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.

The Grand Plan V3.0

We’re back! Did you miss us? Boy, did we miss you… and making progress on the firehouse. When we last left off Aaron was battling a year of random health woes that bled into our busiest time of year (fall wedding season). But, now, dear readers, things are ramping back up and we’re all kinds of excited.

A reader (Hi Robyn!) suggested that I give you an update on the grand plan in light of our impending 4 year firehouse anniversary (Feb 14th for anyone keeping track and planning to send us a gift) (And by a gift I mean wine.) It’s been three years since we took a broad look at what we’ve done and what’s to come. So here goes nothing… err everything.

One quick note: I didn’t do ANY staging for these photos except to make our bed and pick up the bra that was laying in the bathroom, because I’m not an animal.

 

Exterior
30% done
% change: -10% I think I was being generous calling our exterior 40% done last time. We have LOTS of plans for our outside space and we hadn’t even finished the garage. Since then we’ve picked up even more land (thanks to buying the extra lot) and another list of projects.

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Front yard

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Back/side yard

Extra lot

Other/Overall

  • Seal the roof
  • Tuck point the building (likely in stages)
  • Replace the bad second story windows
  • Landscape (another tree or two, ivy, tall grass)

 

Studio
95% done
% change: +15% for some minor additions

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Entry cube
15
% done
% change: +15% for getting the fire hose lights out of the way and ordering a new fixture for the space

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  • Replace the fire hose lights <– The lights are gone and the new fixture is on order!
  • Finish the drywall <– In progress!
  • Paint
  • Install new door between cube and studio
  • Hang art and/or coat rack system

 

Downstairs living room
25% done
% change: +25% I don’t think this room looks 25% finished, but we did tackle the major renovations: windows and fireplace.

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The plans for this space have expanded quite a bit, here’s a current list:

Dining room
16% done
% change: +15% for fixing the ceiling, adding a window and buying the slab that will become our dining room table

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  • Secure the fire pole at the bottom with more bolts
  • Patch all the holes, including the large one that was possibly a coal door. We decided to add a window to this space. It is a little overshadowed by the changes we made in the living room, but we still love it! Also it was an easy solution to removing the ill-patched section of this wall that we think may have been a coal door. See some before and after shots in this post.
  • Skim coat the ceiling
  • Finish the duct work
  • Run more electrical outlets
  • Put the dining room lighting on a different switch than the studio lighting
  • Build a new door for the basement stairwell
  • Re-do window casings
  • Paint
  • Install new flooring
  • Build a light fixture that’s been floating around in our heads for years
  • Build a large dining table <– We bought the slab!
  • Hang art

 

Kitchen
2% done
% change: 0% It’s crowded. It’s ugly. But it’s functional.

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Half bath
10% done
% change: 0%

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  • Replace the bricked over window
  • Replace the ceiling <– This is in progress… in that we have no ceiling and guests are forced to use a lantern when using the facilities at night.
  • Add a new light fixture and fan
  • Paint
  • Re-glaze the sink
  • Restore the toilet paper holder
  • Restore the door
  • Add art and accessories, like a mirror and storage

 

Stairwell
95% done
% change: 95% We made a lot of progress in this space, but it’s a bit of two steps forward, one step back. For the sake of only explaining it once, see notes below regarding the living room.

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Upstairs living room
75% done, but with a big project still looming
% change: 75%

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Captain’s bedroom and bathroom
95% done
% change: +94% We tackled just about everything in this room over the winter in 2015. It’s one of my favorite spaces!

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Awesome bathroom
0% done
% change: 0% Nothing has changed in this room except for the fact that I use it to dry laundry sometimes…

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  • Replace fixtures as necessary to make sure everything works
  • Replace the lights over the mirrors
  • Remove the plaster
  • Paint
  • Build/buy a storage solution for towels and other necessities <– We scored a cool shelf which is covered by a sweater above. I think it will probably stay in this room.
  • Build an LED drop ceiling
  • Get a new door
  • Add a Great Dane washing station in one of the showers

Hallway
100% done
% change: +5% for adding some art

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Workout bedroom/extra bedroom
5% done
% change: 0% Not much has changed in here.

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  • Remove the “stage”
  • Remove the pole closet
  • Build a Murphy bed and extra storage along the south wall
  • Extend the laundry room by stealing the closet space and a window
  • Fix the window sills
  • Finish the trim
  • Build out the exercise area (mirrors and a weight rack)
  • Mount the TV
  • Replace the flooring
  • Remove the plaster
  • Paint
  • Replace the fan and add lighting
  • Install storage and a Murphy bed

 

4th bedroom
0% done
% change: 0% I “re-organize” this room about once a year.

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To be honest, we’re not entirely sure what we’re going to do with this space. Originally, we thought we might make it into a closet for our master suite. Now I’m leaning toward keeping it as a bedroom just from a value standpoint.

 

Laundry room
0% done
% change: 0%… not much to see here, folks.

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  • Expand the laundry room by stealing space from the workout room
  • Build storage and a clothes drying rack
  • Paint

 

Master Bedroom
0% done
% change: 0% We painted this room a few years ago and it was enough of an upgrade to keep us happy for now. This is pretty low on the priority list.

