Our SoCal house hunt

Figuring out where to live was a huge piece of the “should we move to California” equation. That’s probably not surprising given we were abandoning our dream home and care enough about our residence to blog about it. Per our usual form, we dove head first into learning about the area and considering our options, which ranged from crazy ideas like living in a relatively rural area (nixed when I drove on a “road” which was actually a dirt path and was convinced I would get my rental car stuck trying to get back to civilization) to crazier ideas like buying land, living in a trailer and building a huge workshop (nixed when we figured out the cost of running utilities to a vacant property & zoning restrictions).

What we settled on when we really got down to it was the following list of criteria:

  • Less than an hour commute from Thousand Oaks
  • Workshop space (probably in a two car garage, but bonus points for an oversized garage, three car garage or detached garage) for Aaron’s woodshop
  • A view and/or a very private backyard
  • Parking for our camping trailer
  • Minimum 1,500 square feet
  • Ideally, under $600k
  • Additional bonus points for a good kitchen, something with some of our style and fruit or palm trees (because California!)

Besides the budget, which is an obvious limitation (and actually increased over time, because California), the most important factor and the hardest to determine via the interwebs was WHERE we should look. We basically drew a circle around Thousand Oaks and looked at anything within 1 hour… which we eventually learned had to be 1 hour WITH traffic.

While we are far enough out that we don’t get “LA traffic”, rush hour is still a factor and that ultimately made us cut out areas like Santa Clarita, which was a bummer because there are magnificent mountain-side homes up there. I spent a lot of time outside work trying to get a feel for these locales so that that when Aaron came in for the “home buying trip” we could be a bit more strategic with our time. When we “narrowed” down our list (our poor realtor) we ended up looking at about 20 houses in Simi Valley, Fillmore, Ventura and Camarillo over the course of 4 days. Rather than recapping our months-long search in detail, I thought I’d give you the highlights of the four areas we seriously considered.

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Simi Valley

By far, I looked at the most homes in Simi Valley and was pretty convinced that we would end up here. Not only is it relatively close to my work (via highway or surface streets if traffic necessitates) it sits in a valley and has very close, very beautiful mountain views… the kind of views that were driving us to leave the firehouse.

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The top contender in Simi Valley was a house on Colleen Street with a very secluded backyard and a personal mountain view. It had high ceilings in the great room and a lush private patio out front. In the negative column, it had a serious Spanish vibe and needed a kitchen like woah. The thing that blasted it to the top of the list and even helped us imagine life in some of the other homes we toured wasn’t even included on the listing. The backyard included a very large walk in shed which made us consider how much additional workshop space we could get in that shed or by replicating the set up elsewhere. Local building codes don’t allow for the addition of a large structure, but Aaron (ever the thinker) realized he could add two sheds, back to back and subvert the requirements. We quickly coined the term “Sh-workshop” for the shed/workshop we could build on any property with a big enough backyard.

Fillmore

Fillmore

Fillmore is a cute town nestled between mountain ranges, and with an iPhone, I have been unable to properly capture its beauty. It’s a bit of a drive from Thousand Oaks, and the route includes traversing a mountain (read: really twisty mountain road with no guardrail, which is probably my worst driving scenario….) Despite that, it was high on the list because of the value. It was one of the only areas where we could easily afford a three-car garage.

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The very first house we fell for was in Fillmore. It had vaulted ceilings in the great room (there’s a theme here), three bedrooms, an orange tree, a two-car garage and an EXTRA FOUR CAR DETATCHED GARAGE. It was a dream set up for Aaron’s workshop, but by the time I saw it in person there was already an offer on the table and we weren’t far enough along in our process to be able to make our own offer.

When Aaron arrived, we still looked at quite a few places in Fillmore because value. We actually looked at some new builds (who are we?) and a super charming house in walking distance to downtown Fillmore. Ultimately, we crossed Fillmore off the list because it’s really far from everything… work… the beach… a Home Depot. It didn’t help that we drove from Fillmore to Ventura one day and got to see/feel the difference between living in a valley and living with an ocean breeze. Everyone kept telling me that it’s hotter to live in a valley, but driving a few miles and seeing the temperature literally drop made such a huge difference in our overall house hunt.

