Monday, May 8, 2017

A Tale of Two Closets

Hello Chickens!

It's time to start filling you in on the third-floor master suite, and for this one, we are going to go room by room.  In part because a lot of the spaces are still shy of completed!

Today I'm going to talk about our closets.  Because anyone who has lived in an old building knows, closet space is at a serious premium.  When the buildings were built, everyone used armoires and other storage furniture, and while owners over the years have added some closets, they are small and minimally useful at best.

When our bedroom was on the first floor, I had all my stuff crammed into the closet in that room, you know the kind of space, bifold doors, one long rod across, one long shelf above.  The space under the hanging clothes filled with an amalgam of bins and shelves, trying desperately to make everything fit, and stay organized, to little avail.  My poor Charming Suitor was relegated to the even smaller closet in the guest room across the hall, making due with that and his antique highboy dresser.  When we moved from the first-floor bedroom into the basement eighteen months ago, we temporarily converted our former bedroom into a shared dressing room, somewhat better, but still makeshift and frustrating, impossible to keep really organized, dark and dreary, and a constant source of disappointment and annoyance.

So when we designed the third-floor suite, we knew we would each get a proper dressing room.  Since my CS is seriously amazing, he let me have the larger of the two available spaces, recognizing that the volume of shoes alone wouldn't fit in the smaller room.  He gets major gold star hubby points for sure on this one, since my dressing room is probably about 30% bigger, and his has a corner cut off on the diagonal for the window, which adds to the complexity of space planning.  And since he is a dapper gent, with no shortage of his own clothes and shoes to store, and he is the one who gets up every day to get really dressed for work, so he could easily and validly have argued for the bigger space himself.  Especially since I spend 55% of my days in stretchy pants and long-sleeved t-shirts, one step up from pajamas, to commute one floor down to sit and make stuff up all day.  But as ever, he spoils me, and while he will point out to everyone that his space is smaller, he really is thrilled that I get to have my girly sanctuary.

Originally we had visions of built-in closets like you see in all of the magazines.  Mine would be spunky and bright, like a luxury department store, with all the bells and whistles, fabulous matching display shelves for my darling shoes, purse storage, an island for accessory wrangling, a window seat bench with tall boot storage beneath.  CS dreamed of manly wood, with sliding pants organizers, and those awesome little pull-out rods for organizing clothes before a business trip.  We'd both make use of the ceiling height to fully maximize storage.

And then we met with the closet people.

This is where things went a bit sideways.  Two of the four companies we met with never got back to me with bids.  Not even after two follow up emails and a phone message each to remind them that we were waiting on their ideas and pricing.  The other two companies came back fairly quickly with designs.  And an estimated cost so incredibly high that we thought perhaps they had misplaced the decimal point.  Knowing that we were on a very tight budget, the suggested designs were as basic as they come, none of the fancies, none of the special, in both cases just a combination of hanging rods, open shelving, and some shoe storage.  And even pared down like that?  You could buy a brand new Honda Civic with all the bells and whistles for what they wanted to build out these two spaces with laminated particle board.  Not even real wood!

We took a breath.  Because in this house?  While we obviously aren't above spending money (ahem, elevator), we have made every decision based on ultimate value.  Every line item has to pass the orange test, i.e.  Is the juice worth the squeeze?  We have passed on finishes and fixtures that would have been gorgeous, but just too expensive to justify.  (someday, silver-leafed accent wall, you might be mine...)  We have invested heavily in infrastructure, in engineering, in creating a house that will function and grow with us for the rest of our lives.  But built-out custom closets at the cost of a family sedan?  Not so much.

Now we are furniture people, and had been making due with an amalgam of pieces up until now, so we took stock of all of the storage items we already owned.  The items that could be repurposed or reimagined.  I went back to my theater roots and bought a pair of used industrial Z-racks, the rolling two-tier hanging racks that theaters use to organize costumes, from our wonderful upholsterer Beth Laske-Miller  who was reimagining her work studio.  Are they gorgeous?  Nope.  Are they ├╝ber functional?  You betcha.

The big move upstairs was this past weekend.  The space is 95% finished, done enough that we can live up there while the punch list is finished up.  A big part of the past couple of days involved putting together our dressing rooms.  Do they look like a magazine?  Nope.  Do they look like a luxury department store?  Not in the least.  But they do look like those small charming independent boutiques you find in adorable neighborhoods, the ones where a sassy proprietress will dig through a rack and find you something unique and fabulous.