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  • Remove the half wall
  • Remove the double closets
  • Seal the brick
  • Adjust duct work
  • Install a new door
  • Update slide dimmers to something more modern
  • Replace the flooring
  • Redo the lighting
  • Build a platform bed
  • Buy/build side tables
  • Add a fireplace (maybe)
  • Buy additional furniture as needed (chairs, dresser, etc) – maybe some vintage pieces
  • Paint
  • Add light blocking window treatments
  • Hang art

 

Master Bathroom
0% done
% change: 0%

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We actually discuss plans for this space quite a bit, maybe because we use it a lot, maybe because we stayed at a hotel in Kansas City over the holidays that had a huge shower that we both want? We haven’t settled on a layout, mostly because we’re not sure if we actually need to keep a tub (not that tub, that tub is going no matter what). Any thoughts on that? Will someone NOT by my firehouse some day because it doesn’t have a tub?

Basement
50% done
% change: +40% for finishing the workshop
Plan changes: Not much as changed down here, but thanks to some water issues (read all about it here) we invested in a water proofing system that should keep things nice and dry

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  • DryLok walls
  • Replace the sump pump
  • Cover the sump pump hole
  • Run electric and build a platform for the chest freezer
    <– We actually swapped out the chest freezer for an upright freezer with a lot more space. That was our exciting purchase with the bonus I received last year. We’re wild like that.
  • Assemble shelving and organize our personal stuff and business materials
  • Spend more money than I’d like to publish on a water-drainage system
  • Build a workshop
  • Add a light to the stairwell
  • Install a door for the stairwell
  • Build a wine cellar
  • Paint the stairwell

Overall updates

Whew! I feel like I need a nap after reading all of that. Per usual, we’re tackling things in smaller segments and the kitchen/living room/entry cube/half bath are squarely in our sights. Aaron is working on some of the less glamorous elements, like drywall and fixing the duct work. I hope to have some progress photos to show you soon!

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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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Starting the natural fence

Thank you so much for the kind words and encouragement on last week’s post. We were both pleasantly surprised by the number of comments and the outpouring of support. You guys are awesome! Virtual hugs for everyone!

I remembered that we finished a project this summer that I have yet to share. So before we dive into some other topics (like Paris and what we like/don’t like about living in an alternative space and PARIS!), let’s take a look at the start of the natural fence. Ta da!

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… It’s the 5 new trees next to the fence… I feel like you’re not impressed…

To be fair, as with most landscaping projects, this feels a bit like “before and before” pictures, rather than “before and after”, because we need everything to grow to achieve the desired effect.

But, let’s back up. We bought the extra lot (LOTS of detail on that here) but never intended to redo the fence to make it part of our yard. Still, it needs some barriers to prevent people from walking through it/dumping trash/messing with the garden we intend to build. In the back we’ll install something a bit more standard, but up front we thought it would be nice to plant a living fence in the form of a row of evergreens.

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Aaron spotted some nice sized specimens at Home Depot earlier this spring. We planned to grab the trees we needed when they went on clearance at the end of the summer. So we bided our time.. and apparently we bided too long… We stopped by in mid-August to find all of the shrubs had been sold!

Thankfully the interwebs knew we needed some shrubbery, and after a little research on what should grow well, we landed on Leyland Cypress. The Tree Center had several heights available and good reviews. We decided on the 3′ – 4′ option (mostly based on price) and ordered seven. They were on sale for $44.50 each and we scored free shipping for spending more than $100. Winning!

It’s been a few years since we drug hundreds of pounds of bricks out of our yard, but we were quickly reminded just how much debris is lurking beneath the surface of these lots that once contained a brick home… and now contain a good part of that home beneath the surface.  This is just some of the pieces we hauled out of one hole.

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It wasn’t totally smooth sailing, but by taking turns digging we were able to plant a tree about every 35 minutes. We opted to stagger the trees (using the measurements from here) so that the fence fills in faster.

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We also only planted five of them. As we were working, we decided that the area furthest from our fence is too shaded to support this type of tree. Eventually, we’ll add a section of horizontal ipe to finish off the row.

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Here are a few before and after shots.

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The whole tree buying experience got us really inspired to think about what other trees we ultimately want for the yard. We talked about adding something that has nice fall color near the front of the yard and grabbing additional evergreens to stick in the back corner (which is a bit bare after we lost a tree). We almost added more to our order, but decided that planting seven trees in one weekend was more than enough. I’m so glad we waited, because we knew just what to do with the two extra trees.

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We waited a week to put these guys in their new home (apparently 5 trees in one day was quite enough.) In the meantime, the temperature spiked back to normal August levels and we ended up digging these holes in full sun next our steel paneled fence (which gets really warm.) Basically it felt like we were on the surface of the sun… minus our skin literally melting away. But you get the point. It was REALLY hot and we ran into even more bricks, rocks and chunks of asphalt back here. Progress was slow and we’ll admit that neither hole was the requisite diameter. But they’re in and so far they’re alive.

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So now we water and wait.

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