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Ventura

When we started looking in this area a LOT of people (here and in real life) told us that we would love Ventura. Honestly, I didn’t see it for a long time. It seemed no different than any other city in the area, except that it was closer to the ocean and therefore the houses were more of the beach bungalow variety (small) and more expensive. It finally clicked when we visited downtown Ventura after a day of house hunting. This super quaint area is filled with shops (antique, thrift and otherwise) and cute local restaurants. It is totally our jam. If we could have afforded to live in walking distance of that area, we would have become very serious about Ventura. Alas, budgets.

 

Camarillo

Camarillo

Camarillo was the last stop on Aaron’s whirlwind trip. I hadn’t spent much time in the area nor had any homes hit our radar that made us go “Ooooh!” So I went into the day thinking we would make an offer on the Simi Valley house. We planned to meet our realtor after lunch so we stopped at a Thai place beforehand and it was so good that I joked that we should buy in Camarillo just to be able to make this “our” Thai place. During the drive through Camarillo to the first house something clicked. Something about this town, with it’s cool ocean breeze (like Ventura) and the number of trees lining the streets, reminded us of a perfect resort town. We were crushing hard.

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The first house we saw was small – 1,400 square feet, which feels tiny when you’re coming from 5,500+ but the backyard was stunning. It had a charming dining area, plenty of grass and a space for a sh-workshop, but the thing that put it over the top was a terrace that looked weird in photos, but made so much sense in person. It offered the perfect home for multiple fruit trees and sitting areas with views of the mountains (and even the ocean on a clear day.) We were enthralled. We booked a second visit to the Colleen house in Simi Valley and it just didn’t have the same magic after experiencing the weather and seeing the yard at the Camarillo house. So we made an offer… a low offer… and it was rejected. It was a defeating blow to end Aaron’s trip, although the entire trip was invaluable for narrowing our search to Camarillo (with Simi Valley as a backup).

In the midst of this trip, we accepted an offer on the firehouse! That was such a relief, but it also put a bit of a time crunch on the house hunting. Our window to buy and move everything to a new house (rather than into storage) was quickly closing. Aaron headed back to St. Louis and almost immediately a new Camarillo house hit the market, this time on Rowland.

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It had high ceilings in the living and dining room, a good (albeit small) kitchen layout, the potential to open up the space between kitchen and living area, white walls (hello no painting), a good two car garage and a natural space for the sh-workshop. The biggest negative was the backyard. It backed up to several two-story homes, many of which looked down into the yard. The backyard also lacked landscaping. If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time, you may have noticed that landscaping is not our forte or our passion. Still the interior stole my heart and we deiced to make an offer. When our realtor called to find out the status she discovered there were already 4 offers, including one full price, cash offer.

So I did what anyone would do at this point: I cried. Stress and frustration (mostly at myself for falling for a house before it was ours) just welled up. I took a shower and eventually gave in to Aaron’s suggestion that we offer anyways, because you never know. I called it an early night and didn’t even write back to his text about a new-to-the-market house that looked promising.

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Nothing recharges me quite like sleep and after the emotional rollercoaster of Rowland, it was just what I needed to look at yet another potential house. By the next morning Aaron was really excited about the new property, and when I looked I agreed that it hit just about every one of our requirements, which we tweaked slightly as we got to know the market. It had:

  • Good garage space
  • Laundry not in the garage (this is really common in the area, and besides not wanting to schlep my clothes in and out of the garage for cleaning, it would take away space from the workshop)
  • Sh-workshop potential – This property listing included three existing sheds on the left side of the house
  • Private backyard – It’s surrounded by single-story homes
  • 1,800 square feet – A little larger than average thanks to an add-on in the 70s
  • An extra wide driveway for parking the trailer

Having learned how quickly homes go under contract, we contacted our realtor immediately and found out there was a midday open house I could attend with her. The house was good enough that I awkwardly face-timed Aaron to give him a tour. Seeing it in person yielded a few additional positives and negatives for the house.

