Category: A little bit personal

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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You’re healthy until you’re not

Before you get too excited, we’re both essentially fine – nothing life threatening is happening. This was just the sentence that kept playing through my head last night and spurred me to start a blog post on my phone. (That’s normal, right?)

One of the last times we visited Kansas City, I remember sitting (nearly falling asleep, really) on Aaron’s grandma’s couch as the elders of the tribe discussed their various ailments. At one point, I was called out on not participating in the conversation. I was awake enough to retort “I don’t have any health issues to discuss.”

Such is the way of life. You’re healthy until you’re not. If this year has a theme it is certainly “Aaron is not healthy.”  His injured foot, which ultimately led to canceling most of our spring camping plans and buying a different trailer, is mostly healed.

Thankfully, his foot was healthy enough for us to enjoy a few days on Bourbon Trail in late May. But when we came back, he promptly got poison ivy from the extra lot. Two things you should know: 1. Aaron is highly allergic to poison ivy. 2. Urban poison ivy is a serious issue… at least in our extra lot. In this case, he got poison ivy on his hands (Yikes!) and it was bad. (You’re welcome for not sharing pictures.) Without going into too many details (again, you’re welcome) the poison ivy just wouldn’t go away. It wrecked his hands to the point that it hurt to hold a hammer.

He finally heeded my advice and visited the doctor. The diagnosis: (probably) psoriasis that was triggered by the poison ivy. Medications have been procured and I have nearly every finger crossed for a quick recovery.

I mention all of this because firehouse progress has been slow… actually that was generous. Firehouse progress has been nonexistent. You may have noticed…

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We’re also facing our busiest time of year: fall wedding season. I counted and between both jobs I have 5 (FIVE!) days off during the entire month of October. Dear Lord…

So, I was wondering if there was anything I could blog about in the meantime – anything you’d like to know or see? Maybe you want an update on the fence? Maybe you want to hear about our Bourbon Trail trip or my excursion to Paris (ahhhhhh! I still don’t really believe it!)? Maybe you’d be satisfied with random dog pictures and videos? (Example below where they prove that through teamwork they can block the entire kitchen floor.) Maybe you have some burning questions for us – firehouse or not-firehouse related. Tell me, friends.

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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.

Fixing

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.

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Hank is huge!

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

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To this:

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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!

Random notes

The pictures for today’s post aren’t quite ready because we got our wires a little crossed. I asked Aaron to edit the “dresser pictures” and he edited the ones for the master bedroom, not the captain’s bedroom. #toomanydressers I blame South Jefferson Mid Century Modern for making us want to replace/add so much furniture.

So instead, you get some random thoughts from me… and some random iPhone pics, starting with a few of Hank!

Watching

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Seriously, how is he growing up so fast? The last check at the vet’s (because we don’t have a monster scale to weigh him) had him at 64 lbs, but I think he’s put on a few more since then.

The captain’s suite redo and the South Jefferson MCM buy (which included two dressers) has left us with so much furniture that we need to purge: two dressers, a desk, a beverage center fridge thing, a ghost chair, a pull down map that was destined for the captain’s room but was usurped by the $10 green and black map from the River Market Antique Mall, possibly an arc lamp, and our beloved record cabinet turned entertainment center/bar.

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As much as we still love this piece, we just don’t have a spot for it here. So we’re hoping to post everything to Craigslist this weekend. I can come back and share the links if anyone is interested.

I dug up this old (2 years!!) “video tour” of the firehouse. I totally forgot that we did this, but I’m glad we did because it’s mind blowing to see all the changes this way (rather than in static pictures.) Also it is CRACKING ME UP. Oh Past Heather, you’re so naïve with your ‘well have the workshop done soon’ statements.

A few notes:

  • It’s CRAZY to see the studio so open.
  • 1:58 – I think it’s funny that I reference having the workshop done “soon” because we all know it’s decidedly NOT done yet.
  • 3:52 – When we pop into the bathroom, you can see out the window. That view is SO different thanks to the ipe garage.
  • 4:50 – Working upstairs SUCKED. Man that space was just wholly depressing I’m so glad that’s a distant memory.
  • 5:16 – The living room wasn’t high on the list, but Aaron surprised me (or at least tried to surprise me) with a living room makeover. I’m so glad we tackled this space. See aforementioned wholly depressing atmosphere.

I’m thinking about doing a new walkthrough after the furniture purge… even if I’m the only one who wants this kind of record of our place. Maybe we’ll peek at the basement and outside too!

 

Hank

We showed you a few pictures of the newest addition to the firehouse, but many of you (rightfully) asked for more of that cuteness in your life. Hank has basically taken over my Instagram feed, but I figured it was worth taking a moment to share a few pictures from the professional camera on here.

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These were all shot in the first month we had him and since then he’s grown so much! When we brought him home he was 26 pounds. Now he’s already 50+. To say he’s going to be big is an understatement. We’re totally cool with that. In fact, it’s what we wanted.

He’s basically so cute that it’s unfair. I mean, come on. That face.

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Obviously there’s been a big learning curve for all of us.

Hank – How do I use these back legs? What can and can’t be chewed on? When will the big dog let me play with her?
Mojo – Is this thing really sticking around? Ok, fine I guess I’ll play with him.

She really wanted nothing to do with him for the first 4 weeks that he was with us. Maybe he was too small? Maybe she didn’t like that he accidentally bit her ear on day one? Thankfully, something clicked and she’s finally turned into the dog we thought she would be around him. She’s teaching him how to play and is so patient with him when they romp. It’s adorable.
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Our learning curve has been focused around finding a rhythm that works for every person and pet. It feels like it gets a little easier every day, which means less time cleaning up pee and more time soaking up this brief time when he’s so small.

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