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!
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.
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!
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