Tag Archives: apartment

Progress – See My Lack of it

23 Apr

Just when it seemed we were poised to really get going….we stalled out almost completely.


And it’s driving me crazy! I expected to be so much further along by now. We finally got our building permit, nearly a month ago, and WOW was that an eye opener. I was expecting a pretty healthy tab because there’s a $940 fee just for adding usage volume to the sewer system (won’t we be paying for that on our BILL?), but the acutal permit was higher than I’d anticipated, and there was a staggering “plan review” fee, which is pretty ridiculous given the simplicity of our plans. Apparently, however, we really stumped them because they had to call down to the state to find out what to do with us, and made a few confused calls to our architect. Turns out we are truely the very first people in this town to want to put an apartment in a basement downtown. (And somehow that is drastically different than putting one on the second or third floor, since we’re surrounded by downtown apartments.)


We had the general building inspector out to give us the preliminary details…and they weren’t good.  First of all, we have to shore up a bunch of joists in the ceiling – not a HUGE project, but fiddly and time consuming nonetheless. Second of all, we have to put up TWO layers of sheetrock on the ceiling. Third (and my most hated), we have to sheetrock the nice beam that runs the length of the basement, and the three rustic posts in the center of the living area. (*pouts*)  Finally, we have to install a “shaft wall system” on the wall that is shared by the stairwell leading upstairs. This will be a bit pricey, but substantially better than the double layer of sheetrock on both sides (which would have required ripping out the stairs and putting them back in), and he was planning to just keep on going with that double sheetrock – he kept getting further up the stairs, and then onto the landing….it wasn’t pretty. The shaft wall solves all that.

In the meantime, we had hoped we’d finally get the bank financing lined up, so we’d be ready to go….but it’s been a month, and other than one call promising she’d get back to us the very next day (two weeks ago), we haven’t heard from our banker and she’s not returning phone calls.

OH, and the truck developed some issues that are preventing us from picking up materials – although we do have a friend who can loan us his, so that’s not a huge deal. But we lost a weekend to fixing the brakes, and now may have a wheel bearing problem.

This isn’t ALL bad. During the past month, we wanted to spend as much time as possible with our son anyway. He finally, after a lot of hassle and hoops, got accepted into the Army and was headed to basic training on April 15th.


We got to spend a lot of great time with him, and really appreciated the chance. We also got to text with him while he traveled down and went through reception, so we know that so far he really likes it there and says he’s having fun. That meant the world to me, because I won’t worry about him too much now.

Hopefully, the snow will quit falling, the bank will call with good news, the electrician and the drywall guy will both call with affordable quotes, and this project will get humming along again.  (Keep your fingers crossed for that affordable drywall – we really don’t want to sheetrock that ceiling ourselves, but we’ll have to if the quote is outrageous.)


Basement Project: Kitchen Layout Revisited

26 Mar

We’ve been playing around with the kitchen layout some more.

Divider Graphics

It began when Hubby started to get a little shirty with me about what and how many appliances we were going to be having on the counter in the new place.  Awhile back, where we are now, it was a food processor and a blender. Currently, we have a coffee maker and two blenders. I was still deciding which I liked better for smoothies when it turned cold, and so they haven’t been used in a couple months – which he translated to NEVER EVER EVER GET USED EVER, and got on a tirade about how cluttered our counters are as if I’d suggested that I wanted ALL the appliances lined up on the counter in rows, including the roasting pan for good measure.

So I made a deal with him – we each get to have one appliance of our choosing that lives on the counter full time. I think that’s fair since we all know he’s going to want to have the coffee maker on the counter – that only makes sense. BUT – I don’t drink coffee very often, and I do make smoothies most days in the non-winter months. (And when we live there and I don’t have to go out and get in a cold car, I might make them year around!).

Then we started talking about possibly making a breakfast station area where we could have those things and maybe the toaster too, or the new egg steamer our folks just got me. We got all excited about how we could use the old counter that’s in the garage, and just move things a little further down the wall, etc. I was really into this plan, because our previously settled upon kitchen design still made me a little uneasy.

