Our definition of ‘getting there’ used to be much more lighthearted. A-ha! This pillow is just what we needed for the new bedsheets! Yes, it’s definitely getting there, we’d say. Or, hey, should I move this potted succulent to a different shelf? Ooh, much better. Yup, the shelf styling is getting there.

Those were good times.

Now, ‘getting there’ means that the contractor’s have begun loading some of their tools back in their truck! Gone are the days of no longer seeing our hardwood floors, rather, we have little paths notched out by the crew at the end of the day. Walkways! Our light switches are finally at a normal height, and we can turn them on. We’re getting there!

Our last update had us breaking things down by room, but this time, let’s piece it out by project.

ELECTRIC. It’s finished! Last week we had 4 can lights in the dining room, but now we have 4 more in the living room, 2 new centered junction boxes (prior to us, the former ceiling fan was hung without a junction box – safety fail), and switches on the wall in places that make sense. (No more running through a dark room to tun on the lights!) We’ll be putting everything on dimmers; you know we love them so.

THE FOYER ARCH. After uncovering this original arch, we knew – hands down – we wanted to recreate something similar. (We didn’t want to keep that one, because we’d be widening and raising this doorway, so an imitation, so to speak, was put in the works.) Thinking it would be best to mimic the arch upstairs in the studio, our contractors built out an exact replica:

Truth be told, we saw it and said, huh. We noodled on it for days (and days!), and we still weren’t sure that we liked it. We wondered, if this was here when we moved in, would we like it? Would we have demoed it from the beginning? This question might seem a little odd since we really love the one on the second floor, but something felt… off.

We discussed it endlessly. (Which got us nowhere.) We asked for our friends’ opinions. (They loved it!) Were we unable to see past the plywood, unfinished walls and subfloor? (Yes!) Were the dark ceilings and spackled walls throwing us off? (Yes, yes, they were!)

Finally – finally – we realized that we should stick with our initial instincts. Without the arch, what would we have? A regular ol’ doorway? Big deal! We’ve had regular ol’ doorways our whole lives. This felt right; it’s different and interesting and (as my friend Julia pointed out) adds character.

Character? We’ll take it.

THE TRANSOM WINDOW. The day UPS delivered that big, fragile box, our contractors put it right up. It’s perfect. It adds height, allows more light to pass through the entryway and it’ll be extra sweet with gilded gold address numbers. The old warped siding was also fixed, new insulation installed and vinyl replaced. And see where our outdoor lights will go? For the first time since move in – well, for the first time since the original door + sidelights were taken out – they’re spaced evenly from the door frame.

THE LAUNDRY HOOK-UP. It’s happening. Our laundry room! Never have we been so thrilled to see exposed studs and drain pipes. (Never mind that we’ll need to build up the funds to purchase a washer and dryer, but just knowing that we can when we’re ready is a beautiful thing.) You might remember that this was a last minute decision on our part, but seeing it now makes us wonder we ever took it off the table. (Oh, right; money. It’s not the most affordable expense, but well worth it.)

Progress is being made, and as I hear them downstairs knocking, drilling and hammering, I can only imagine what I’ll see at the end of the day. (Truly, my heart skips a beat, and it it’s starting to feel like Christmas every time I walk down the stairs; what’s new? Was that there yesterday? OMG, is that drywall?). Scott and I have already started daydreaming about our future bathroom makeover, rugs for the studio space and should we order a new duvet cover? (Okay, those last two are all me.)

The point is this: we’re finally seeing the light. We’re allowing ourselves to think ahead and get excited again. Say it with me, we’re getting there!

  • Marie from France - October 22, 2013 - 6:58 AM

    We are getting there, I mean you are getting there, three cheers to both of you !ReplyCancel

  • Julia @ Cuckoo4Design - October 22, 2013 - 8:27 AM

    LOL, it’s getting there…
    The foyer arch is awesome!ReplyCancel

  • Kim - October 22, 2013 - 8:39 AM

    Thank you, ladies!ReplyCancel

  • Laura at RatherSquare.com - October 22, 2013 - 9:18 AM

    I do like the arch, glad you decided to keep it. And is it weird that I noticed you have pumpkins on your porch in both before and after shots of the front door/transom window? I think the new trend in home design should be… “when in doubt, use pumpkins!” ;-)ReplyCancel

