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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Extra lot

(You can file this under TMI.)

We bought another vacant lot… and of course there is a long, complicated back story.

First, let’s get oriented. If you haven’t heard the story about how our yard came to be on the right side of our building, check out this VERY old post. The other thing you need to know is that between our yard and the yard attached to a two family building further west was yet another vacant lot.

It’s a little hard to see in the photo below.

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This is a little better:

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Basically from our fence line to a chain link fence on the right lived an overgrown, unappreciated slice of land.

Here’s where it’s helpful to know a little bit about the process for acquiring vacant property from the city of St Louis. Property that is delinquent on taxes for three consecutive years is taken by the sheriff’s department and auctioned at one of five land tax sales each year. The details of which properties are for sale and the opening bid are posted on the city’s website two weeks before the auction. (I’m paraphrasing, of course, if you’re interested in this process, the city website has more details.) Land that is not bought during the auction is turned over to the Land Reutilization Authority (LRA), which is how we purchased our yard.

Still with me? Three years + no tax payments = lot for sale!

When we moved into the firehouse and got our first taste of how inexpensive land can be in the city, we instantly wanted more information on this lot (right right lot… far right lot… still work shopping the name.) The owner was delinquent on taxes (a whopping $30/year) for two years. That left only one more year to go before we could buy it at auction (hopefully for just the taxes owed, because who wouldn’t want a plot of land for like $100??!)

So we waited and we debated trying to contact the owner directly, fearing that he would realize he owned a plot of land that would slip from his grasp for mere dollars. Eventually we tried and failed to find contact information for the owner. So we kept waiting and eyeing the lot.

Three years came and still taxes were owed. “Hooray!” we thought. Then we waited to see the property appear on the sheriff’s list. We waited… and waited… and waited. Finally, we asked our lawyer/realtor/friend/co-star on House Hunters, Ted Disabato, to see if he could find out what was going on with this piece of property. A call from him got it added to the next auction.

I feel like we need a break for more pictures, don’t you? Here’s another shot looking from the front of the property to the back before clean up…

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And after… (We’re getting there…I promise.)

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The auction process was interesting, albeit strange, because the city of St. Louis really doesn’t make anything fun or easy. In the middle of the day, Aaron headed to Civil Courts Building to register and attend the auction, which amounted to an officer in the front of the room reading lot numbers through a garbled speaker. When a property came up that someone was interested in buying, they shouted over everyone and the list price became the opening bid. Aaron saw a few bidding wars, mostly for properties that had a salvageable structure on them. When our lot was called, Aaron was the lone bidder. He headed to pay for the lot, only to discover that payments are not processed until the auction is over. When he was finally allowed to pay, we handed everything over to Ted to finalize the details.

The lot was ours! Unfortunately, as you’ve already seen the lot was horribly overgrown. The only maintenance it received was an occasional mowing by the city (usually when it became so overgrown that I submitted a complaint.) It’s hard to see, but most of the undergrowth  on the treed section of the lot was covered in poison ivy.

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So we hired a crew from Craigslist to clean it out… well, start the cleaning out process. It was money well spent considering the size of the plot, the overgrowth, the poison ivy, and our lack of available weekends. Just like with our yard, we’ll spend more hours than we’d like to document pulling all manner of trash and brick out of the ground.

SO much talking… let’s take a look at some more before/after shots.

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And (of course) there’s more to the story. If you were here two years ago, you heard about the tree that our electric company killed and then offered to “turn into firewood.” The result was less like firewood and more like a collapsed Jenga tower… if Jenga was played with massive slices of tree trunks. Thanks to other, more pressing projects and the lack of of a chainsaw AND “OMG what are we going to do with these hunks of wood??” we  ignored the problem. It sat on the other side of the fence, and we didn’t even have to drive by it on a regular basis. I’m sure our backside neighbors were really happy with that decision.

A letter from the city prompted us to tackle the weeds that sprung up. Chainsaw in hand, we went after the stumps only to discover our tiny chainsaw was not well equipped to cut down such massive hunks of wood. We opted instead to create a barrier to keep anyone from dumping trash in the yard. You learn a lot of things living in the city… so far most of them have related to the massive amounts of trash that people will dump pretty much anywhere they please.

Our “solution” quickly looked as bad as when we got the letter. BUT we were in the midst of paperwork to take ownership of the lot! So as part of the clean up effort, we also negotiated the removal of the fallen tree sections.

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It’s about 80% done and the owner keeps promising to come back and finish the job. In related news: I have less faith in the honesty of people we hire on Craigslist….

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So that’s our most recent firehouse acquisition: a lot about 2/3 the size our yard that’s has a serious poison ivy problem.

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If you’re not asleep, you’re probably asking yourself “Why? Why buy this.” And we have many reasons.

1. Property is a good investment, especially when it is purchased cheaply. We didn’t get this lot for just the taxes owed, but after the legal fees it was less than $3k.

2. We’ve seen so much property get sucked up around us and watched helplessly at the turn of events. The guy who owns the building next to ours (who basically bought our intended yard out from under us) has since bought the property east of his building and then promptly CUT DOWN ALL THE TREES. Why? We have no idea. Without the shade his lot has exploded into a gnarl of weeds and grasshoppers. Also the church behind us bought the lots next to the alley and fenced them in to create a larger parking lot (a lot I’ve never seen more than 1/3 full), severely limiting the space we have to pull out of our garage. (Whenever I have to take the Ford Flex out it’s like the scene from Austin Powers where he does a 32-point turn….)