Since it was Sunday morning, we loaded the counter into the truck and headed off to the shop to try it all out. We set everything up…….and HATED IT. I hated it so much there are hardly words. It was just too long and the island got moved down far enough to match up with one of the support columns in the basement, and we didn’t want that.

I got very edgy at this point and may possibly have been a pain in the ass to deal with.

After a few more tries – some of which were even MORE horrible, (including Hubby’s suggestion to just ditch the island. Um, NO), he very carefully approached me like a cornered animal and said, “What if we put the sink on the other wall?”  My immediate reaction was to be a bigger ass and freak out about how that would mean I’d NEVER get my pantry door in the kitchen if I wanted, but he promised me that moving a sink is not a big deal at all, and if we want, he can always replumb it in the future if I really want that door. I know from experience that he can, so I settled down and started to consider the idea seriously.

New Kitchen Mockup

I’m a little concerned that the sink is too far away from the working area, but that’s the beauty of this mock up thing. I was able to play around in there a little bit as if I were really cooking and such, and truthfully, I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal.  It’s really the stove and the working area that I like to have close together, and the fridge is still located where it’s easy to pull things out and put them on the island.

Moving the sink to this end puts it right next to where the dishes will go, (please admire my mad GIMP skills – that hutch is still sitting on my front porch), which is nice, PLUS I can be in there washing dishes while he’s cooking, and we won’t get in each other’s way like we certainly would have with the old plan.

Best of all, when I imagine the finished product, I get that excited feeling I did when my imagination kicked up the very first image of a kitchen in the apartment.

Sadly, this means we don’t really get our breakfast station the way we wanted, but we’re going to use that counter on the backside of the peninsula there, and we think we can set up the coffee maker and blender against the wall there and it will be nearly as good. (That black bucket in the photo? Is the pretend coffee maker while we were trying out places to put things.)

Basement Project: Kitchen Layout

12 Mar

Recently, we spent a little time in the basement brainstorming layouts for the kitchen. A long time ago, I got a very clear, very wonderful mental image of what it should look like, and I’ve been stuck on that ever since.  In the meantime, however, we’ve changed a couple of other things and I thought it was important to really think it through. I’m glad we did, because what we’ve come up with is a bit different than my original concept and I think it will be much better than what I originally had in mind.

The first idea was like this:

Kitchen B

Technically, this is a revised version of the first concept. Originally, we were going to move the door to the pantry around the corner, so it would be IN the kitchen, but we’ve decided to leave it for now. It’ll be less work in the beginning, and it would certainly offer more flexibility in the kitchen layout if we had that wall to use.  In the very first version, both the sink and the stove would be along the back wall, but in the idea pictured above, the stove would be at the end of the “U”. I’ve always envisioned this enclosed wrap-around style of counters, etc, that would be like some kind of command center to work from while I chatted with the family or watched whatever was on TV in the living area.

Interestingly, when we finally mocked this up (after we had already tried out the version below), I realized that it felt kind of cramped and claustrophobic. I also felt that it looked kind of…amateur in a way.  I’m not sure why.

What we’ve settled on is a more open concept with an island:

Kitchen A


I like the airy feel of this and the freedom to approach it from both sides, and move around more freely. It has more of a sophisticated feel to it, I think.  We’ll build a half wall to back the stove and that will extend a bit above the counters to kind of finish that off.

Note:  We’ve since found out that we will be required to have a stove hood, and I’m not entirely sure I want one hanging down in the middle of the room, so we may very likely put the stove against the back wall along the same line as the sink, and let that peninsula just be counter.

I haven’t really decided about any kind of upper cabinets. We’re going to paint my old china hutch and use that for the dishes and some appliances, and there will be some drawers and things in the lower portion of the island and counters, so I originally felt there’d be enough storage. Plus, I want to do a pot rack of some kind on that back wall. Recently, though, I realized there’s not really going to be any place for the kind of food items, oils and spices that you’d want to have on hand in the kitchen.

Most of the food will live in the pantry, but up until recently, that was going to be integrated into the kitchen a little more than it is now.  So, I guess we’ll have to see on that one. I think we’ll kind of wait and see what we really end up needing there and filling in as necessary.