  • ann - October 22, 2013 - 9:19 AM

    We can’t wait to see the progress in person next month. Love the touch of the pumpkins on the porch.ReplyCancel

  • Kim - October 22, 2013 - 9:41 AM

    Laura and Ann, the pumpkins are VERY important. It is fall, after all!ReplyCancel

  • Elisa - October 22, 2013 - 6:15 PM

    Yay arches! I agree with you – TOTAL character!ReplyCancel

  • Heather {A Fire Pole in the Dining Room} - October 24, 2013 - 4:28 PM

    YAY! You are definitely getting there and I’m so excited for you. Isn’t it amazing how things come together when the contractors actually start working ;) It’s looking great (all things considered).

    Speaking of moving plants, did the terrarium (were we up to 6.0??) finally die?

    I’ve been keeping a selection of drought resistant plants alive for about a year. This is a small miracle, especially because in the move they went from in the kitchen (and in my face) to the extra bedroom. Thankfully a weekly reminder means they (normally) get watered.ReplyCancel

  • Kim - October 25, 2013 - 7:07 AM

    Heather, oh, it’s LONG dead! That was 100% our fault… after moving in and all the chaos that went with it, we put it outside on our patio table and just let it… well, wither away. Sadness.ReplyCancel

  • Heather {A Fire Pole in the Dining Room} - October 28, 2013 - 4:09 PM

    You’ve had just a few other things on your mind ;) Maybe you can redo it once things are a bit more settled.ReplyCancel


When we purchased our home in June, it was a residential two-flat – or in other words, it was a building with two apartments. However, there were three families that lived here, one on each of the two floors and in the basement. The basement, otherwise known as our home’s garden unit, was a fully liveable, inhabitable space; a space with two large bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom and the building’s only washer and dryer. Regardless, it wasn’t recognized as a third unit by the city, and with our minds so set on just diving into the first and second floors three cheers for a single family home! – we put the basement on the back burner, giving it little to no thought as we sledged our way through every room in the house.

But by mid-July, we thought, wait a minute. It was time to revisit that basement.

The thought had crossed our minds before, so we say again, this house has a garden unit! While we toyed with the idea of renting the garden (it was a discussion we had many times, not only to supplement our mortgage, but also to help fund the restoration of our 120-year-old-house), we knew it would need some work to make it feel warm and inviting. It has a tile floor (which isn’t our first choice), but the rooms were large (by city standards), and the ceiling height, windows, entrance and exit (both separate from “our” part of the house) were all up to city code.

At that time, the issue wasn’t so much the work to be done, rather, it was a matter of could we? We were told by our attorney at the closing table that our new home is zoned for no more than 2 residential units, and although we would eventually – technically – only have two units, a great place to confirm our suspicions would be a meeting with our alderman. (And yes, this means that the garden unit was formerly rented under the table, something that is not uncommon in Chicago.) This was music to ears for a couple of reasons, mainly because our alderman is awesome. He attends Tour de Fat every year (our favorite summer festival!) and has been a huge proponent of making our neighborhood an exciting place to live. But for this purpose, we know that he also holds an open floor for his ward every Monday night. Those that live in his ward (aka: us) can personally meet with him, ask questions, receive advice and have a sense of what to do next.

In our case, we told him that our hope was to reside within the first and second floor units as a duplex-up and maintain the garden unit as a rental apartment. (And as luck would have it, our alderman had parked his bicycle in his office, so there was no shortage of bike talk thrown in for good measure!) In addition, our ultimate goal was to restore the original character in our older home – a dream we’ve had for too many years to count. He not only enthusiastically supported our idea, but he proceeded to tell us, here’s what you do now:

ONE) Write a letter to the city zoning department, explaining our current situation and intent. Our alderman would provide an additional letter of support if needed (luckily, it wasn’t). TWO) After receiving their response, follow through with whatever is necessary – if anything – to complete the zoning requirements. THREE) Rent the garden unit.

But the actual breakdown went a little something like this:

ONE) Write a letter. TWO) Wait 30 days, then call the city and say to their answering service, we wrote you a letter; what’s next? THREE) Shriek with happiness when the city calls you back… and then asks you for floor plans. FOUR) Send them floor plans. Wait. FIVE) Call them again after another 30 days and say to their answering service, we sent you the requested plans; what’s next? SIX) Feel deflated when the city requests more information, misunderstanding your intent. SEVEN + EIGHT) Mail each other several more letters, re-explaining your intent – back and forth, back and forth. NINE) Hear the good news you’ve been waiting for: As long as you aren’t increasing the floor area of the building and maintaining no more than two residential units, your zoning is in good standing.