3. The lot gives us additional places to park things, like maybe the trailer.

Directly after posting the 2015 garden update, things took a sharp turn for the worse. The ipe planter now looks like this:

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Here’s what happened…

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The herbs flourished in this spot. The oregano is doing so well it took over the thyme and killed it. We always called this an experiment, and now we know this is a great spot for herbs.

So reason 4. The chance to build and plant some raised garden beds.

That’s the (long) story on our expanding footprint. We obviously have intentions for this space, but we’re trying to be reasonable about the timeframe… as in there isn’t one. Right now we’re pulling junk out a little at a time, spraying the poison ivy, and considering what kind of bush would make the best living fence in the front of the property. All of this is with an eye to setting up some garden beds in the spring. We’ll see how things play out. Honestly, it’s just nice to finally own this piece of land that clearly no one else wanted and have one less question mark on our master plan.

 

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.

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

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.)

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Here are a few before and after shots for comparison.

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

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

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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!

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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.

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

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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.

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A few before and after shots from outside:

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

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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.

Lighting up the courtyard

When we first stepped back and said “Hey this looks like a courtyard,” we knew there was one thing that would really give it that courtyard feel

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Based on the fact that you can read the title of the post, I’m sure you know that we opted to string some lights!

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Eighty eight lightbulbs to be exact, procured from PartyLights.com (specifically this type with 11 watt bulbs.) We strung them between the firehouse and garage, creating a ceiling effect in the space. They are hard wired to a dimmer to provide maximum ambiance control.

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When you’re standing under the lights, they really distract from the power lines coming into the building, which is a nice bonus.

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This area is really turning into a gorgeous spot.

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Please note, this is the only time our dog looks small…

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BUT the best part is how they look at night…

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Can it get more magical than this??

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Here’s the part of the post where I get all sappy and can’t believe that we LIVE here. For two people who never thought they’d find a “forever” home, I’m continually amazed how the firehouse allows us to craft exactly the space we’ve always dreamed of. (There will be much more of this as we work on the kitchen and create the wine cellar.) (WINE CELLAR! Eek!)

I digress… here’s more eye candy.

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That wraps up the courtyard updates and all of the projects we jumped on for the House Hunters: Where Are They Now episode. (Sometime in March 2015.) Our wedding season is also winding down, so we’re looking forward to some extra free time (watch out antique malls, here we come) and prioritizing our list for 2015. One particular project is looming large (literally)… more on that later.

The new fire pit

This is a story about how we got a new fire pit, but just buying a fire pit isn’t very interesting. So because I’m feeling chatty (which may or may not be influenced by the steaming mug of spiked cider on my desk) I’m going to tell you why our old fire pit was so important.

When we packed up the rest of our belongings in Kansas City, we got a truck that was too small. This forced us to weed out some non-essential items a la the Bachelor/Bachelorette… or Survivor… or whatever reality TV show reference makes the most sense here. Among the items that didn’t get a rose make the cut: the gas grill that we bought for $100 when we moved in together (6 years prior.) That thing was WELL past it’s prime. So in the first days of living at the condo we hit up Lowe’s to buy a replacement and also came home with this guy:

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Aaron contends that it is his favorite thing we purchased because of the move. (I’m still pretty happy with the choice of an upgraded grill which led to him getting into smoking meat. But the fire pit is a close second.) We spent many, many nights on the small patio at our condo in front of this thing.

This fire pit helped us realize a lot of things. We missed the opportunity to hang out in nature, which ultimately inspired the vintage camper purchase. (No, it’s still not done…. because, firehouse.) It also got us really excited about having an outdoor space at whatever property we purchased.

After a few years of hard use and cold winters, this little guy was starting to show his age. Particularly in the form of a crack that we worried would split it wide open.

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Aaron (aka the master material sourcer) started looking for a replacement. When he showed me a cool steel fire pit on Etsy, I agreed that it was awesome, but didn’t give it much thought. I assumed he would save it to Pinterest and when we were ready we would see if it was still available.

Then one day, I walked into the studio and saw this. (Actually, we had it in our possession for a good 24 hours before I noticed and Aaron thought it was hilarious that I walked by it at least once. To be fair, I was looking in the opposite direction and didn’t expect a MASSIVE fire pit to be hanging out in our studio.)

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I wish I could tell you that we fired it up the very next weekend. But in reality it sat in the studio for a few months. (Just trying to keep it real, people.) We knew the pit would rust (part of it’s charm and a great reference to the cor-ten fence) and we really wanted to seal the concrete (#unglamorousDIY) before putting the new fire pit into service.

BUT! FINALLY! Here it is in action!

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It’s been exposed to the elements for a few months and it’s already starting to get a nice patina.

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We absolutely love this bigger, better fire pit. We’re hoping the new placement (in the courtyard instead of on the side of the firehouse) will allow us to avoid some of the winter wind that howls down the building and use this throughout the coming season.

Don’t forget that you have until midnight tomorrow to pick out your favorite print in our Etsy shop and leave a comment on this post for your chance to win one.