Basement Project Intro – Part Three

5 Mar

Once we got the basement all cleaned out, we talked with our architect, who assured us that we could start in on much of the demo work before we got the building permit. I certainly hope he was right about that, because we dove right in. After so many months of what felt like spinning our wheels, we wanted to do something that felt more like progress than prep work.

There were a number of shelving units and other storage kinds of things we were able to dismantle, and quite a lot of nails, hooks, old phone wire and random boards to pull off the ceiling after we took down a couple of drop ceilings. My favorite day, however, was the one where I went in there with a screwdriver (power), a hammer, and a pry bar and single-handedly caused an entire wall to cease to exist.

Wall 1

Wall 2

Wall 3

Wall 4

Yes, it was a small wall, but I dismantled the whole thing myself and it was exceedingly satisfying.

The next day, the guys got into the tear down work, too, and Hubby, my son and I took down a couple more walls. These were a lot of fun because they’d already been taped and mudded (mine hadn’t) so we weren’t able to salvage the sheetrock and got to bust our way through it instead. We did salvage all the lumber, and may possibly have enough that we won’t need to buy much of any to do the building with.

Wall 5

Wall 6

Wall 7

These were the only walls that had to come down, and constituted the bulk of the demolition work we needed to do. There are still a couple of doors that need to be moved/added, but I’m not sure if that’s demolition or construction really.

Some of the grout in the stone walls has oxidized or deteriorated, and we had to scrub down the back wall to get it cleaned up so we can do some re-grouting and seal it. We still have a little of that work to do along the base of one wall, and in the garage. (Which will be our bedroom someday).

Wall Scrubbing

Another MAJOR project will be to somehow clean the massive amount of dust out of there, some from years and years of being a basement, and some from demo work. At this point, I’m not even entirely sure how to go about that. I mean, you put a mop to that floor right now, and it’s going to turn into MUD.

If you’d like to read the whole project from the beginning, start with Basement Project Intro – Part One.

Basement Project Intro – Part Two

26 Feb

(If you want to start at the beginning, see Intro Post One)

Getting the clearance from the city to DO the basement project was the easy part. Unearthing the place from the many, many metric tons of CRAP that were crammed in there was a whole ‘nother  ballgame.

The Mess

See, we bought this business from the couple who had it before, after we’d already worked there for several years. Nearly twenty in my hubby’s case. They were nice enough people, but the guy was seriously weird in many areas, and he was pretty clearly obsessive/compulsive, especially when it came to keeping records of things. This also led to a certain amount of hoarding behavior. This guy loved to go to auctions and other kinds of sales, and bring home all kinds of stuff he thought would be useful for the business. A lot of it really wasn’t.  On top of that, he never EVER threw away any files or records of any of the businesses he ran and owned. We cleared out boxes and boxes of old invoices and purchase orders from the 70’s. (We’re still topping off our regular recycling bin every Friday night, working our way through this stuff.)

We also hauled out four full truck loads of steel shelving and other metal display units and took them to the scrap recyclers. That’s a minimum of 500 lbs a load. We took home SEVEN loads of wood to burn in our fire pit. (Which isn’t counting the massive amount of wood we saved or salvaged while taking apart shelving and storage units. We’ll use that to build some walls.) We got our recycling guy to come around back and pick up a mountain of cardboard no less than six times. (Seriously? Every time we turned around, we found another stash of empty cardboard boxes.) Here are some before and afters so you can really grasp what I’m talking about:

Back Room 2

Hallway  Back Room 3

Aside from all the stuff we could burn or recycle, there were massive amounts of old electronics components, hardware, lighting fixtures, and SO MANY PHONES. (They used to be a retailer for Northern Bell). Fortunately, we have a basement in the other building we own, and while it, too, is choked with their crap, we managed to find or create tons more room, so we won’t have to deal with any of this stuff until after we move in. Then we can slowly but surely dispose of it on Craigslist and Ebay.

Very little of what we found in there was ordinary, but there were a few items that took the cake.

Basement Finds

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we found it. Witness….THE HOLY GRAIL. It’s been in our basement all along. So, apparently, has the somewhat less famous Holy Used Rubber Sheet. And that is exactly what is in that envelope, people. Finally…a box of beaters. WTF? The guy did electronics, printing and sign making – where exactly does a gross of beaters fit in? The world will never know. (Also – I did not photograph the box of his porn mags we found. You’re welcome.)

