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Since it’s quite possible that we have made mistakes with dates or arrangements of posts & pages, this page will have a running list of events in reverse chronological order. (Oldest events are at the bottom.)

2013 APRIL through the PRESENT

The work on the NKR storage project is put on hold as the weather starts to warm up. It was a cold wet winter and the summer is proving slow in starting. This was not the best weather for our lasted big project- finally getting the roof repairs going! Much time is spent investigating the original construction, meeting with experts and coming up with a plan that, hopefully is within our budget.

2012 MARCH through 2013 MARCH

The big project for this phase is the storage room, otherwise known as the New Kodak Room (NKR). The work is done in phases, moving stuff out, demolition including a dump run and some our style of shopping for shelving. The room is cleaned up, much like the apartment, sealed and painted. Donated light fixtures are reworked, hung and wired after tracing down the old building wiring.


We can finally use the F-word, Finished, on the apartment bathroom. Made up of salvaged pieces, estate sale finds, friends cast-offs and a lot of ingenuity, it is a microcosm of the B.A.B.. Plus it looks great!

2011 MAY through DECEMBER

We slowed the pace of construction progress, which was much needed, but it wasn’t without excitement, good, bad and ugly. We find some cool stuff to incorporate into the apartment, include beautiful rosewood shelving, some estate sale treasures and, for Tom’s basement, a pool table. We finally repaired the water line leak in the basement which resulted in a geyser and some lessons learned about patching sidewalks.

2011 APRIL through MARCH

We move in! One year after moving out of our little house, we spend the night at the B.A.B., well, spend the night sleeping at the B.A.B. for the first time. We celebrate by welcoming St. Louis Design Week and AIA St. Louis to meet in our front room. Lucy is thrilled to have so many hands to pet her and snack plates to check!

2010 NOVEMBER through 2011 FEBRUARY

It is construction blitz time at the B.A.B. We finish cleaning up the old walls and framing the new walls. The guts inside the walls are installed. Help is brought in for the drywall and spackle. We finally have heat! Kitchen cabinets, carpet, loft railing and spiral stair are all done.


On the sustainability front, we finally found someone that would be able to use the remaining stock of screen ink that was left behind by the previous owner. We spent a lot of time at out favorite salvage place, where we finally got some cool doors that used to be in our downtown public library! While there has been continued progress in getting studs and framing up in the apartment, there’s not a huge difference in how it has looked lately. (Like a construction site.) We are looking for a spiral stair we can salvage, (nothing yet) and we were lucky to get some salvage steel for our railing at the edge of the mezzanine. We also put out bids for our mechanical, electrical and plumbing work, and had walk-throughs with contractors.


We could start focusing on details of our new apartment, like choosing a stain and finish for the concrete floor. And it felt SOOOO good to have the floors finished! (Now that the messy window work is over.) And a first: we finally have NEW construction! Another milestone with the city: our Zoning Board of Adjustments gave us final approval to convert the building from commercial to residential. (Our building permit last month was conditional; we had to sign documents stating that we take responsibility if things don’t go as planned. See this post for the details. We are still searching for doors, plumbing fixtures, etc.


The biggest news for August: We got our permit! The heat is on – both physically and virtually. We had lots of work to do – and it’s about 110 degrees on the top floor, about 95 degrees on the first floor, and about 80 degrees in the basement. The work of stripping and rebuilding the 5 windows of the new apartment continued to occupy most of our time this month. Click on the detailed visual explanation of our window anatomy. We removed tons of abandoned steel pipe from the basement ceiling just below the apartment, in preparation for new heating/cooling, electrical and plumbing work. The big score of the month: lots of free stuff – all we could carry from a house that was going to be demolished, including some awesome metal kitchen cabinets. Did we say that Windows was a big focus for August?

2010 JULY

In addition to “maintenance” work like rebuilding the metal windows, we added a much needed security gate at the rear of the building. We officially submitted our construction drawings for building permit; a few revisions were needed and we submitted the final set on July 27th. While not a construction event, we were excited to finally get rid of a majority of screen ink left behind by the previous owner!

