Lighting up the living room and seeing the rooms finally take shape

Today over lunch we admitted to each other that right before the renovation started, we each had a private moment of “Should we really tear this house apart?” Obviously it didn’t stop us, and we agreed that it was still the right choice. Looking at these before photos is only further reassurance that some things needed to change in our space to make us happy and comfortable.

If you’ve been reading the blog for any length of time, you know we like light. The living room we inherited was a light-filled paradise during the day… but at night the sole source of light was a lonely, off center ceiling fan.

We actually loved the chevron slat ceiling, but the set up left us with very few options to get power to (much needed) new lights.

We brainstormed quite a bit – considering things like replicating the light fixtures we made in the living room and captain’s bedroom in the firehouse, but ultimately we decided recessed lighting would be the best solution. To install this, it required dropping the ceiling slightly in order to add cross pieces for the fixtures and drywall to attach to.

The finished result is crisp, clean goodness… which I couldn’t show you without revealing all of the drywall. A few notes on that: The original plan for the renovation had Aaron doing everything but the exterior stucco repair. We found a great local guy to help with that and he also offered to subcontract the drywall. Thanks to an unexpectedly nice tax return, we opted to hire that work out. The crew did all of the drywall work on the walls and ceiling (including hanging it) AND smoothed our ceilings in the kitchen, dining room and hallway in about a week. This saved us a ton of time in the overall plan and was worth EVERY FREAKING PENNY.

So I figured we’d take a tour through all of the spaces via a set of before and afters. Ready?!?

This view changed dramatically after removing the built ins, adding the new French doors and smoothing the ceiling.

Boom Sauce.

Flipping around – This view is crazy thanks to our furniture sitting sideways in the space. The built ins, paneling and fireplace mantle were nixed.

Looking toward the kitchen from the living room, here’s a pretty good before shot of the bar, which we said “bye bye” to. That’s a major change, but so is opening the wall behind the fridge and microwave/oven.

Mama likey!

Here’s a reminder of what the kitchen used to look like.

We left the laundry area where it was and built a wall, shortening the kitchen from this direction. This will be a U shaped kitchen with the range at the back of the space, sink to the right (in a similar spot as it started) and 500 miles of countertops (approximately).

Here’s a look at that wall we cut in half to open this space to the front of the house.

These night photos don’t do justice to the amount of light that streams through the space from the front door and front windows.

Shrinking the kitchen from one side was only possible because we stole this dining area for a pantry.

We will take a peek inside later when there’s something to see.

I think I saved the best for last. This door is directly ahead when you enter the house. It used to be an entrance to the kitchen…

Now it houses the much needed, much loved laundry room!

Looking at these before photos and then living in our new space, any doubts about tearing this space up are completely and utterly erased.

The madness of midway (and a video)

The best thing I can say about the demolition phase of this renovation is that it is over. It really is madness to take most of your house down the studs, essentially live in your master suite, wash dishes in your guest bathroom tub, cook on a camp stove, and (for a few weeks) do laundry on your patio. Madness.

In the spirit of documenting and sharing, I thought it was still worth sharing a few shots of the house midway through the renovation.

Walking into the house, the intrusive pantry is gone, as is most of the drywall around the kitchen. You can start to see the front-to-back view we’ll have when this wall gets cut in half.

Here’s a better shot of the kitchen, and it’s pretty empty at this point. We did a little extra demo by pulling down the entire ceiling, rather than removing the soffit and patching where it had been. The lights still work though, which means this space has 100% more light than the future dining room has ever had. So there’s that.

Staring straight into the kitchen (and future laundry room) the space feels simultaneously huge (thanks to everything being gone) and small (we’re putting a whole kitchen here?!?). Don’t forget that the space behind where I’m standing will be a huge wall of cabinets and a hidden pantry.

This view of the living room doesn’t even look that crazy. The drywall is almost out, but we haven’t even removed the slider yet (but we have decided not to keep it, per my earlier post). The carpet (and the hodgepodge of tile below) is on its way out.

This view is a bit crazier, showing the drywall we pulled from the upper part of the wall. That will eventually get recovered, but it did give us easy access to the corner of the attic where previous owners and contractors decided to leave rolls of insulation other non-essential building materials. Clean out commenced pre-drywall replacement. #RenovationIsGlamorous

The problem with these types of photos is the chaos. It’s really hard to take in what we’re planning. So once the walls were in place and the form was taking shape, I did a video tour to give you a better feel for the space.

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A few notes

  • Yay walls!
  • I mention the washer and dryer will stack. I failed to mention that we decided to buy a new washer. Our dryer is new enough that the washer pair was available. So we’re not stacking our existing set…. which wouldn’t work….
  • The pantry still feels a little crazy here… buy trust that it all makes sense later.
  • I mentioned the need to address the ceiling to add lights. That’s a great set up for our next post, which will be that PLUS (thanks to the magic of the internet) ALL OF THE DRYWALL!!!