  • Positives included:
    • A vaulted great room in the rear of the house with a fireplace
    • Mature avocado tree
    • A peekaboo mountain view if you stand in the right spot of the backyard (“Peekaboo” may be a bit generous, but it makes me happy nonetheless)
    • A window and some vaulted storage in the garage
  • Neutral but interesting: There’s no direct access from the garage to the house, which worked just fine for us because it would be easier to contain the workshop as a workspace (including the inevitable sawdust.)
  • Negative: The laundry is in the kitchen.

For those of you who don’t know, the home buying process in California is very different from the Midwest. In the Midwest, you can view the seller’s disclosure before making an offer and once an offer is accepted, you’re pretty set. In California, buyers make offers with less information, but have 15 days to do the necessary inspections and can walk away much easier. So even though Aaron hadn’t seen the house, we decided to make a slightly above asking price offer. This was on the Thursday of Memorial Day weekend and we ended up having to wait until Monday for an answer. Ugh! In the interim, the realtor hosted THREE MORE open houses, which gave me a chance to scope out the house again and also caused us a bit of angst in the form of “JUST ACCEPT OUR OFFER ALREADY!” Ultimately, we were asked for a best and final offer and it was accepted!

In escrow, but not fully committed – emotionally (learned that lesson) or financially – we booked Aaron’s travel, a home inspection including scoping the lateral line (we always recommend this) and separate termite and HVAC inspections.

More details and loads more photos next time!

 

Assorted musings:

– If you need a realtor near Thousand Oaks or up into Santa Barbara, I can’t recommend Natalie Miller enough. She listened to our needs – explicit and our reviews of each home – and by the end she could tell as quickly as I could whether we would like a particular home. She made herself available for our whirlwind house hunting trip and expertly planned each day’s itinerary. Her service didn’t stop after the offer and she patiently answered our 101 questions about the details around buying in a brand new area of the country. On top of all that, she’s just a lovely person to hang out with and gives expert restaurant recommendations.

–        We looked at a house in Simi Valley that was completely turnkey – white walls, updated kitchen, good backyard, good RV parking – and it convinced me that we could never buy a house that is totally done. I felt like we kept wandering through the space and just NOT bonding with it. It was even a really good price, but we just didn’t care.

– The fastest way to turn this introvert into an extrovert is to make me move to an entirely new area. EVERYONE became a person to interview. “Oh you’re from here. Where do you live? Do you like it? Have you heard of Fillmore?” The most extreme example came one Tuesday evening when I drove to Fillmore to view the 4-car garage house. I stopped at a Mexican restaurant to grab a quick dinner and walked into the restaurant behind a threesome of elderly, local women, one of which invited me to dine with them. To which I would normally reply, “Oh, thanks but I’ll pass” but instead I said “Oh, do you live here, because if you do I will absolutely take you up on it.” They are incredible ambassadors for their town. Besides answering all of my questions, when it was clear that dinner would not arrive before my viewing appointment, they offered to buy my dinner and get it to go. I swung by their house on the way out of town, to grab my tacos and try to express my gratitude for their kindness.

The final firehouse post

It’s honestly hard to sum up the last few months and my thoughts about leaving behind our dream home. It’s been a gamut of emotions – sadness at seeing our courtyard empty (the only time I cried during the packing and moving), happiness about turning the firehouse over to the perfect family, trepidation, exhilaration, loneliness, and many times where I’ve tried to shut down the loss I feel at moving away from our family (blood and chosen).

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There’s only one thing left to do to wrap up this chapter of our lives: read the letter we drafted to ourselves where we captured all of our dreams for the space right after we bought the firehouse We wrote it, printed it and deleted the file. It has been sitting, awaiting our 5th anniversary of owning the firehouse – a point when we knew the firehouse would be done. Oh Past Aaron and Heather, I love your naivety.