2010 JUNE

Our design process went much smoother once we had “phasing” or “temporary” out of the picture. We met with the plan reviewers several times to carefully determine the best way to position our project – we wanted to make sure that we didn’t hurt ourselves in the future by designing/building anything that might be interpreted as commercial property, since our goal is make the entire building residential. In the meantime, we worked on tasks in the building that were not new-construction related. The biggest scare we had was trying to find a connection to an existing sewer line – read this post. Oh, and Tom almost lost some fingers.

2010 MARCH through MAY

While living in Mary’s house in her guest bedroom, we spent many weeks (months?) designing a Phase 1 of construction that would get us the minimum living requirements in temporary spaces. We developed several schemes, ranging from minimalist “live in a tent” structures to full-blown second kitchens. (We all could use second kitchens, right?) But, after realizing that most of what were going to construct would have to eventually be DE-constructed in future phases,  we did an about face: We realized we were trying to solve the wrong problem. Time to go back to the drawing board.

2010 MARCH

We are taking a MUCH needed break and spending a week with Sue’s parents in New Jersey. Though we thought we had escaped the snow…

When we get back, we plan to move full speed ahead with creating renovation plans for Phase 1.


We are focusing on getting moved out of our little house; so any progress on Wilmington is a bit on hold since all of our time is spent packing. We’ve made several trips to the building – we’re using it to store non-essential stuff. The snow and extremely cold weather makes it difficult to pack and haul. Closing day for new buyer is still Feb. 26th; and the buyer’s building inspector (who sounds like a real boob in his report – in the opinion of us two architects that inspect buildings professionally) has given us a list of repairs they’d like done to the house, which we agree to many of them. So the last few weeks of February are spent on those items; in “spare time” we are packing every night after work. The “BIG stuff” movers come on Feb. 21 to move those lunky things we don’t want to haul in the pick-up truck, like the sofa, the stove, dressers, etc. We began staying at our friend Mary’s house on the same night, since the movers took our bed. We moved the final few boxes out of the little house on Feb. 25th, and had a lovely dinner at Allan & Karen’s, the last where we were the “next door neighbors”. We closed the next day; click here for Sue’s closing farewell.


The BIG News for January: Our little house is sold! It was like going to an auction. The auctioneer points to a painting and says “Who’ll give me $500 for this beautiful painting?” Nothing. “Okay, how about $400?” Crickets chirping… So he goes low… “Someone give me two hundred bucks for this lovely painting…”  A hand goes up… $200. Another hand… $250. Then a paddle waving wildly in the back: $300. Before you know it, the final winning bid is $800.  It’s like no one wants to make the first move.  We see it all the time at auctions. – – – It was like that with our house – as soon as one offer came in, our agent Mary contacted all interested parties and MORE offers came in; contingent and non-contingent.

Guess what? The Buyer wants to close on February 26th! Holy Crap! We better stop blogging and get packing!


Not much happening; lots of lookers through the house, three people EXTREMELY interested; two have asked if they could make offers contingent on a sale of their house. But we are willing to wait until we got a non-contingent offer. We hung Christmas lights in the windows at Wilmington. (See this post). Most trips involve emptying water out of buckets. How much does it cost to heat this place? See here. While not a building topic, Sue and Tom drove the 8+ hours to Oklahoma City to visit Jim and Darcy at Christmas.


PARTY! We decided over a year ago, that when we FINALLY closed on a building, the first thing we’d do is throw a party. Read about it here. The Troops Arrive! Tom’s brother Jim and his wife Darcy took a week of their vacation, and drove the 8+ hours from Oklahoma City to St. Louis, to help us clear out the building, AND spend Thanksgiving with us. They are SAINTS! Sue wrote this post about it.


Aside from actually closing on Wilmington (After two years, we’re still not sure that we own a building…), Mary convinced us to put our little house on the market ASAP. So we spent about 9 days “de-crapifying” the house and moving stuff over to Wilmington. Mary hosted an agent’s opening (like an Open House, but just for agents) on October 20th. We also decided that it was time to celebrate and have a party; we picked a date and sent out invitations. We met a roofing consultant at the building – he’s going to help us prioritize areas that need the most work, and write up some specs when we are ready to bid the work.