TEN) Scream with joy! Celebrate with a glass of wine.

The entire process took several months (and cost us $50), but we’re glad that we approached the situation through the proper channels and finally (finally!) received the news we’d been crossing our fingers (and toes, arms and legs) for. Some have told us that we were crazy to be overly thorough, but for peace of mind, it was absolutely worth it. (The alternative would have been to rent the unit without permission, then maybe get slapped with a hefty fine.)

Since receiving the good news, the last couple of weeks have been a garden-unit-cleaning-frenzy – and as you can imagine, it has seen its ups and downs. The renovation-and-clean-up related road bumps are to be expected (as with every stone we’ve turned over in this house), but our goal is not to fix things fast, but to do them right. Nights and weekends are spent in our demo clothes (it’s been disheartening to know that our estimation of how much work the basement needed was skewed), and while it’s hard to tell during times of frustration, we have come a long way.

And so, slowly – in-between the upstairs construction and every day life – we’re inching our way towards not only turning our house into a place we love, but hopefully creating an apartment for someone else to enjoy, too.

  • bella - October 18, 2013 - 7:01 AM

    wow. That’s a great basement apartment compared to some I’ve seen. Now, here’s to hoping for a great tenant.

    BTW, is that exterior light in the last picture upside down or what? ha.ReplyCancel

  • Kim - October 18, 2013 - 7:28 AM

    Thanks, Bella – and yes, it totally is. It was the only way to make them fit with the way the junction boxes were installed by the previous owner! Another groaner. We’ll be replacing them though!ReplyCancel

  • Sarah @ 702 Park Project - October 18, 2013 - 8:36 AM

    Don’t you just hate dealing with the local city/state government?! I always feel like we get the run around. We have applied for historic preservation tax credits for our home restoration, and there has been so much back and forth. It took us over 3 months just to get them to accept our application! In the end, it will all be worth it though!ReplyCancel

  • Kim - October 18, 2013 - 9:06 AM

    Sarah, ugh! Yup, we know the feeling. But you’re absolutely right – it was worth all of it for the peace of mind.ReplyCancel

  • Julia @ Cuckoo4Design - October 18, 2013 - 9:12 AM

    What an awesome basement apartment!
    I can’t believe how much work you guys have.ReplyCancel

  • Kim - October 18, 2013 - 9:13 AM

    Julia, that made me laugh. :DReplyCancel

  • Jodi - October 18, 2013 - 9:16 AM

    hooray!! maybe the mckees will relocate to chicago soon and rent out that fancy garden unit of yours. ;)ReplyCancel

  • Kim - October 18, 2013 - 9:23 AM

    Jodi, love it! (Fancy though? Haha!)ReplyCancel

  • carrie @ brick city love - October 18, 2013 - 9:36 AM

    I LOVE having a garden unit to rent out. It makes things so much easier every month (financially speaking) and it’s nice to know that the space isn’t just sitting there wasted & unused. Congrats!!ReplyCancel

  • Rachel - October 18, 2013 - 10:07 AM

    Love your home and am so excited to see all the work you keep doing. You are making such awesome progress and your garden unit will definitely make some person a very lucky tenant (perhaps you can invite A&E and Mr B and Ms M over so all my favorite pups would be in one spot haha).ReplyCancel

    • Kim - October 18, 2013 - 10:25 AM

      Rachel, that’s definitely on the agenda! I was just talking with A this week about a doggie play date! Jack LOVES him some Mr B, although Mr B would rather be playing with E.ReplyCancel

  • Emily @ Adventures of a Dog Mom - October 18, 2013 - 11:03 AM

    Dealing with city government can be a real pain and it sounds like it was for you but I’m really glad it all ended well for you. I bet the place is going to look amazing when you’re done with it and I hope you get some awesome tenants!ReplyCancel

  • Laura @ Rather Square - October 18, 2013 - 11:10 AM

    Good luck with the basement reno! How long until you think you’ll be able to rent it out?ReplyCancel

  • Heather {A Fire Pole in the Dining Room} - October 18, 2013 - 11:23 AM

    Dealing with municipalities can be SO frustrating! I’m so glad it worked out! What’s the ETA on renting it out?ReplyCancel

  • Kim - October 18, 2013 - 12:34 PM

    Laura and Heather, our hope was for mid October, but we ran into a few issues that we want to correct before we’ll feel ready (a foundation crack among other things), plus, our contractors have ripped up some drywall to plumb the upstairs laundry unit, so a lot needs to get repaired!

