Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Fire House - After

The brightest thing I saw on the Fire House when I found it was the prominent red tag on the front door declaring that the home had been ‘CONDEMNED.’  It was vacant and run-down and pulling down the property values of everything surrounding it.  It was an eye sore and a Pig’s Ear and twelve months after starting, it had been transformed into the most valuable house on the street.  Not only was the Fire House no longer a neighborhood liability, but several of my new neighbors credited me with making their homes more valuable.  I’m no home appraiser, but I sure agree that the neighborhood was better than when I started because the ugliest house on a highly-visible corner had been fixed up.  The outside was clean and bright and the driveway, sidewalk, and landscaping were all more distinct and well defined. 

The brightness and improved appearance from the street initially got people’s attention.  Strangers knocked on the door, clearly curious to see how things looked on the interior and the responses were a huge payoff after the year long project.  The common living space of the Fire House’s interior underwent the most radical makeover.  The conversion of the garage into a den and the addition of the master suite (both by previous owners) had made valuable square footage in the Fire House into little more than extra wide spaces for foot traffic.  This inefficient use of valuable space had been the biggest challenge when I reworked the living area on paper before I started.  I relocated the back door, extended one hall and added another hallway to establish a more efficient flow within the ranch house.  I made the original living room (which had been like a gigantic foyer) a dining room, I converted the laundry room into a breakfast/eating area, and made the dining area from the original home into the hall leading to the new back door (which was next to the new laundry room).  In addition, I opened up the main living space by re-framing the area over the den as a cathedral height ceiling (twelve feet) and by adding columns in lieu of solid walls when possible.  This openness was the most dramatic change on the inside with the refinished heart pine floors being the second dramatic difference that grabbed people’s attention when they walked through the front door.  There wasn’t much that needed done on the bedrooms and bathrooms of the Fire House.  They all received new carpet and fresh coats of paint, but little more.  

The view from the den looking up into the kitchen.

The view from the kitchen looking down into the den. 

And finally, besides finishing this house within budget and receiving my Certificate of Occupancy on schedule I must also report that there was no trace of smoke odors when the renovation was complete.  And a few months after completion, the Fire House was featured on as a monthly winner of their Your Old House contest.  
This was the corner of the Fire House that was totally obscured by overgrown bushes. 
The back corner of the house with the new, relocated back door and deck.


Friday, November 11, 2011

The Fire House - During

We call it the Fire House, because it was condemned by local building officials years after a dryer fire in the laundry room pushed the home into the category of uninhabitable.  It was the only run-down, vacant house on the street and I saw its potential immediately.  There was a towering Oak tree in the back yard, a pair of giant Pines in front, and a couple of beautiful Magnolia’s that needed pruning, but were still busting with southern charm.  The garage in the house had been converted into a large den, but there was a detached carport in the back yard that contained much needed storage space for materials, tools, and equipment that would be required for the renovation work.

It's clear to see that I'm covered with soot.  This was how it was for months until the drywall was hung.

I made a lot of new friends as I renovated the Fire House.  The families nearby and around the neighborhood were excited to learn that someone had bought the place with the intention of fixing it up.  The brick had been painted light gray, the shingles on the roof were a darker shade of gray, and the trim was a very, very dark blue that looked more like black.  It was an extremely ugly, dreary house and it’s no wonder someone called it a Pig’s Ear.  

For the entire year, I spent all my spare time working on the Fire House.  Nearly every evening after work and any spare time I had on the weekends.  However, to be accurate, it hardly felt like work for me because I wholeheartedly loved every minute of the time that I worked on that house.  I did all the initial cleanup and demolition by myself as well as the carpentry (framing and fine), roofing, and landscaping.  I won’t say that these were all simple tasks, but they were accomplishable as I knocked them out in progressive, steady steps before I went on to the next activity on the project.   

The converted garage included a fire place.

When I started the Fire House I was in no way an experienced home renovator.  I knew where I wanted to go and by that I mean I could picture how I wanted the home to look and feel when I was finished, but I certainly didn’t know exactly how I was going to get there.  It was an adventure (as I’ve written before) and my plan took shape in specific ways day-by-day, week-by-week, and month-by-month.  I failed more than one inspection and once had to frantically figure out how to shut off the water to the house after I started doing plumbing work I was unqualified for and had water shooting out of one the shower valves.  I didn’t let any of those missteps or screw-ups discourage me.  I was willing to admit that I had a lot to learn, I made the required corrections when needed, and I pushed on.  I hired tradesmen for the plumbing, HVAC, electrical, insulation, drywall, masonry, cabinetry, painting, and flooring.  I won’t say that these crews shared my vision or optimism for how the house would be resurrected, but as long as my checks cleared at the bank, they were happy to be a part of the team.  

This is a view from the spot of the fire.  What had once been the laundry room had become the future breakfast area next to the kitchen & the space that had been the living area would soon be the dining room.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Fire House - Before

The Fire House was vacant, yet For Sale when I saw it for the first time.  There was trash and abandoned children’s toys throughout the overgrown corner lot and a red tag on the front door that officially labeled it as condemned.  There was a charred hole in the roof over the laundry room as clear evidence of the fire that had caused the home’s demise and more than one window had been broken, likely by rocks thrown by kids in the neighborhood.  When co-workers learned of my plans to purchase and renovate the house, they tried to persuade me to reconsider.  It was the ugliest home on the street and people just had a tough time getting a handle on where I'd start and found it difficult (if not impossible) to imagine the place in livable condition. However, I saw a forgotten brick home with potential that would be transformed into an amazing place to live when I was finished.

I borrowed money to buy and renovate the Fire House.  My agreement with the bank included a twelve month time limit to complete the renovations and receive my Certificate of Occupancy from the local Building Officials.  More than one person advised me that I’d be unable to obtain my CO in that amount of time because I was doing so much of the work myself while working my full time job that occupied the majority of my time Monday through Friday and portions of my Saturdays.  In addition, I was peppered with warnings about the smoke smell that existed in the house as quite a few folks thought it was there to stay. 

I grew up in the Midwest and had spent plenty of time with my sleeves rolled up shoveling manure, baling hay, and detasseling corn.  In addition to that I'd also had a lot of fun on our small farm building tree houses and hay forts.  For me, work, building, and fun had been rolled into one for much of my life.  I heard what people said when I started to work on the run-down house, but didn’t really understand why they were so full of doubts.  I felt confident that the Fire House would look, feel, and be a real gem when I was done.  I didn’t sleep very well the night before my first day of work, but it wasn’t nerves making me toss and turn in my bed, I was simply too excited to sleep well.   

The Back of the Fire House where the damage was the most extensive.

The Front Corner of the Fire House
The Kitchen, next to the Laundry Room

The Back Inside Corner of the Fire House.  The section to the left of the bay window was a previous addition that added a Master Suite which turned the 3 bedroom, 1bath Ranch into a 4 bdrm., 2 ba. home.