2009 October 9

CLOSING! We finally closed on the building! WOO-HOO!
(Actually, it didn’t feel like that.)
We met the dude from the title company in Sue’s office. It was all very business stuff but also informal. We signed some papers, and handed him a check. No champagne, no big brass bands, no fireworks. It all kinda goes along with our disbelief that we would ever be able to close, and 2+ years of everything failing. But we are so glad that we persevered. But wait – did we really close?
Because even in the last few days, the Seller was flaking out. They asked to change the closing date and time THREE times. That’s okay, we were flexible. Until, the Seller said that they wanted access to the building AFTER closing so that they could remove three items. We drew the line there – no way; once we close, it’s our place, not theirs. They’ve had almost THREE YEARS to empty that place. To top it off, we were given ONE key at closing. WTF? We changed the locks the very next day.


September was a pivotal month…

We sketched up some ideas for a “mini-renovation” for initial discussions with the appraiser. We finally got in the building with him, along with our contractor again.

Appraiser was a bit disappointing; while we wanted someone to “bounce ideas around with”, he just wanted a job to do. Our border collie Lucy is the same way – she always looks at us like: “Just give me something to DO!”. So the appraiser took the loose sketches and said he would run with that; “It looked fine…”. 😦

So we then created bid-ready documents that matched the loose sketches for our contractor to bid. They weren’t as detailed as those we made for Soda Water Studio almost a year ago, but they would give accurate guidelines for bidders.

One thing that was still bugging us was that this current “mini-renovation” approach meant that we were building a significant amount of work just to appease the bank – and over a third of it we would tear out later for the next phase. That seemed wasteful, but it was the only way at the moment that we could see this project coming to life.

We got the bids for the mini-renovation about the same time that we received the appraisal; and as you might guess they were not in alignment. But they were closest as ever; and we started discussions with contractor about what parts we could shave out of the scope of the renovation. At the same time we needed to know how these deductions would affect the appraisal. But our calls to the appraiser were never returned; Tom got the impression that the appraiser felt that he completed his job, and we’d have to pay him more money if we wanted more advice.

Since we didn’t even know if this “mini” approach would be possible within city guidelines, we met with St. Louis City Planning department and after explaining our approach, they gave us the green light. It had been SO LONG since we had some good news.

Checking back in with our friends at Lindell Bank; they were waiting for us to send them the bids and the appraisal. Tom explained that they were not exactly in alignment and we were working through that. The bank also gave us some bad news – that it would likely be a 30% down payment, but no way would it be less than 25%. This was ominous to us because these conditions would suck up all of our cash available, and wouldn’t allow for any mistakes, changes, or unforeseen circumstances. (Not to mention little chance of a nice vacation in the next few years!) We were really bummed.

But the month ended with really good news – we FINALLY got financing from a new source, and for building purchase only – no renovation needed.  We immediately called Mary, because we were ready to make an offer – which we did on September 30th.


Tom is starting to feel like a comb salesman at a bald guy’s convention. We learned to not take it personally when we get turned down, and in fact most banks assure us that it’s “not us” and that we have excellent credit, great jobs, etc.  We have continued to get other lender leads and always follow up. We even got some referrals from other real estate agents that Mary knows; many people are trying to help us. We decided to try another renovation approach; we could do a minimal renovation “just to get in”, and then complete the rest in phases.

We also had dinner with friends (and the topic of our building search always comes up), and they recommended that we contact Lindell Bank. Their company has been using them for 20+ years and they knew the VP personally, and we should mention their names. We did, and after several calls and emails, they were willing to keep going and see what kind of financing they could get for us. For a change, it felt like they were really interested.

The strategy to this “mini-renovation” would be that we would pay an independent appraiser to help us decide what spaces would contribute the most to an appraisal. Fortunately, we know the comparative costs of building bathrooms vs. bedrooms, so if we could get an appraiser to tell us how much a second bathroom or bedroom contributes to total value, we could quickly find the best combination for the lowest price.  And even better, Lindell Bank gave us some names of appraisers, and assured us that they would be able to use that person’s appraisal with our loan. (ONLY because they were a privately owned bank and set their own rules – national chains wouldn’t allow that…)

We tried to setup a walk-through with this appraiser and our contractor, but when Mary (our agent) called the Seller’s agent to notify them of our visit, she found out that the key had been removed – apparently the Seller was changing realtors, because the current realtor “wasn’t doing a good job” of selling the property. (?)What sucked for us was that we had to wait a couple weeks for the old listing contract to run out before the “new” agent could take it over and then “show us the building”. Quite a pain in the ass for us.

