Open house, check

And we didn’t take a single picture.

This time last week, Tyler and I were recovering our breaths from our open house, which can only be described as a spectacular success.

After two years of planning, demolition and reconstruction, we were racing to the finish to get the church into show shape. My dad hung a thousand pictures on Saturday (he says a thousand, I think it was more like 22), and Tyler sent a lot of time making the lawn look presentable. Mom arranged a half dozen flower vases with fresh flowers gifted to us by a friend, so we had fragrant blooms in almost every room. As for me, I emptied all the trash cans as my last act before accepting guests; the message, of course, is that we have functional things like garbage cans, but we don’t actually use them (it’s a joke). 

Tyler estimates we had 250 people drop by in the two-plus hours we opened our doors to neighbors, contractors, former members of the church and interested onlookers. We had 105 sign our guest book. So I guess we had somewhere between 105 and 250 come to take a look at our church-house renovation. It felt like 250, for sure.

All four of us–me, Tyler, Mom and Dad– talked non-stop for two hours, and we ran the church bell a hundred times, at least. It was so nice to see people ooh and aah and to hear people say nice things about the church and our work. Among our visitors were three former pastors at the church, which was a fun and enlightening surprise.

We were so preoccupied, we didn’t take a single picture, though I know some people took a lot of them. If you’re willing to share, please let me know.

The best part was the booty we collected. We asked visitors to bring a non-perishable foot item for the Loaves & Fishes food pantry, which got its start in our basement when it was a functioning church, and our guests came through for the charity. More than 600 pounds of food was collected! Wow! Thank you!

If you attended our open house, thank you for being here, for contributing and for saying nice things (at least in earshot, ha, ha).

As for my regular readers who didn’t have the opportunity to be here, I will try to share some of the projects we finished this summer during the next couple weeks. The biggest project I finished that I’m excited to tell you about is the book I wrote about renovating the church. Much more to come on that subject, I assure you.

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The details are not the details, they make the design

Our story so far: Decision paralysis was beginning to affect our church renovation. We were faced with decisions that affected the look of the entire church cum house, and we would have to look at them every day: Wall paint and trim.

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The next day (and I’m not compressing chronology here—literally the next day), Tyler gathered You-Can-Call-Me-Al and me in the great room to start measuring for trim. I was supposed to be taking notes, but the conversation was over my head about ninety seconds in. I knew what a baseboard was and I understood we needed some sort of wood around the windows and doors, but after that, I was lost. You-Can-Call-Me-Al threw around words like casing and chair stops and measurements like five-and-a-quarter topped with one-and-seven-sixteenths, and I said, “Wait, huh? What am I writing down?”

Tyler threw up his hands.

You-Can-Call-Me-Al, with all his people-pleaser mediation skills, suggested we call his Trim Guy.

Before Tyler could say “What’s his number?” You-Can-Call-Me-Al dialed his cell and left a message for Trim Guy.

A few hours later, Trim Guy was standing in our great room with thick books of trim descriptions and a clip board.

original trim
Fortunately, the sanctuary of our church came with a lot of beautiful trim. The window casing was five inches wide, and the beadboard wainscoting was topped with a bold chair rail. The narrow original baseboard, however, was long since removed (I’ve painted a fake baseboard here). And if you look closely, the casing on the main door doesn’t match the window casing; it must have been a more modern addition.

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Today’s headline is quote from Charles Eames. He and his wife “Ray” were 20th century American designers.

Tomorrow: Learning a foreign language. Read it here.

It’s the fixtures and fittings that finish you off

Our story so far: After much backing and forthing, we found a reasonably affordable way to construct an extra-large custom shower in our master bathroom in our church conversion, but we couldn’t put away our shopping list yet.

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Ah, the fixtures.

I wanted a rainfall shower head. I naively believed that’s how they were sold: Shower head, rainfall; Quantity: One.

Um, no.

One needs valves. They’re the parts you can’t see, but if you don’t have them, you don’t have things like water pressure or temperature control. Then you need something called “valve trim.” This the knob that turns on the water.

Then you need the shower head. But sometimes you might also need a shower head arm and a shower head flange.

Naturally, each of these parts has its own price.

Oh, and you’re not done yet. Now you choose a style. And don’t forget the finish: brass, copper, bronze, chrome—oh, not so fast—would you like that in polished, brushed, matte?

bathtub faucet
Mm, pretty.

