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.

Three major upgrades

I always struggle with writing about major projects that we contract out. While 100% necessary, they always feel a bit bland to talk about. There’s not much story to “We picked out shingles. The end.” But in the interest of thoroughly documenting the updates to our new space, these changes seemed worthy of a post.

Let’s start at the top (literally). Despite the thousands of words I used to tell you about our location and specific house hunt in SoCal, I’m pretty sure I didn’t explicitly mention that Aaron saw our future home for the first time on inspection day. When we pulled up, the first thing he said was “It probably needs a new roof.” This was quickly confirmed by the inspector and later by multiple roofing companies. However, the sellers will go to their grave claiming the roof was fine. Negotiations post inspection may have been (they were) a little frustrating.

Thankfully, we had enough money in reserve from the firehouse sale to cover the new roof, and Aaron worked his usual sourcing magic to find a great, affordable small business to take on the job.  We opted for their suggested brand (CertainTeed Landmark series) and requested all of the gray/black samples, which gave us these options: Georgetown Gray, Thunderstorm Gray, and Moire Black.

While none of these compliment the current beige on beige on brown color scheme, a new exterior paint job is on the list for 2018. We’re leaning toward a mid century blue gray exterior, but didn’t even have paint swatches at this point. We opted for Moire Black on the roof to ensure the finished look isn’t too monochromatic  in case we go a little more gray than blue when we choose the shade for the house.

From there we just had to watch them work and pay the bill.

 

We are both very excited to dive into painting this summer. Famous last words, right?

The second upgrade also became apparent on inspection day. We always recommend booking additional inspections for any major systems that may be of concern. Normally these are inexpensive and totally worth the peace of mind. Along with a traditional inspector, we asked an HVAC expert to give the furnace a once over. Besides being old AF (it’s original to the 1960s house), the inspection revealed a cracked heat exchange, which meant it needed to go. After a few bids, we hired Castle Air to replace the system. We were really impressed with their thoroughness, including adding additional vents to achieve better airflow.

The third major change was an upgraded electrical panel and adding a sub-panel to the garage. This gave us enough power to build out the workshop. We even found a local stucco pro to patch the exterior around the new, enlarged panel. The workshop has been Aaron’s main focus in the weeks he’s been in California. It’s crucial to the kitchen/dining room reno we’re planning to dive into in a few short weeks!

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

Firehouse for sale

EDIT: 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.)

Our firehouse is officially for sale and I am officially a mess.

Even though we made this decision knowing we would have to leave this place behind, something about seeing it done and for sale has me in a glass case of emotion.

Let’s tackle the fact that it’s done first. OMG YOU GUYS THE FIREHOUSE IS DONE! I asked Aaron the other day, “If this wasn’t happening, when do you think we would say ‘The firehouse is done.'” We agreed that it would probably be never. At the very least, it wouldn’t be any time soon. He as been working SOOO hard and those of you who follow the blog closely or know our space in person will instantly recognize the dramatic transformations below. I absolutely owe you (and us) some blog posts detailing the updates along with some before and after pics.

(The photos below are just a few from the listing and cover the space as it sits right now. So if some of them seem familiar, there’s a reason for it. We didn’t materially change the spaces that were basically done: studio, upstairs living room, captain’s bedroom, etc.)

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You made it to the end, and I feel like I’m amongst friends. So can I tell you that this is way harder than I expected? When Aaron texted me the link to the listing I cried. This place is so near and dear to our hearts that it feels like a betrayal to shove it out into the world and say “any takers?” I’m doing my best to embrace the good parts of this change (there are many) and accept that sometimes I just need to feel all the feels about letting the firehouse go. I’m taking solace in the fact that everything about this change has fallen in line, and I believe there is a new family waiting in the wings who will be as excited about the firehouse as we are and will step in take ownership of it.

Like I said above, I’d like to round this journey out by sharing the updates we’ve made. And, after much thought and some input from you, I’m leaning towards keeping this blog going in case you want to come along for the ride of finding our next house and making it our own. I already have a few house hunting stories to share. Per usual, you’ll find me over on Instagram with short, real-time updates. Follow me there and tell everyone you know about the firehouse for sale. Thanks, friends.

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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