Category: Downstairs living room

Meanwhile in the half bath

Many a joke (and even a few drinking games) have been derived from the common requests of people featured on House Hunters. While I find most of them laughable (can you really NOT share a sink in your master bath?!), personally I wouldn’t want to buy a house without a bathroom on the first floor. It just seems so inconvenient to send guests up a flight of stairs when nature calls. So, while we haven’t focused much on the half bath on our first floor, it’s a feature of the firehouse that I’m really happy we have.

It’s also been a bit ignored because we’ve done zero updates. That’s all changing as part of the downstairs redo. Let’s take a look at what we’re working with.

001half_bath_ceiling

It’s a pretty narrow room, which makes it hard to photograph.

002half_bath_ceiling

But it does get style points for the original slop sink!

003half_bath_ceiling

It loses major points for the ceiling.

004half_bath_ceiling

It’s a hodgepodge that has been made worse over time (and many owners). It features a light bulb socket (“fixture” seemed like it was giving it too much credit), fan, HVAC duct (which is not actually connected to the HVAC system), hole (I’m assuming that was used to install the HVAC or the fan) and an hole that allows a length of conduit with a large ground wire to connect to the water line.

005half_bath_ceiling

Also it’s made of plaster, so fixing the holes would be a giant pain. So we’re taking it out, adding some framing and putting up drywall. This will also give us a chance to reconfigure the placement of the light (like, maybe centering it!) and HVAC as well as replace the fan.

Aaron started by removing everything and then basically beat the ceiling with a hammer until most of the plaster was on the floor.

006half_bath_ceiling

I came home to this:

007half_bath_ceiling

008half_bath_ceiling

The next step is remove the wire mesh. Then we can frame, drywall, add a light and have our first floor bathroom back in action while it awaits the other critical steps before paint.

Save

Save

Fireplace install

The fireplace hunt had us looking near and far (mostly far) for the right model. The process required contacting Stuv to see if they would sell a fireplace directly to us (rather than through a dealer because there wasn’t one in the immediate region). They were happy to oblige, but told us they were interested in having a rep in our area. They asked if we would be willing to work with someone local for the install and we said we were open. Stuv reached out to Forshaw, the preeminent dealer of all things fire in the St Louis area. Seriously, if you live here, you know the Forshaw jingle from their radio commercials. When I told my mom they were involved she said, “Oooh! They’re very high end.” Long story long, they were interested in the project. The owner actually came out meet with Aaron and give us a bid.

Ultimately it was a win-win-win for everyone. We bought the fireplace from Forshaw and basically got the installation (setting it in place) for free. They also beat the quote we had for the flue installation. Score!

Forshaw bought the model at a subsidized cost and can now install the Stuv model throughout the city. I’m sure after this blog post there will be a run on Stuv fireplaces… And Stuv has a company they can refer and sell too in St Louis, and ultimately they sold another unit.

Because of our layout, there was still some framing work for Aaron to do.

015downstairswindows

First, he drilled holes and anchored the base.

001fireplace_install 002fireplace_install

Then he constructed the rest of the structure. You can actually see the fireplace in the photo below. It’s the silver box with the blue plastic hanging off.

003fireplace_install 004fireplace_install 005fireplace_install

Next, he needed to create a sturdy, heat-resistant base for the fireplace to rest on. We wanted to keep the fireplace low to the ground, so he added some 2x4s and topped those with two sheets of cement board.

006fireplace_install 007fireplace_install

Then it was time to get rid of the glass blocks! A chisel attachment on his hammer drill made quick work of it.

008fireplace_install 009fireplace_install 010fireplace_install

Here’s how things were looking from the outside.

011fireplace_install 012fireplace_install 013fireplace_install

With everything prepped, the crew from Forshaw came out to set the unit in place and install the new flue! As a DIY-er it’s always exciting to see OTHER people working on your house, especially when those other people are as courteous and professional as the crew from Forshaw.

014fireplace_install

Code requires a 45 degree angle for flue vents, so that required removing a few additional bricks above the window.

015fireplace_install

This part of the project has been complete since early September. I’ve been waiting to tell you about it because we’ve had a HUGE HOLE in the side of our building! The mason we used for the window cutouts majorly flaked out. It took some time to find a new contractor we liked and who wouldn’t charge us an arm and a leg for this project. Then it took a long time schedule the work… but finally on Sunday a mason arrived and made our building whole again!

016fireplace_install 017fireplace_install

The mason did a fantastic job and got even closer to the flue than we expected. There’s a small gap at the top, which is hard to photograph, that Aaron will insulate. Forshaw is coming back out to add a collar and then we can call this phase of the installation complete!