 

SIde note: If you’re still out there reading this – thank you. I know this whole transition from a super cool firehouse to a California ranch has been odd, and then I basically disappeared for months. Renovations were slow thanks to Aaron spending all of last fall in the Midwest. Once things got rolling my job became utterly insane. If I wasn’t working in the evening, I was completely exhausted and it’s hard for me to be verbose and witty whilst tired. The work pace may not let up, but we’ve got SO many things to show you and I’m energized by the progress we’ve made! All that to say (again), thanks for sticking around and checking in to our little corner of the internet.

In which we meant to swap a door and a window and instead bought a new door and new window

You know you’re an adult when you frugally tell yourself “We don’t need to buy food while we are out. We have food at home.” We had the same moment while planning this renovation: “We have a door, and we need a door. We have a window, and we need a window. No need to buy anything.” Obviously based on the title, you know that’s not how this worked out… so let’s dive into the details of the living room.

One of the most important changes on the renovation docket was adjusting the flow so a couch would actually fit in the space. There was a lot to take in in the “before” photos of our living room – built-ins galore, a sideways couch, and doors/windows aplenty. I thought it might be helpful to take a step outside and get a clearer view of all of the openings in our living room walls.

Left to right – Here is the sliding door (which we planned to move around the corner), a door on an angle (why??) and a window that stays.

Moving to the corner, you see the same angle door and window, along with the window we planned to move and yet another door.

Here’s a straight shot of the side of the room. We planned to move this window to the slider opening and reframe this wall, removing the door on the right entirely. Got it?

Great. That’s not exactly what happened…

Problem 1: Windows installed on a stucco wall come with extra trim fin that sits over the rough opening and is essential for installation. You can see that trim around the small window on the photo above.  We didn’t realize that the window we wanted to move had its trim cut away when it was installed in a wood wall. It wasn’t a show stopper because Home Depot still carried the same brand, allowing us to get a slightly wider, but matching window.

Problem 2: After working on the furniture placement for the living room, we realized that we needed the sliding glass door to open from the left. Unfortunately, the one we owned opened at the right (with a fixed pane on the left), putting the walkway right next to the desk, rather than in the open walkway we had planned. Thankfully, we realized the issue at the very end of a Lowes sale. We decided to grab an awesome French door set with sidelights that open.

And that’s what renovation contingency budgets are for….

Here is where we landed post stucco repair:

We also decided to pull the angle door, not needing the light or the access. All of this will look much better with a new coat of paint.

This is one of the “oops” issues we hit during the reno that left me completely happy with the result. The budget took a small hit, but it was SOOO worth it. We’re both really happy with the French doors. They feel so much more modern than the slider (which we were able to sell on Craigslist), and most nights we’re popping open the sidelights to let in extra breeze.

The photos of the inside won’t make a ton of sense until we get some drywall up, but in the next post (which won’t be months from now) we’ll take a look inside (including a video) at the madness that is a demolished space.

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

What a difference paint makes

NOTE: 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.)

It’s probably not a surprise that the process of interviewing for, thinking about and ultimately accepting a role that would relocate us happened over the course of many, many days. During the very necessary interim period, we faced a major choice in the downstairs renovation: finish it the way we wanted or finish it to sell. In order to put that decision off until the future became more clear, we started making changes to other areas of the firehouse. It was a list of “If we move, we’re that much further ahead and if we don’t at least we have made some of our untouched spaces better.”

First up on that list was the master bathroom. It was a good target because all it needed was paint and virtually anything would be better than the light blue it was already sporting.

Before:

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After:

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We wanted to go with gray to tone down the blue in the tile (which the old paint color highlighted) and to tie it into the master bedroom. We coated our bedroom in Behr’s Dark Cavern about three years ago, which is apparently long enough for Behr to discontinue a color. In lieu of going with a lighter shade of that, we opted for Behr Silver Bullet.

Ultimately, it reads a bit too dark in this space, but I’m splitting hairs because it looks so much better overall! We opted to paint the trim around the tub to give it more of “built-in” feel and less of a “LOOK AT ALL THE WHITE TRIM” vibe. That’s all this space needed besides art, a fresh coating of caulk in the shower and fixing the GFCI outlet that never worked (because the previous owner ran a wire that stopped mid hallway and was helpfully marked “master bathroom,” but not helpfully connected to an outlet. I just can’t.)

At this point, we still didn’t have a clear answer on move vs. stay. So we decided to tackle the “4th bedroom.” It has always had quotes around it because it’s never been used as a bedroom and, as previously mentioned, good friends of ours didn’t even know this room existed. Basically it was a sometimes organized storage space with no windows, very little light and a furnace dominating the room (you can see it at the top left of the photo below). To get this space ready to sell (or just happier to look at if we stayed), we needed to repair some peeling plaster on the ceiling, give it a paint makeover (the ceiling was teal), install a new fan and light (and center it between the air ducts), and install new floors.

