in the stairwell when I think about this) that we would never change. And those elements work really well with our modern, minimalist, industrial design style

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Live/work balance: We moved to St. Louis in part because we loved that the architecture supports live/work spaces. The first time we strolled down Cherokee street we marveled at the relatively low cost to rent a storefront. When we moved to St. Louis, that’s just want we did – eventually occupying two different spaces on the very street that tempted us to move. We also rented a condo in Benton Park, completely splitting our work space from our living space.

And it sucked, like so bad. Going to the studio felt like WORK. It was the difference between dropping into another room to work vs agreeing “we need to work tonight” and then driving over there, turning everything on, and WORKING. The difference was incredibly stark when we had a no-show meeting with a prospective client. We’d race through dinner, drive to the studio, get everything turned on and then be forced to wait an appropriate amount of time before saying “Well, I guess they’re not coming.” At the firehouse, if someone doesn’t show we can be onto the next thing in our evening in a matter of minutes. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but we hated it.

We knew that we needed to get back into a space that held our photography business and our personal life. The firehouse gave that to us almost perfectly. The studio a contained space with a door. It’s where we work, but it doesn’t FEEL like work to drop in there after dinner and respond to client emails.  (If you want more details about how we go to the firehouse, feel free to dive into this post.)

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Instant connection: The firehouse has given us an instant way to connect with a lot of people. Whether they saw us on House Hunters or just heard that their friend’s wedding photographer lives in a firehouse, we have instant common ground with a lot of people. As an introvert, I also appreciate the fact that I have a conversation filler always at the ready. When you tell people you live in a firehouse, 95% of them have so many questions. The 5% I’ve found that are not that interested are my European colleagues. Perhaps they’re so used to re-appropriating buildings in countries that have much longer histories than ours that they are unfazed? Or maybe I’m just a weird American. I’m not sure.

 

The Bad

So much space: Yes, this is also on the good list. The amount of space is truly a good and a bad thing. The only negative we had when considering whether to purchase the firehouse was the amount of space. It’s massive (5k+ square feet). That means the projects are bigger and take more supplies and more time. It means the messes are huge. Heck, even the amount of finished space that we have to keep clean is overwhelming. And, truth be told, cleaning is not my forte. I’d much rather cook, or workout, or nap or pretty much do anything besides clean when I have time off.

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The proportions are a little funky: It’s a common quirk of an unconventional home that the way spaces are divided up may not fit what you would normally want in a home. For instance, the captain’s bedroom is bigger than my kitchen. As someone who cooks almost every day I would LOVE to have a bigger kitchen, but it’s just not in the cards. Truth be told, if we could start fresh on the upstairs layout we would change a lot of things. These are things we talk about whilst sitting on the couch with a glass of wine. The “what if’s” of moving walls is so easy when it’s just a dream. In reality, it’s not worth the time or effort to make the kind of large-scale changes that dramatically alter the spaces that are already defined.

Water tap meant for a firehouse: People frequently ask about our utility bills, but those have never been a source of frustration because we were paying a similar amount when our rentals spanned a condo and a studio. Actually, the new HVAC systems have already started to pay off in terms of lower bills. But we have finally hit a utility that is painful because of the firehouse: water. There’s a very long story (… really a rant) behind all this, but basically we didn’t pay for water for nearly two years after moving into the firehouse. We paid a bill, but apparently it was only for sewer service. Things are finally cleared up (sadly they didn’t just write off our water use) and apparently the city has an added tax based on the size of your water tap. Not surprising: ours is huge! So despite the fact that this isn’t a firehouse and we’re not using water like a firehouse, we pay triple the price of a normal house just to be connected to a water supply. Ugh.

Whew! So many words and so few pictures! So, what did we miss? What would you still like to know?

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6 thoughts on “Living in an Unconventional Space – The good and the bad

  1. SHAKER CABINETS ARE THE BANE OF MY EXISTENSE!!! Ha! The thought of having a space big enough to play fetch in is amazing. While I love our house, I miss having a long straight hall that I can toss a toy for Spanky to chase. He obviously doesn’t need as much room as Hank, but he still lover fetch…ha!

  2. Such a neat post! I can’t imagine cleaning 5,000 sq ft, but as a fellow photographer, I drool over your studio space (and the idea of playing fetch with my puppy indoors). I used to dream of buying a warehouse kind of building and living in a loft apartment with a studio downstairs. Now I dream of turning my detached garage into a DADU for the business. 🙂

    The water tap thing sucks though, I wonder if it’d be more cost effective to have a smaller tap installed, especially since there’s no chance your building will ever actually be a firehouse again?

  3. Maybe it would pay for itself fairly quickly to change the size of your tap into the water main?

    How does the city calculate your sewer charges? It is also a flat fee?

    At our house, we have a well but municipal sewer, and the city meters use of the sewer by metering the amount of water coming into the house and bases its charges on that.

  4. This is just great. Of course that there are some bad things about living in a firehouse, but the freedom you have probably compensate everything.

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