    Maybe… mid-November? Definitely December. (Famous last words?)ReplyCancel

  • Emma - October 18, 2013 - 12:45 PM

    Congratulations on that good zoney luck of yours. I think your garden unit looks great! Plus I bet you are super cool landlords. Best wishes with the rental process. (Tip – find an animal-loving tenant and maybe s/he can pet sit for you while you’re away!)ReplyCancel

  • Melissa - October 18, 2013 - 4:22 PM

    Wow, I wish the garden apartment in Chicago that my husband and I had inhabited looked like that (and had that much ROOM)! Ours was tiny (maybe 450sq ft?), didn’t have a lot of natural light, and the plumbing and heating were hanging from our (already low) ceiling. And we own three animals! But hey, it was our first apartment together, so we still loved it.

    We’re in the midst of looking for a new place ourselves. Good luck renting it out soon!ReplyCancel

  • amber - October 21, 2013 - 12:43 AM

    I just moved to chicago and started renting a garden condo unit, I think this space is pretty great and I wish we could have found something similar in your neighborhood when we moved!ReplyCancel

  • Kim - October 21, 2013 - 7:48 AM

    Thank you, everyone!

    Amber, welcome to the best city ever :)ReplyCancel

  • ashley @ sunnysideshlee.com - October 21, 2013 - 1:08 PM

    Have you checked it for any flooding issues? I had a garden unit condo in the city and when it rained badly, the sewers backed up and flooded my unit – TWICE!

    Yours is already so bright which is awesome because garden units can sometimes be pretty dark!

    What are you guys planning for the washer/dryer? Sharing or moving another unit to your level?ReplyCancel

  • Kim - October 21, 2013 - 1:45 PM

    Ashley, we HAVE had some minor flooding issues, likely due to foundation cracks. (Just some small puddles after a heavy rain.) We have someone coming to remedy that this week – we definitely don’t want that to be a problem for any future tenant!

    Yes, we’re lucky that the basement is halfway above ground, so it does get a fair amount of light. This was a huge factor for us when we were considering purchasing this home!

    As for the washer/dryer, it will stay down there. We’re in the process of building ours out, so everyone wins! (More on that tomorrow!)ReplyCancel

  • Heather {A Fire Pole in the Dining Room} - October 28, 2013 - 4:11 PM

    Good luck! I’m so excited for you guys :)ReplyCancel

  • Jill - October 30, 2013 - 2:04 PM

    I didn’t know you wanted to make the basement an apt. ;) Makes sense! And seriously, I can’t even read these posts any more; they’re beyond my level of comprehension. hahaReplyCancel


Water is a crazy thing. It’s simultaneously destructive, life-sustaining, and expensive. A week or so after moving into our new house, we were greeted by our friendly mail-lady who handed over to us a stack of grocery store flyers, junk mail from the previous tenants and a ginormous water bill. Like, $600 ginormous. The good news, however, was that the bill was only an estimate based off of the amount of floors, units, and prior tenants in our building – phew.

We immediately researched our options, wanting only to pay for the water that we actually use, and we signed up for the Chicago MeterSave program. In addition to saving money on our water bill (and even guaranteeing savings for seven years!), in Chicago, they’ll actually incentivize you to sign up by giving you a free rain barrel for participating. Score!

Along with the barrel itself (already drilled with spigots and bungs), the kit came with a short length of hose (that we didn’t end up using) and a flex-pipe to place at the end of our downspout for easy water direction.

While Kim tied up a few loose ends around our ghetto mansion, I ducked out to Home Depot and picked up a couple of retaining wall blocks to elevate the barrel off of the ground. We had to smash off the lip at the back of each block to get them to lay flat, but a few seconds with a claw hammer is all I needed.

The blocks were arranged into a circular pattern to support the barrel and lift it off of the ground for better water flow.