018fireplace_install

The mason is also coming back out to give the new section an acid wash that will help it blend in better. Even without that step, we’re thrilled with the work and how everything looks.

019fireplace_install 020fireplace_install

Here’s a view from the inside. If you watched the most recent walk through video you got a peek at this already.

021fireplace_install

Basically this is how things will sit until we do the finishing work. That involves covering the framing with our choice of cladding and running the vents (you can see the holes on the right side of the fireplace).

022fireplace_install

All of that is going to wait until we get some of the other bones done in the room: HVAC, boxing out the windows, electrical, lighting and paint. So we’re on the cusp of winter with an 80% installed fireplace. I keep walking by and muttering “next year… next year” Which is to say that this feels like much needed progress at the firehouse.

Finding a fireplace

As with most things related to the firehouse renovation, the living room fireplace has evolved as we became acquainted with the space and started looking for options. The one thing that never changed was our desire for a wood-burning fireplace. We both love the warmth (literal and figurative) that you get from a wood fireplace.

As usual, Pinterest was a great spot to save some inspiration, as evidenced by Aaron’s extensive Fireplace board on Pinterest. Not all of these were contenders, but we thought it would be interesting to walk through our thought process.

When we signed the papers on the firehouse, we envisioned a floating fireplace situated in the middle of the room. Something like this:

001fireplace_options

Pinterest/Source

Side note: When we bought this place, I wrote a long letter to our future selves detailing all the plans we had for the place. We printed it out, trashed the electronic copy and stored it with a bottle of wine that we’ll open on our 5 year anniversary. We picked 5 years because we would (obviously) be close to finishing this place at that point. Ha Ha HA! Oh, pre-renovation Aaron and Heather, how naive you were. I only mention this because the floating fireplace was definitely a detail included in the letter that clearly won’t be happening.

But, I digress… Floating fireplaces are cool. I’ll also take that tree. Please and thank you.

002fireplace_options

Pinterest

After we moved in, we got a better sense of the space. This room is actually on the small side. We always talk about how BIG the spaces are in the firehouse, but if I could add square footage anywhere it would be to the kitchen and downstairs living and dining rooms. The living room clocks in at just 135 square feet, which has to include a sizable walkway to get to the bathroom and stairs.

A central floating fireplace was definitely out. This ultra modern beauty caught our eye next, but was eventually ruled out because of the configuration of the flue.

003fireplace_options

Pinterest/Source

We planned to bust out the glass block window to allow for the vent/chimney.

004downstairswindows

A fireplace hanging from the ceiling would require busting through the upstairs living room and roof to add the requisite smoke removal. No bueno.

The piece had some mid century modern charm, which we we love. That sent Aaron looking for a retro inspired piece. This Malm was the next thing to catch our eye.

004fireplace_options

Pinterest/Source

The simplicity was nice and the price was good, but I don’t think we were ever terribly in love. It mostly hung on as a good, economical back up.

This guy though… this guy is just cool.

005fireplace_options

Pinterest

BAM! Fireplace! Unfortunately the multi sided configuration didn’t make sense in our design plan.

Part of the problem we kept running into is that all the cool, minimal, wood-burning fireplaces are made in Europe. Because European design > American design. While we could (and would) ship one over, differences in the fireplace code and the sheer cost made it prohibitive. So I did what anyone does when faced with this problem: poured a glass of wine and pulled up Pinterest. That led me to the Stuv brand, which offered stand-alone fireplaces AND sold versions in the United States.

006fireplace_options

Pinterest/Source

We loved several of the cladding options (the material that wraps the exterior of the fireplace) but overall the cost was more than we could spend.

Stuv also offered this really sleek option.

foyer-contemporain-stuv30-in-details2

Source

It comes with a really cool “face plate” that makes it look like a super hero (or villain considering the fire) when it is closed. Plus, you can order a grill kit and actually make food on it. Aaron was basically sold… until we found out it was even more expensive than the other version of the Stuv. Womp, womp.

Around this time we completed our refi and with the prospect of actually having the money needed to do this project, Aaron kicked into high gear. That man can source materials like nobody’s business. Seriously, is that a job? Professional Sourcer?

He turned up these sleek beauties from Wittus.

007fireplace_options

Pinterest/Source

We didn’t like that the firebox was so small, and they were extending past the budget we hoped to hit.

With stand-alone fireplaces (except for the Malm) seemingly out of reach, he focused on fireplace inserts. Which led him back to the original Stuv, which was available without the cladding.