Tyler chose a distinctive Kohler bathtub faucet for the upstairs bath but we went with the “contractor special” for the shower up there. For the master bathroom, we also considered Kohler, a manufacturer based in what was now our home state of Wisconsin, but in the end we went with polished chrome Moen fixtures. I was reading everywhere that brass was new and trendy, but I hated brass; polished chrome would look clean, be durable and would make it easy to find accessories and other fixtures.

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Tomorrow: Why brass is crass. And other judgy opinions from the peanut gallery. Read it here.

Simple wall construction turns into odyssey of blood, sweat and tears

Our story so far: As we progressed through the mechanicals phase of our church conversion project, we learned it was tricky to build walls between 126-year-old floors and ceilings that may or may not be level.

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The day began with a family crisis and progressed to a business crisis, but eventually we put out the fires and made our way to the church. Our goal was to construct the walls for the powder room, the water closet in the master bath and the wall behind the vanity in the master bath, all in the overflow area behind the kitchen so the plumber could begin roughing in plumbing.

Unlike the walls for the master bedroom closet which were supporting walls built to the ceiling, the walls on the day’s to-do list would have a false ceiling to accommodate the HVAC ducting and the plumbing from the second-floor bathroom. If your eyes are glazing over with the details, let me emphasize this important point: All the walls we were building were to be as tall as the false ceiling.

We began by haggling about room sizes and laying down two-by-fours on the floor to outline the walls. Just as Tyler was about to measure the studs and build vertically, he decided he needed a new tool: A laser level.

We couldn’t just measure down from the actual ceiling or up from the floor because each was crooked or uneven in their own unique ways. If we wanted a level false ceiling, we needed this crucial tool Tyler didn’t already possess.

OK, it was lunch time. Let’s go get lunch and drop by Home Depot. And spend more money. On another tool.

This was a battle I wasn’t going to win.

So we dined at a Chicago hot dog joint and dropped another couple hundred at Home Depot. Driving back to the church in the pickup truck, Tyler asked me to open the laser level box (with the Fort Knox unbreakable plastic clamshell, a feat in it itself) and read the instructions.

This was not poetry or a steamy novel. This was the instructions on how to set up and use a laser level.

All I remember is this one thing: “Looking into the laser light will cause blindness.”

Before returning to the work site, Tyler dropped me off at the rental house to check on the dog, throw the washed sheets in the dryer and run some quick paperwork. He returned to the church to set up the laser level.

When I arrived at the church twenty minutes later, the laser level was screwed to the wall, red laser lines marking the bottom of our false ceiling.

laser level
Looking into the laser light will cause blindness.

We got back to work exchanging nouns for tools and constructing studded walls.

Not infrequently that afternoon, my sweaty Romeo (thank you, Erin Napier for this “Home Town” description) would bend over to nail a stud into the bottom plate and sprinkle a few drops of perspiration on the floor.

That was the sweat in this story.

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 Tomorrow: Part II of building walls: Blood. Read about it here.

An appearance before the commish

Our story so far: Our church conversion project had created quite a stir in town.

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Our day of reckoning had arrived: The rezoning hearing.

We’d been feeling out neighbors and other interested parties for weeks, trying to determine if anyone might object to rezoning the church from “park” (the tax-free designation also bestowed on churches) to residential. We paid the fee, read the notice in the paper, put on clean clothes and showed up at the planning commission meeting to observe the public hearing for our rezoning.

We were the only ones there.

Besides the members of the planning commission, of course.

This was good news because it meant none of the neighbors objected.

A couple of the commissioners asked questions, mostly of curiosity (“Are you keeping the bell? Will you be ringing it on New Year’s Eve?” “Do you plan to have off-street parking?”), and within seventeen minutes, they’d approved of the rezoning.

Thirteen minutes later, the village board convened to consider the planning commission’s recommendation. The only question we got asked: “Are you going to keep the lilac bushes?”

“Bushes? Plural?” I questioned silently.

Those unidentified bushes along the sidewalk that we aggressively trimmed the third day we owned the church were identified by one of the board members as flowering bushes, known to bloom extravagantly in the spring.

“Yes, yes, all but three of them, which have to be removed for our driveway,” I said.

“Replanted,” Tyler corrected.

I nodded. If we could replant lilac bushes (or whatever they were), then absolutely, we would.

The village board made the planning commission’s decision official: Approved.

We were now part of the village tax rolls.

Which is exactly what we wanted.

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Tomorrow: Our project makes news as we wrap up Chapter 14. Read it here.