We had a few decisions to make regarding the paint and the floors. Initially, we dubbed this whole project: Project Greige…. as in, we have to go with a “sell-able” color and grey/beige is popular. After looking at a lot of greige swatches (and losing a little bit of our souls) we decided we just couldn’t do that to the firehouse. Instead, we opted to go for a light gray that we would like in our extra bedrooms and could continue through the downstairs spaces if we did renovate to sell. We grabbed a bunch of swatches and settled on Behr White Metal, which happens to be one shade lighter than the Silver Bullet we used in the master bath.

Floors were another adventure, but let’s look at a before/after set first!

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We installed a new fan and LED light kit, along with a light in the closet (not pictured) which made a huge difference in the space. We also wanted to cover up the furnace, but not totally enclose it and screw over the next owners. The best solution we came up with was a huge curtain. It does a great job of not drawing your eye to the ceiling and also won’t be in the way for any maintenance that is needed. (Thanks to my mom for her seamstress skills!)

We also put in new floors! And that is a story in itself. Originally, we wanted to match the floors in the workout room. They weren’t particularly nice, but at least we wouldn’t be introducing another floor type to the building. (Feel free to scroll down to the next pic to see what we were working with.)

We looked online with little success and decided to pull a piece of the floor to take to Home Depot. The option that came the closest was some of the cheapest, ugliest, still doesn’t super match floor I have ever seen. We kept wandering the aisle looking for something else… anything else. In doing so, we noticed a clearance palette of some really pretty, dark brown engineered hardwood. It’s a perfect mid-century tone and we instantly said “Oooh we wish we could put this in… but then we’d also have to re-do the workout room…” I’m sure you know where this is going…

We decided that having some hardwood floors in the firehouse would only help with the value. So we bought enough for the 4th bedroom, workout room and downstairs living nad dining rooms. (You may remember that the epoxy floor downstairs space we irrepriably damaged when we left a piece of treated plywood on it for too long. Oops!) If anyone in St. Louis happened to also fall in love with Home Legend Wire Brushed Forest Trail Hickory engineered hardwood at the clearance price of $1.53 a square foot, sorry not sorry but we cleaned out all the stock in the metro area… and bought a few boxes online at full price.

So that’s the story of how we decided to put down new floors in the workout room. It also (desperately) needed paint… because the sea foam green/dark purple/light purple combo wasn’t working for anyone. The benefit of putting down new floors is that we could spray in this space and not have to worry about protecting the floors. It also made it much easier to paint some of the “WHY DID YOU PAINT THAT” items, like the duct work, which was sporting green stems and purple vents… because who doesn’t want to highlight their HVAC in contrasting colors….

This space also got a coating of Behr White Metal, including the small amount of exposed brick. Sorry exposed brick purists. It made more sense and I’m in love with how it turned out.

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Truth be told – at this point, we hired painters to help speed some of the renovations along, and I regret nothing! I have never felt so fancy as when we had someone else painting spaces in our house. Besides being a luxury it also made sense considering the amount of work we needed to be done. At this point we knew we were MOVING!

I’m so happy with this change… so happy that it makes me think “maybe we should have done this sooner.” More on that later. Besides the paint and floors, we did some plaster repair, replaced the light kit on the fan and finished some trim work in the closet and around the door.

The awesome bathroom was up next. It is one of the least photographed spaces in our home. Probably because until about a week before listing it had a drop ceiling with damaged tiles (from a fixed roof issue) and missing tiles that allowed an ugly fluorescent light to hang below it. I never took proper before photos of this space, and I regret it. Aaron replaced the ceiling tiles, added recessed LED lighting and fixed the duct work. The difference is incredible! I can’t show you that, but what I can show you is the awesome dark blue paint we picked.

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BAM!

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I love this color so much. It really draws your eye to the beautiful stone, and thanks to the new lighting the space is bright despite the darker color.

That completed ALL of the rooms in the upstairs and it was so weird to be completely finished with an entire floor of the firehouse!

The kitchen needed a little prep work, like taking down the exit sign and conduit, but this transformation is mostly thanks to paint and I basically can’t….

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GAH! It looks so good. That yellow glazed brick was making this room so, so sad. If you haven’t caught the theme yet, the paint is Behr White Metal. It makes everything in this room look better – the cabinets, the countertops and the floors.

And so, do I wish we would have done this earlier? We’ve gotten that question from quite a few people. The answer is yes… and no…

Yes, because OMG look at that kitchen! And the workout room feels like a chic Ney York City loft.

But, actually, no… because I stand behind our rationale for tackling spaces one at a time and doing them to completion. We took a long view because we were in it for the long haul. Painting a space just because seemed a bit like a waste, let alone paying for and installing new floors and lighting. The captain’s bedroom is a good reminder that when we do a space from top to bottom is sings. It wouldn’t be nearly as beautiful if we had simply painted.

So while I’m happy that we touched these spaces (which needed to be done just to sell this place as finished) I don’t see our ultimate vision. They fit with the look of the firehouse, but they don’t feel like us. A coworker asked if it has been emotional to let go of the firehouse. It has. But projects like this – finishing spaces but not feeling like their ours – have helped us (or at least me… Aaron is still recuperating from many, many weeks of work. I’ll ask him when he wakes up) begin to see this place as someone else’s home.