2009 JULY

The big shocker came from the neighborhood small bank; after several weeks of meetings & forms, they finalized their denial with this statement during a phone call: “These days we are not doing any loans that have any risk. If you’d have come to us a couple years ago, there would be no problem.” Tom always asked for referrals when a bank turned us down, so July was spent following up with three new lenders; one said “no” after just two phone calls, the second wasted TWO weeks of our time, and the third, sounded really excited, wanted Tom to come in and show pictures, plans, etc., but then after that never returned his calls. (Maybe they CLOSED???)

2009 JUNE

Most of June was spent continuing to look for financing. We didn’t need to get back into the building; we just needed to find a lender interested in our ideas. Tom had been talking with Commerce Bank since early May, and after 6-1/2 weeks, they officially and formally turned us down. It gets really exhausting – it’s not the denial itself, but all the time we waste going to meetings, reviewing drawings & photos, explaining our plans & ideas, filling out forms, etc.  Sheesh. Why can’t they decide in a week? But, we also found a very small bank in the neighborhood named Southern Commercial Bank, that we thought would be interested in helping development in their area. Tom had several meetings and loan apps with them…

2009 MAY

We got bids back for the full renovation of the second floor, roof repair, and adding a garage; now our challenge was to find a lender that thought our project would be worth what it costs to build. (Very hard these days with appraisals at all time lows.) We still have not put in an offer yet – we won’t do that until we have financing in place. Our friend Eric put us in touch with a loan officer at Commerce Bank; a few calls, some emails, and then Tom met with them – they were still interested. They had some ideas for non-mortgage loans, and even non-commercial loans.  But they were adamant about a Phase 1 Site Assessment test, which costs several thousand dollars, and they were convinced that the lowest they could go on a down payment was 25% of the total renovation cost. (Right now, that would be well over $100,000…) Many dead-end calls to other banks; but everyone we talk to thinks our project is very cool…

2009 April 20

Since our last visit to Wilmington, we have talked a lot about our building prospects and everything we’ve seen in the last 6 months. On the one hand, Wilmington needs a total roof replacement (leaks like a sieve), will cost a lot to heat and cool (until we add insulated windows, etc.), and, well, it’s just damn huge. On the other hand, it’s structurally superior compared to everything else, is in a great neighborhood, and it can accomodate so many of our interests, because, well, it’s just damn huge.

We decide to officially “go for it” – we will attempt to get this building for our home and studio.

With help from the great guys at P.J. Prifti Construction, we collaborated on a renovation plan that left the first floor as it is for studio space, with a garage carved out of one corner; the second floor is renovated into 3BR/3BA loft with large kitchen and lots of entertaining space; and a new roof.

We’re really excited!

2009 April 17

We don’t have any solid prospects for a building; Mary has sent us more links to listings; nothing that hits us just right. Tom has not forgotten about the old phone company building 822 Wilmington and asks Sue to revisit the building for a second look. It was on that second visit that Sue turned over a new leaf and thought this building might suit our needs. See this post.

2009 April 15

Death and Taxes – Inevitable…
April 15 – in the U.S. we know it as the day we have to have our income taxes filed – and we’ll remember it as the day that we officially stopped all efforts to acquire Soda Water Studio. It was supposed to be our closing day, and in the last couple of weeks we’ve realized that we’re not going to get any financing in this economy for this kind of project. It’s been almost a year since we first sighted this property, and what a roller coaster ride we’ve been on. From the physical and monetary efforts put into a building we didn’t own, to the legal processes of zoning variances and property consolidations, and the immense number of design and documentation hours; we still were optimistic about our future. Something better would come along. SODA WATER IS OFFICIALLY DEAD.

2009 April 11

We visited a handful of buildings in the afternoon, Tom took a bunch of pictures from the inside of 822 Wilmington. Results of our first visit inside: Tom: Yeah!; Sue: No way.  See this post.

2009 April 10

Tom drove by the B.A.B. and took pictures of the exterior – way too excited; Sue still thinks it’s too big, but will at least she’ll take the time to look at it on the inside.