They aren't as maximized in terms of storage as they would have been, the height of the rooms aren't quite utilized to their fullest, but most of our respective stuff is in them and it is a massive improvement.  And there is something ultimately charming about them both.  They look like us, instead of looking like everyone.  And if that means that we still have to swap out tubs of clothes and shoes seasonally, so be it.   I do think someday we will revisit the idea of building-out CS's dressing room, since he is bearing the brunt of the inconvenience, and ultimately, getting him better organization, and especially taking advantage of the ceiling height will make a huge difference for him.  But I don't know that I will ever do mine.  I'm sort of in love with the cobbled-together feel of it, and while I might swap out a piece here or there, I think I might just stick with the unique!

So, let's start with CS's room...

We painted it a very masculine deep brown called Otter from Sherwin-Williams, I know some people think dark colors in small spaces make the walls feel like they are closing in, but I disagree.  I think it makes them cozy, and with white on the ceiling and white on the trim, it is very elegant.  CS got one of the two Z-racks and it literally holds everything he has on a hanger on one unit!  Sports coats and suits on the bottom, shirts, pants and vests up top.  The little antique settee is wood and black leather and terribly mens-club.

the view from the door

Antique high boy
 CS has had this English Arts and Crafts piece forever, and it is just gorgeous.  We found the brass freestanding valet at a flea market and repurposed one of the Elfa wire bin units from the former downstairs closet to help wrangle some bits and pieces, at least for now.  Not super attractive, and I think as soon as we come across some sort of taller open shelving piece we can swap out for it, we will, but for the moment, it serves.

 We used to have this dresser in our bedroom in the basement, but there was a second drawer unit in that room, and since it is now a guest room, we figured one storage piece would do just fine down there, so we stole this one for CS's dressing room.  It was originally a gift from dear friends who were downsizing, belonging to their grandparents, so it makes me happy that it continues to have a functional life daily!
 CS might not have quite as many shoes as I do, but he does love a well-crafted piece of footwear.  We use to have this arts and crafts glass-front bookcase in the butler's pantry holding glassware, but we weren't using it for that anymore, and at least for now, it makes a pretty decent shoe cabinet.  We added more shelves (just had laminate shelves cut to size at Home Depot) to maximize the space.

The finished room!
A lovely old rug keeps the room feeling warm and personal, and lucky for us, this one was living downstairs in CS's former office!  All in all, I think it is a space that reflects his unique elegance, and I know that despite the few remaining flaws, it is still a massive improvement for him!

And now, for my space...

Never one to be shy, I wanted a bold color in here, and Dynamo from Sherwin-Williams was a hit.  The deep magenta color pops against the white ceiling and trim and just makes me happy.  The rug is a very old one, and I adore the patina and the way the colors play off each other.

The view from the door
 I had found this amazing 1920s Art Nouveau chandelier at a really great vintage store in our neighborhood.  If you are in Chicago, check out the goods at the West of Western district on North Avenue, stores like An Orange Moon is awesome for mid-century stuff, I found the circular stool pictured above there, and North Avenue Collective across the street has proven to be a dangerous place to visit.  I bought the chandelier first, but everytime we go, we find a new treasure!

Then it was time to think seating.

Have a seat!
 I always wanted some seating in the window, and this little settee used to be in our former kitchen.  The small scale is perfect and made a bit cozier with some fun stripy pillows and an old knitted family afghan.

So. Many. Sweaters.
 This shelving unit was another gift from our dear downsizing friends, and I just love how fancy it is! And yes, that is a set of library stairs because I am a short person and if I tried to reach one of the sweaters on the top shelf from the floor, they would all tumble down on my head.  Hypothetically.

Thank god for the Z rack! I still get some street cred with my theater peeps.
This is my Z rack and just like CS's, it holds all of my hanging garb.  The only thing that is a bit annoying is that my long dresses don't clear the bottom rod freely, but luckily I only need half of the bottom rod for pants, so at least they can hang in front, and still don't get wrinkled.

 Just like CS, I repurposed the other former butler's pantry storage piece, which used to contain china and serving pieces, and added some more shelving to house the most fabulous of my shoes.

More shoes!
This little metal shelving unit used to be inside my closet downstairs, and while it isn't the prettiest, it does work really well for overflow shoe wrangling in a small space.  If I ever come across a vintage wood bookshelf I might swap it out, just to keep the overall theme.

 This armoire is very similar to what would likely have been used instead of closets when the house was built, and was downstairs in the former closet room.  I am madly in love with the paw feet.  I have to leave it a bit open since the key is long since lost, and it is a huge pain to open if you closet the doors tight, but someday I will find a key that fits!  I'm using the top for purse wrangling.