Finally, there was a great deal of heavy equipment wedged in there from his printing days. Actually, there really wasn’t anything in that basement that wasn’t heavy as hell, but these were also HUGE.

Big Machine

Ultimately, after about four months and a LOT of beer, we finally got the basement liberated from all the junk. We got some help from our friends during critical phases, but the bulk of it we did in segments on weeknights, and many very long weekends. Can I just say that I’m deeply glad that’s over, and I don’t care how hairy any of the construction gets…this was still, by far, the worst part of the project.

Basement Project Intro – Part One

23 Feb

One of the main reasons I started this blog is the basement project we’re currently working on. I wanted to have a way to document our progress and the life we’ll lead there, but I also need a way to channel all this desperate yearning and impatience to finally be THERE. It’s getting me down, making me a little crazy and preventing me from living life in the moment. I don’t want to waste months of my life mentally on hold until I get to be where I really want to be.

live in the moment

My husband and I hit a point where we were feeling restless. The sign shop we own was struggling a little at the time, we had two teenagers in high school, and we knew that in about three years our lives were going to take a new turn as those kids headed out into the world.

It occurred to us that we could end up with a LOT of freedom – like “go anywhere we want” freedom.

We decided on a three year plan. For three years, we would put our all into the business and see if it turned around, while in the meantime, we’d figure out what else and where else we might like to be. If, after three years, the shop was doing well and we were happy, we’d stay. If things hadn’t changed, we’d move on and try a fresh start.

We began to play the “What If” game in the areas where we have family. This involved driving around with the latest apartment rental guide, a map and smart phone and pretending we were looking for a new place to live. We’d find an apartment we could afford and go find it to see if we liked the neighborhood and thought we could live there.

On the way home from one of these trips, while we were talking about how much money we could save downsizing to a cheap apartment, my husband came up with the brainstorm of building an apartment in our shop. We own two buildings side by side and they both have a plenty of room. We spent a ton of time discussing various ideas with an architect friend of ours who told us that most of them wouldn’t work due to city ordinances and building codes, until we finally hit upon one that would. We even met with the city (FIVE city and building planners, thank you very much) who assured us that we could do what we planned. One building has a basement with a garage and a lot of space that was mostly being used for storage. If we converted the garage to a bedroom and a hallway (window and front door), we’d have our two means of egress in the case of a fire, and the city’s blessing.

basement door

I’m wildly excited about this project for a number of reasons:

  • Living on site where we work will allow us to do things like run long print jobs in the evening when we could be home, but able to check on them. This could help in our goal to turn the business around
  • Since we own the building we wouldn’t need to pay much in the way of rent, and with no commute, we’d save a TON of gas money. Certainly, this would allow us to work on fixing our financial situation
  • Living where we work would just be cool as hell. I love the idea of leisurely sipping a cup of coffee and then going upstairs to work. My other job is only two blocks away, so that would fit in perfectly
  • Since this is a basement, there are lots of exposed pipes, beams and electrical conduit, and we’ve chosen to embrace that and go with a funky industrial look. This is our chance to be crazy and creative
  • I’ve always wanted to live in an alternative space, and this is my chance
  • Our shop is right in the heart of downtown. I mean RIGHT in the middle of everything. We’ll have all kinds of great restaurants, bars, parks, shopping, theaters and even my city library within a few blocks walking distance. (Also? We’re two blocks from the edge of Lake Superior. Gorgeous.) This will be a MAJOR change of lifestyle for us, since we’ve nearly always lived out in the country

I have all kinds of wonderful dreams of walking down to the library and choosing a couple books, then holing up in some funky bar to read and sip a glass of wine before strolling back home. Hopping on a bus one snowy Saturday and reading while I ride up to the mall to do some Christmas shopping. Walking down to a concert in the park and stumbling back home late, a little drunk and riding the rush of excitement, to crash into bed. Walking around the corner to grab some sushi when I’m too lazy to cook….

The list goes on and on.

Read Part Two of the project.

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