Aaron reached out to Stuv to get pricing and see if they would sell direct. They would, but the insert was STILL out of reach. The fireplace is such a focal point, that we decided to crunch the numbers again. After pulling up the spreadsheet, Aaron realized he had money set aside to remove the wall between the kitchen and dining room. Because we can’t tackle the kitchen right now (more on our plans here), that wall is staying in place, and the extra funds put the Stuv insert within reach! Huzzah!

We ordered the Stuv 21/85 sf (single face).

HAB2185SF2A_WHITE

We absolutely love the minimal design. A slim 1-1/2″ frame is all you see. The glass door slides up into the model and the track is hidden. The unit is fully insulated, which makes installing it to code much easier. This was important because we thought we would be tackling the whole job ourselves. More on that in the next post…

Wow windows!

Let’s talk about windows. If you’re new here you need to know that we love natural light (and white paint.) Ever since our plans for our yard flipped to the west side of the building, we’ve been desperate to add some windows to that side. Tackling the first floor living room is our first chance to let in some light from that side.

001downstairswindows

Here’s a view of the inside – this is our future downstairs living room.

001LivingRoomElectric

For this space, we’ve long been enamored with really tall, relatively thin windows that would emphasize the height of the space. Keeping the existing soffit (to the right in the picture) and the fireplace we plan to add in mind, we settled on two windows that would flank the fireplace, kind of like this:

012LivingRoomElectric

We had a rough idea of the size we wanted, but knew that it would be dictated in part by what a manufacturer could make for us. The only thing we knew for sure is that we wanted a single pane of glass to keep the view uninterrupted. We hoped we could find windows that would open, but because of the overall size, that wasn’t in the cards. We eventually landed on 9’ x 20″ fixed pane windows from Lincoln Windows, which we ordered through Webster Window and Door.

Once the windows were ordered, we hired a mason to carve out space for these beauties. It was no small task to make it all the way through our walls. This building was built to last! On the first floor, the ceramic brick is backed by two layers of (according to our mason) very hard brick. All of this was carefully cut away to create the window openings.

The photo above and the one below give you the best idea of how much light spilled in from the just one of the new openings.

002downstairswindows 003downstairswindows 004downstairswindows 005downstairswindows 006downstairswindows

Then he added new brick on the exterior to make the opening look seamless. We’ll box in the windows on the interior before we paint the rooms.

007downstairswindows 008downstairswindows

This project is what generated the Great Dust Storm of 2015 (and tears… many tears.) But now that it’s done, we couldn’t be happier with the end product. The masonry work is impeccable. It really looks like these windows were always meant to be.

Obligatory resting dog framed perfectly through new window hole shot…

009downstairswindows

Once the openings were made, Aaron added framing for the windows and (sadly) covered them in plywood while we waited for the windows to arrive.

013downstairswindows

Once they arrived, we blocked out an entire Saturday to install the living room windows, but we didn’t need it. They slid into place on the first try. If you’re a DIY-er you can appreciate how rare it is for a project to be easier or faster than you anticipated. Usually it’s the opposite. But it’s like these windows were made for this opening (see what I did there.) Which is great, because it’s a little nerve wracking to maneuver really, really tall windows.

012downstairswindows

014downstairswindows

After a round of screws, we encountered a small problem. The flashing that we ordered for the exterior didn’t work. The windows are recessed too far into the wall. We quickly decided that we needed to find a company to make custom flashing rather than try to McGyver what we had into place. It would give us more peace of mind knowing water wouldn’t creep in.

Here’s an after shot from inside:

015downstairswindows

It was crazy to see them in place for the first time. There’s no screen and the glass is perfectly clean so it really looked like they weren’t there… like there are just two huge holes on the side of the building. It took about a week for us to stop yelling to one another, “HEY! Did you know there are windows down here!!!” whenever we passed through the space, because we’re hug nerds. (But also because OMG THOSE WINDOWS!)

I don’t think the pictures really do it justice. The space went from feeling like a basement to feeling like the bones of a real room. It still makes me supremely happy to walk through this space, especially in the evening when the shadow from the tree sprinkles across the floor.

The windows have been in place since the end of May, but finding and scheduling the flashing took longer than we wanted, due in part to the constantly rainy weather. At the beginning of last week the windows were wrapped and I could finally take some after pictures from the outside (and share my window joy with you.)

016downstairswindows

Here are a few before and after shots for comparison.

001downstairswindows

017downstairswindows

018downstairswindows 019downstairswindows

The middle window will be part of the opening for the fireplace flue. Eventually part of that will be bricked in to surround it.