2009 April 6

Mary sent us more listings; one was an update of the funeral home that we were looking at – the price had dropped.  But there was a new one that was a commercial building that was HUGE – two main stories; 13,000 square feet, AND it had a freight elevator! Tom emailed to Sue to see if she had gotten the chance to look at the listing, she just replied “13,000 ?!?!?!?!.” Then Tom called Sue and she just said “no way”. (This was the first time we heard of the B.A.B. and we are making this the official first post of this blog.)

2008 JULY through 2009 APRIL

While this is a long time span to cover in one “section” – it’s mostly about a project that ISN’T B.A.B. – we spent this period on Soda Water Studio. First, we negotiated an offer on Soda Water in July. Contract was accepted!

Then there were many many hours spent designing spaces, drawing plans, and visiting vendors to choose new materials. There were financing frustrations, like when our loan officer at Chase called Tom in tears explaining that she had been directed to call all of her clients and tell them that they needed DOUBLE the down payment, and the additional bad news that appraisal values of renovations were continuing to spiral downward. (As we reflect on this time, it is ominous of the economic downfall…)

We also spent a lot of time in local bureaucracy – the two properties needed to be combined into one; because the buildings were already on the property line (if not OVER), ANY construction/renovation required a zoning variance, (which we applied for and got) and we also met with the planning department of the city to review our plans — ALL before we even owned the property.

And then there was the WORK we did on the building itself. When we first entered the buildings, the basements were FILLED with many colors of MOLD. And the second floor ceiling was caving in, due to a roof leak. So we paid a contractor to tarp the entire roof to keep out new water. To help kill the mold, Tom and our friend Eric cut large openings in the floors to allow air to circulate into the basement to stop the mold. ALL before we even owned the property.

Extension after extension – our closing date continued to move because lenders were all closing their coffers. We spent our entire Thanksgiving holiday creating full-blown bidding documents because the latest lender said that they needed “firm” construction/renovation costs before they could approve a loan. Then we asked some contractors to bid the set and the cost came in about 3 times what we expected, so we were again delayed as we worked through some changes to bidding documents and then we re-bid it to a new group of contractors. While the new bids were much closer to our budget, we submitted the costs to our lender, and unfortunately, the appraisals had continued to plummet (without our knowledge), so it were basically chasing everything downhill.

Over this period we looked at MANY other buildings – one that required several visits was an old Funeral Home that was currently used as a “Church of Whats Happening Now” – it was cool because it had a lot of big spaces, a drive-out basement ala Batman’s Batcave, but there were squatters living in the apartment upstairs.

2009 came with a lot of frustration – we really wanted to keep pursuing Soda Water but we just couldn’t find a way to make it happen financially. Mary continued to send us listings while we tried to maintain focus on Soda Water – not a bad move as it looked like Soda Water wasn’t going to happen. It was an intersection of every negative/downward biorhythm you could imagine.

2008 June 29

So 2008 is the summer that gas reached sky-high prices, and all over the news there were stories that the sales of trucks & SUV’s were hitting bottom. If we were going to be closing on a building soon, and hauling big things – Tom decided it was a good time to pick up a used pick-up truck.

*Big Ass Truck

He set his budget for $1000, enough to get a sound-running clunker, beauty not being important. After test-driving some of those without being impressed, and THEN running across a 1995 F150 Eddie Bauer Long Bed truck on craigslist, the price tag of which was HALF the book value, he impulsively paid about double his original budget and picked up a “cherry” of a truck.

In impeccable condition, it was owned by a retired accountant that kept records of every truck service event, even stored a spare alternator belt in the engine compartment, and had a bumper sticker that read “God Bless John Wayne”.

And to the seller we say: God Bless Jimmy Ray Brown.

(While you serious truck owners may scoff at this wimpy F150, it’s perfect for our use and will fit those 4×8 sheets of “whatever” flat in the bed. I promise to never try to show you up at a stoplight.)

2008 May 24

We liked the Soda Water property enough to get back in to visit the site with our friend Eric and our structural engineer. They are both engineers, so looked at it from their engineering eyeballs. Some structural questions arose, the most significant being: “Why was the entire southwest corner of the building appearing to be sinking?”, but that was answered when a friendly neighbor approached us when we were outside to explain that he used to work in the building in the 70’s, and he remembered that the entire southwest corner foundation had to be piered up from below. The concrete pads over the pier locations confirmed this story to our engineer, and after exclaiming “Well THAT solves THAT problem!”, he gave us a list of minor improvements needed and everything seemed pretty doable. Next steps: what can we do with this place, and who do we talk to for financing?