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So in honor of the anniversary that will never be and faithfully re-typed to match the original, I present our first love letter to the firehouse.

Dear future Aaron and Heather (and firehouse),

Your past selves thought it would be fun (ok, maybe just Heather did) to write up all of the crazy plans we have for our dream house (looking at your firehouse), seal up this love note and open it 5 years later to see how things have changed. We already know that a space this big is bound to have some surprises. In fact, we’re still reeling bit from the discovery that our neighbor beat us to the punch and bought the lot at 3930. Suck! So, our original plans have already taken a hit, but that’s ok.

Since we’re on the subject, let’s cover a few exterior details. We’re building in some funds to add windows to the bottom floor. Yay natural light! In lieu of the plan change, we’ll buy the 3938 lot and fence that in. It will make a great yard, but we really need to think about connecting it to the house at some point. Maybe a picture window or French doors in the living room? Part of the construction funds we’re building in to the loan will cover a new patio and carport. Within the first year, we’ll add a garage door to close the loop so we can let Mojo out to do her business solo. We’re also thinking about an overhang and maybe some ivy for the outside. Of course, we’ll have some sort of fire pit and eventually enclose the garage. We have plans for concrete planters and we’ll need wood storage. Also, I’m toying with the idea of doing a small garden, especially for herbs. Aaron mentioned something about a small greenhouse, but I still have no idea what he is talking about. We need a spot to stick the trailer. Right now we’re thinking we’ll just claim the alley that apparently runs by the building as our own and use it for the trailer. Ultimately, we’d like to buy this strip of land and fence it in as well.

The studio will obviously be the first room we tackle. Everything is getting a coat of white paint. Aaron plans to build a platform for his desk, and the meeting area will be a 3-sided cube that is painted black. I’ll score some office space in the back and the windows between the studio and living spaces are coming out. We also have a space for a huge conference table, which Aaron wants to build. Of course, the whole space needs lighting and a gallery system. An end grain wood wall is in the plans to cover the furnaces. Long term, we want to fix the garage door and figure out a screen system to let in some fresh air. It’s a lot of work, but it’s the top priority so I doubt much will change. Although who knows what our style will look like five years later.

We have grand plans for the living room, dining room and kitchen. Ultimately, we want to build a Scandinavian-style, wood-burning fireplace in the living room. We’ll probably keep a TV in there, but it won’t be the focal point. Aaron has plans for a big table in the dining room, which will rest under an oversize, multi-bulb chandelier we’ve been dreaming about for a few years. We’d love to open the kitchen up by cutting the end off the long wall and adding an island. We’ll add cabinetry to the outer wall and a built-in microwave and wall oven near where the range used to live.

Oh and we recently decided that we’d love to put radiant heat floors in the whole bottom level. We would probably raise the floor up an inch or two to take out some of the awkward concrete risers (near the entryway from the studio and in the kitchen).

Upstairs is a bit of a conundrum. There is a ton of space, but it’s not the most functional. We have two trains of thought: either accept the layout and make the best of it or completely blow out the rear half and rearrange it. If we leave it as is, the captain’s bedroom becomes a guestroom. We’re still muddling over the attached bathroom because there are not fixtures. We’ll either deal with it when we update the kitchen or scrap it and turn it into a large closet. (Not that we need more storage in this place.) The other room will be a workout room and secondary guestroom. We’re thinking a futon will work well in there. We would like the main area to be a great TV/movie watching space, complete with a projector and Aaron-build mega couch. Skylights almost made the list for the loan-funded renovations, but we’ll have to address those later.

Aesthetically, this living room needs some work. We’ll take down the plaster on the outer wall to expose the brick and then paint it white. All of the rooms need painted and the original firehouse doors need to be refinished. The floors… ugh… the floors. We’re not sure the coating will actually come up without grinding it off. It’s a possibility, but we’re also considering painting it or covering it with another flooring medium (reclaimed wood or glossy tile).