020downstairswindows 021downstairswindows

On the other side of the bottom floor space is the (future) dining room. Here’s the layout for reference.

Firehouse-floor-plan_first_floor

And you may have noticed that if you look through the left window in the shot below you can see all the way through our building. That’s a new view because we also added a window to the dining room!

016downstairswindows

The east wall included this unsightly steel box that was poorly bricked in by some previous owner. Rather than trying to cover it up, we decided to cut it out and add another window to that side of the building, adding even more light to this space. 4 windows > 1 window.

022downstairswindows

This process was the same – cut the hole, frame it, install the window.

010downstairswindows 011downstairswindows

The dining room window install was almost as smooth as the living room side. Aaron had to chip out one extra piece of glazed brick, which gave way with a few taps of the hammer. We hoisted it into place (it’s several feet off the ground) and I held it (… pressed my body against it and prayed it didn’t fall. Working with glass is stressful!) while Aaron moved his ladder inside to secure it in place. We had the same issue with the flashing, which we expected.

024downstairswindows 025downstairswindows

A few before and after shots from outside:

023downstairswindows

026downstairswindows 027downstairswindows 028downstairswindows

029downstairswindows

It blends in really well with the rest of the windows.

030downstairswindows

Add windows” may have been only one line item on the dining room/living room makeover, but it was a huge one! It’s awesome to see something we’ve been picturing for so long become a reality.

Plans for the first floor

Now that the dust has settled (and been removed) let’s chat about the major reno for the year. We’re taking on most of the rest of downstairs. Functionally, that means we’re tackling the entry cube (fire hose lights, your days are numbered), downstairs living room, dining room and half bath. Here’s a bit of the floor plan for reference.

Firehouse-floor-plan_first_floor

When we are done, the only part of the first floor that will be relatively untouched is the kitchen. We really wanted to tackle everything at once, but a financing hiccup put the kitchen on hold. It’s a bit of a bummer (and a story for a different day) but we’re both very excited to use space that has basically been a landing zone/construction area the entire time we’ve lived here.

So what’s on tap? Here’s a high level overview.

Overall

  • Finish the HVAC
  • Fix the drywall
  • Remove and repair the plaster on the ceiling
  • Paint walls, ceiling and now the floor, because blah

Entry cube

003masterplan2014

This connects the studio to the living space. The only “finished” thing about it is the lights. Besides that it’s a jumble of half-mudded drywall. Here’s what we’ll do:

  • Ditch the fire hose lights (Don’t worry. We’ll find a good home for them.)
  • Install a commercial door that fits the character of the space
  • Hang a new light and maybe some art

Half bath

006firehouse_two_years

This small bathroom got a big upgrade when we replaced the windows on the first floor before we moved in. It’s totally functional, which is great because it gets a lot of use since it is the only bathroom on this floor. This space only needs some cosmetic touch ups:

  • Refinish the sink
  • Fix the ceiling – It has some random holes, a few fans (one works, one doesn’t) and an old, ugly light fixture
  • New lighting
  • Add some functional storage and a mirror

Dining room

003openhousecleaningfrenzy 002openhousecleaningfrenzy

The dining room also got a new window. Since then it has basically been a staging place for tools, except for the one time I cleaned it before our open house. In this area, we’ll:

  • Add a window
  • Procure/buy new furniture (we’re pondering a custom table)
  • Build the coolest light fixture we can imagine that we’ve wanted to hang somewhere for years
  • Finish it with art and accessories, maybe an indoor tree?

When we tackle the kitchen, we’ll bust down the wall between these spaces. In the interim, we’re going to close the kitchen off with a swinging restaurant door and new frosted glass for the transom.

Living room

004openhousecleaningfrenzy

We have big plans for this space! We already have a very comfortable TV/movie watching area, so we want this to function as a great place to relax and entertain. We’ll still incorporate a TV (in case we want to toss the football game on during Thanksgiving) but the main focus will be chilling in front of the fireplace. Here’s the plan:

  • Add TWO news windows that flank a new fireplace (EEE!) You can sneak a peek at the layout at the end of this post.
  • Create (or buy) a storage unit that includes a hidden TV and firewood storage
  • Layer in furnishings, accessories, lighting and art

This project is actually slated to start AFTER the workshop, but we wanted to take advantage of the nice weather to get the windows cut out (by a mason) and then installed (by Aaron.) So I’ll have another post on that when they go in, then work in this space will halt while we get the workshop done and finally make a home for the tools.