By the end of the month we decided we were going to buy and save these two structures. We sketched out a few loose ideas; the biggest addition would be the construction of a “tower”, to house vertical circulation and an art gallery.

2008 May 22

This was our first visit to the two-property site that we would refer to as “Soda Water”, because we could see old ghosts of signs on the brick wall that said “E. Schweigler Soda Water”; Sue extensively researched the history and found out a lot about it. We liked it right away, though it obviously needed a lot of work. Even Mary thought it was our kind of place. See this old post.

2008 May 15

Sue was doing some of her own property searching on the internet, and sent Tom a link to one she thought was interesting. As soon as Tom saw the photo of the place, he said “I know this property!” It was near one of the houses we toured a couple of Saturdays ago. He found the photo he snapped was still on his camera and sent it to Sue. Apparently it was on the market even though there was no “For Sale” sign in front. The listing described it as TWO separate properties for sale; being sold together. One building was a small Victorian house (circa 1893) that was in desperate need of renovation, and the other was a small (similarly aged) commercial building. That was all we knew at the moment, other than the small pictures on the listing. We must get in this building! Mary helped us with that.

2008 May 1

One morning Mary sent us three listings that were all within a 1/2 mile of so of each other. Since they were also pretty close to Tom’s office, he took off at lunch to “preview” them with a drive-by. It was a nice sunny spring day, and while the three listings were more in the “large house” category than the “interesting BUILDING” category, Tom walked around the neighborhood of the second property because there were several interesting buildings that weren’t on the market; worthy of photo documentation – a couple even had been renovated and could inspire ideas for our project. On the following Saturday, Mary took us inside each of the properties, but as predicted, weren’t our cup ‘o tea.

2008 April 7

We probably toured an average of three houses or buildings every couple of weeks, with lots of rejected listings in the mix. Some we visited were quite interesting – ranging from large empty churches, which were way out of our price range, to scary multi-family projects that were more suited for developer/renovators interesting in renting. But mid-April, Mary found an interesting building that was formerly a corner bakery about a hundred years ago, and the old bakery, now a workshop, was till attached at the back. [see this posting on the old blog for more details] After a few weeks of analysis, and a review by our structural engineer, (and secretly finding the seller’s blog about selling the building), we made a low-ball offer with consideration of what we found needing repair. Even though the property had been on the market for many months, we never heard a peep regarding our offer – we found out later that another offer (higher or course) was presented the same day as ours and they took the other offer. Oh well – back to the drawing board.


Mary sends us lots of listings of properties for sale. Many we can tell just from the listing that it’s not quite what we want; others we actually had to visit before we could turn it down. Over the next several months, Mary learned our preferences better, perhaps because when we toured properties with her, we always bypassed the “newly remodeled kitchen” and headed straight for the basement. We also used the term “building” when describing our search – we never really thought we wanted a “house”.
We also drove around on our own checking out neighborhoods; sometimes we’d see a “For Sale” sign and make note of it, sometimes we’d see a cool building that looked empty and just asked Mary to look up the address in her data.


Sue: “So are we doing this or not?”
Tom: “What?”
Sue: “Really looking at buildings and getting serious about it, you DORK.”
Tom: “Oh that…”

So after a few nights of “discussions”, we agreed that we would commit, get serious, and begin our hunt for our interesting studio/loft/etc. We gave ourselves a deadline of one year – we would start looking seriously after the holidays (in January 2008) and by January 2009, our goal was to have a new place.


Sue’s friend Mary is a real estate agent, and after hearing us talk about our occasional sightings of buildings we liked, she started sending us listings. While they were generally very interesting, and some were very attractive large houses, we didn’t really yet know specifically what we wanted.


We have been driving or walking by buildings for decades and thought to ourselves “Wouldn’t THAT make a great studio/loft/living space?” In fact, since before we even knew each other, we have SEPARATELY researched, coveted, and tried to obtain interesting old buildings to use as studio space.

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