Even if we change the layout, we’ll probably still keep 2ish bedrooms and a living space. Our current thought is to take the back section (captain’s bedroom and associated living space) and turn that into a family room. The hallway would be extended and a bedroom would be added to the left. We want to live with the space for awhile before we decide.

No matter what, we’re keeping the super awesome community bathroom. A little paint, cleaning and new faucets are at the top of the list. Aaron also has plans for an uber modern LED panel ceiling to replace the ugly drop ceiling. We’re also excited that one of the shower stalls will become a Mojo washing area. I’m already planning to wash her once a month. We’ll see how long that promise stays in effect.

The 4th “bedroom” has absolutely no use to us right now. It’s too small and there’s no window. It will probably become a catch all for now and may become another guestroom long term.

We have very few plans for the laundry room, except to fix the holes in the floor and add some clothes drying racks.

The master suite will be another major overhaul. I can’t wait to take down the half wall but since it’s the ONLY space to put our bed, it’s safe for now. Ultimately we want to take out the closet to the right (as you enter). The pole closet may stay, but I’d lobby for taking that out too if we can make the other closet work. Of course the other closet isn’t perfect. A pole closet (and the associated hole in the floor) needs integrated to make it one chunk of usable space. The master bath has an odd layout, but we may leave it just to avoid punching more large holes in the floor. No matter what, the finishes need to go. “Suburban Fuck” is probably our favorite term right now. Aaron will finally get the rain shower he’s always dreamed of. I’m thinking a claw foot or modern tub in place of the whirlpool tub that is already there.

Oh and let’s not forget that we have a huge basement, which will also get utilized after we Drylok it. We’ll keep some space for storage, but the back left corner is going to be Aaron’s workshop. We’ll need some space to build all the furniture on his list. Arguably my favorite “Oh my gosh this is really our dream house” moment will stare you in the face when you walk down the stairs: a wine cellar. Aaron’s designs for that seem to get a bit more show stopping each day. I can’t wait to see what we end up with. When we were proofing this note, we decided that the stairway would look awesome drenched in a single color. We’re also thinking of adding an on-demand water heater down there.

We’ve had a few CRAZY ideas that I thought I’d include. Originally, I wanted to keep mine a secret, stick it in this letter and see if we get around to it. But because I’m the world’s worst at keeping a secret from Aaron, I already told him. I think it would be cool to add a floating (or really open) staircase to the roof and have a rooftop patio. We don’t necessarily need more space, but it would be really cool. Of course, he trumped me by suggesting a glass room off the living room. Sadly with the change in what property we can purchase that will likely never be a reality. I still thought it would be fun to include.

So that’s where we’re going as of right now. In between now and where you stand, I’m sure we’ve done a lot of hole filling, painting, demoing, building and more. Hopefully it was all worth it.

Dear Past Aaron and Heather. It was worth it. Every minute.

We took the firehouse as far as we could in the time it was ours. The sale helped us afford a life and a home in California. And that’s exactly where we’re headed, with this blog and in real life. We hope you’ll stick around for the next chapter of our journey. We already have lots of plans for our new space.

Next time: the California house hunt

Firehouse for sale

EDIT: We accepted an offer! While it will always be bittersweet to leave this place, we do so in full confidence that the new buyers love it as much as we do. (They sent us a letter. I cried.)

Our firehouse is officially for sale and I am officially a mess.

Even though we made this decision knowing we would have to leave this place behind, something about seeing it done and for sale has me in a glass case of emotion.

Let’s tackle the fact that it’s done first. OMG YOU GUYS THE FIREHOUSE IS DONE! I asked Aaron the other day, “If this wasn’t happening, when do you think we would say ‘The firehouse is done.'” We agreed that it would probably be never. At the very least, it wouldn’t be any time soon. He as been working SOOO hard and those of you who follow the blog closely or know our space in person will instantly recognize the dramatic transformations below. I absolutely owe you (and us) some blog posts detailing the updates along with some before and after pics.