Upon digging around in a random mystery box in the garage, I found a short length of garden hose and this cool brass elbow fitting that help alleviate some pressure from the hose connections. This junction at the top of the barrel will act as an overflow valve, allowing excess water to be directed away from the foundation of the house, and eventually into a planter or flower bed.

In making some recent gutter repairs, I had intentionally re-routed a section of downspout toward the base of the back deck, knowing that the rain barrel would be arriving soon. My plan worked out, and the downspout was at a perfect length and height for the intake of the barrel. I attached the flexible extension with self-tapping sheet metal screws to give us a bit of adjustability in the flow.

While I was at it, I got ambitious and re-routed a second downspout into the barrel as well. This sucker will be full in no time! Here’s hoping that the garden hose will be enough to handle the overflow in a heavy downpour. (Update: We had a steady day of drizzle yesterday, and I’m happy to report that the barrel is completely full, and the hose did its job just fine! That didn’t take long.)

While I admit that this is not the most attractive project we’ve ever completed, it should be nice and functional when spring rolls around and we actually have some plants to water! We like things to look nice around here, but this is one of those occasions where function will (temporarily) beat form. (Although, the instructions did include a few tips on painting the big black blob in case we’d like to add a touch of color, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.)

As rain-barrel virgins, we’re open to some handy tips and tricks to keep this thing working. Anybody a seasoned rain-hoarder? Fill us in!

  • Annalena - October 16, 2013 - 7:18 AM

    That is awesome you got a rain barrel! I had one in Syracuse, where they also give them away to help with stormwater issues. We stacked more concrete blocks under it so we could easily fill our watering can. The awkward part was when we didn’t need water in the spring, the barrel was full, and of course in the drier months, when we needed it, it was often empty. You can set up a few rain barrels together to help with that.

    Also, I hate to say this after you have it all set up and filled! but you should unhook it for the winter. You don’t want water freezing and thawing in there.

    As for the look of it, we spray painted ours tan. Was easy and made it blend in more. Or you can get fancy :) I’ve seen all sorts of fun rain barrels.ReplyCancel

  • Hannah K. - October 16, 2013 - 7:26 AM

    I hope you get some great suggestions. This is one thing we’d love to do next Spring. A compost is on our list first!!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - October 16, 2013 - 8:33 AM

      Annalena, since everything in our yard is still so ugly, our black rain barrel is fine for now, but we can’t wait to paint it! Also, thanks for the winter tip – we knew you guys would fill us in.ReplyCancel

  • ashley - October 16, 2013 - 9:28 AM

    What a neat idea!ReplyCancel

  • Whitney - October 16, 2013 - 11:50 AM

    Wait…was the bill for an estimated $600 a MONTH? Or a year? We pay about $25 a month for water on our 1600 sq ft place in San Francisco (granted, it’s just two adults and a dog/cat, but still! $600/mo would be a small army of people showering!).ReplyCancel

  • Kim - October 16, 2013 - 1:08 PM

    Oh! Whitney, it was $600/qtr. Still insane!ReplyCancel

  • Robbi Ortrman - October 16, 2013 - 1:10 PM

    looks like you better get another tank !! that one filled w/ just a little rain? its a great idea :) love watching your progress!ReplyCancel

  • Dave - October 16, 2013 - 1:52 PM

    At $600 a quarter, they should probably call Steve about a well.ReplyCancel

  • ryan - October 17, 2013 - 10:07 AM

    The Chicago water bill is my least favorite piece of mail of all time. I’m bookmarking this post for the spring!ReplyCancel

  • Monika - October 28, 2013 - 12:17 PM

    Unfortunately, rain barrels are for the most part,illegal in Colorado (I know, go figure!). The main issue however, is water rights. As a homeowner, you don’t have the right to use water run-off from your roof unless there is a well on your property. Being the state that championed xeriscaping, it is a paradox. There are other reasons as well but I have seen them around my neighborhood nonetheless. Thanks for posting the in’s and out’s of installation. Your post is inspiring me to give it a shot, in an inconspicuous location of course (wouldn’t want to run afoul of the water police) :)ReplyCancel

  • Kim - October 28, 2013 - 12:48 PM

    Monika, that’s really interesting! Our friends in Colorado told us it was illegal as well, and we had no idea why!ReplyCancel