(The photos below are just a few from the listing and cover the space as it sits right now. So if some of them seem familiar, there’s a reason for it. We didn’t materially change the spaces that were basically done: studio, upstairs living room, captain’s bedroom, etc.)

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You made it to the end, and I feel like I’m amongst friends. So can I tell you that this is way harder than I expected? When Aaron texted me the link to the listing I cried. This place is so near and dear to our hearts that it feels like a betrayal to shove it out into the world and say “any takers?” I’m doing my best to embrace the good parts of this change (there are many) and accept that sometimes I just need to feel all the feels about letting the firehouse go. I’m taking solace in the fact that everything about this change has fallen in line, and I believe there is a new family waiting in the wings who will be as excited about the firehouse as we are and will step in take ownership of it.

Like I said above, I’d like to round this journey out by sharing the updates we’ve made. And, after much thought and some input from you, I’m leaning towards keeping this blog going in case you want to come along for the ride of finding our next house and making it our own. I already have a few house hunting stories to share. Per usual, you’ll find me over on Instagram with short, real-time updates. Follow me there and tell everyone you know about the firehouse for sale. Thanks, friends.

Where we’ve been… and where we’re going

I honestly don’t know how to say this…

We’re moving.

I know!

I know.

Seriously, I know. It’s crazy and seemingly out of the blue. And it’s the reason we’ve been so silent over the last month and half. I got a job offer in California working for a former boss. There’s a relocation package involved. It’s basically the best way to move to a super desirable part of the country. And when we laid everything out on the table, we just couldn’t say “no.”

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Obviously the firehouse was a factor. We’ve always said this is a dream space. That is still true. We’ve also said it was our forever house. Sadly, that is not true. It just didn’t win out when we stacked it against everything: the weather, the culture, the job opportunity, the company I’m joining, the fact that we could drive to Napa in just 6 hours (FREAKING NAPA! Here’s how I imagine future birthdays playing out. Me: It’s my birthday. Let’s drive to Napa.), the fact that we could camp SO many places within just a few hours of home.

So over the last few weeks, we made a new list of projects – a list of things we need to do to sell. We’ve been slowly marching down that list, touching spaces we thought we’d get to in a few years, making everything feel as cohesive as we can while being cognizant that we’re doing work for the next family to enjoy…

And now I’m crying… It’s what I do – happy, sad, overwhelmed. And this decision is surely a mix of all of those emotions. A year ago, I would have laughed if you told me that we’d set off on an adventure to move half way across the country. But, to be fair, before we met the firehouse I would have laughed if you told me we’d buy something like this. I would have laughed at both but never crossed them off the list of possibilities.

One of the things I love about Aaron and the life we’ve created is that we’re both willing to take chances in the pursuit of happiness and an interesting, full life.

I’m hoping to share the updates we have underway so you can also feel some closure with this space. We have truly appreciated the support we’ve received through this blog. If you could do anything else for us, it would simply be to help us find the next owners of the firehouse once we get this place on the market. We’re taking a bit of a leap of faith (as everyone does when they list their house), but we both believe that this building is special and the right people will fall in love, just like we did.

I’m sure you have questions. Here are a few we’ve been asked, but feel free add more in the comments.

When do you start your new job?
I start my new position on April 17th. It’s lightening fast, but also necessary.

When will you move?
We need to sell the firehouse first. Aaron’s top priority is getting it ready to list. We really hope it sells quickly so I’m not flying solo in California for very long.

Where in California are you moving to?
The LA metro area, likely north of the city.

What are you doing with this blog?
I honestly don’t know. I’ve been blogging for about 6 years now (here and on a personal food blog before) and it seems odd to let it go. But it also seems odd to keep a firehouse themed reno blog going if we move to a more typical house. So TBD…

 

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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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