Open sesame!
 I love this thing.  It is like a swiss army knife.  Drawers have dividers inside, that little flat thing at the top with the knob is actually a pull-out mirror, and there is even a secret compartment.  the hanging rod on the right side holds a ton too!

Lucky for me, while I love a good bag, I hate being overly encumbered, so the majority of my purses are clutch size, which meant almost all of them fit neatly into this large tray that I used to use for clearing up after parties.

Time to accessorize!
We had this antique cabinet in storage.  It is from the late 1800s and was originally a dentist's office cabinet!  That means oodles of shallow drawers perfect for organizing jewelry, and the four larger spaces at the bottom for scarves and such.   I got everything in it, but it may take me the rest of my natural life before I don't have to open ten drawers before finding the one pair of earrings I'm looking for!

I know, the shoe thing is a problem.
 This over the door shoe wrangler may not be the most attractive, but it keeps all the athletic shoes and flats hidden away, since they don't quite call out for display the way the others do.

Hello, hamper!
 So a few weeks ago CS and I were at a flea market, and I spotted this clothes hamper.  This 1970s fever dream of a swirly back-painted tambour mirror hamper, in lovely shades of ochre and avocado.  I pulled him over to see a little piece of vintage home decor that looks like my early childhood threw up.  I really was taking him to see it so that I could make fun of its awfulness and we could have a good chuckle.  Except by the time we got there, I noticed something. It is in perfect condition.  Really well made, on a steel frame, so solid as a rock.  Not a scratch or a chip or a crack anywhere, and that is a 40+-year-old piece made of actual glass mirror!  CS was still appalled, despite my insistence that perhaps it was so ghastly that it was actually fabulous.  I would have let it go, had it not been for this...

Matching wastebasket.
 Yeah, this too, in absolutely perfect shape.  I still might have been convinced to leave them behind, when I noticed....

Boom.  Matching Kleenex holder.
THE KLEENEX HOLDER.  I mean, COME ON.  You get it, right? I totally had to have them.  The lady selling them informed me that they were originally from the home of the people who owned the Finkl steel plant of blessed memory.  So not only do we have a complete set of perfect condition 1970s era accoutrements, they also have wonderful Chicago history!  I haggled down to $45 for the set, and CS agreed that I could bring them home as long as I put them somewhere he would never have to look at them.  So into my dressing room they went.  They are still kind of horrible, but for some reason I just love them, they make me smile.  Plus they look sort of insane against the deep magenta of the walls, in a good way.

So there you have it!  Necessity being the mother of invention and all that, I'm awfully pleased with how they turned out!  

Coming up soon-ish, more rooms from upstairs and an elevator update!

Yours in Good Taste, (except for the hamper set)
The Polymath

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Thinking Ahead

Hello Chickens!

Spring is certainly taking its own sweet time here in Chicago, the rain has been relentless, the cold positively autumnal.  But my hostas are a poppin' and our Mama Robin is back in her nest for the sixth year in a row, so we know it is going to settle in eventually.

And things here at the Chateau are really cranking along.  Starting next week I'll be able to do the room-by-room design stuff, and I'm enormously excited about that!  But today I want to talk about the future.

One of the things that can be difficult about renovations is that your focus is so much on the present.  What do we need right now, how can life be made better/easier/prettier today?  We know what needs fixing in the immediate, but sometimes forget to think about what we might need down the road.

How many people do you know who have spaces they renovated when their kids were small that now sit unused because the kids are out of the house?  Or who have to completely redo projects that they completed not long ago because an aging family member comes to stay?

We knew when we began this project that we were looking at the long haul.  We fully intend to be in this house until it is time for us to depart this earth, and we hope that means a very long time indeed.  As such, when we began to design the building we took that into consideration with the renovations.

 For example:  There is only hardwood flooring throughout the house with no transition bumps or lips or changes in levels anywhere, and all hallways and doorways are wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs or walkers should the need ever arise either permanently or temporarily.  Both our master bath shower and the shower in the basement are walk-in with no lip and large enough for equipment if needed.  We put Charming Suitor's office on the same level as our master bedroom, and put in a closet and it's own small full bath with shower so that if we ever need to have someone come live-in to care for us, it can be converted to a bedroom conveniently located.  While we put our main kitchen on the second floor, an unusual choice for many, we are keeping the first floor kitchen as a catering/prep kitchen.  This means that if ever the house gets too big for us, we can choose to deconvert it back to two duplexed apartments if we want.

In the kitchen, there are no upper cabinets.  I'm 5'3" and not getting taller as I age, not to mention I'm a klutz, so since we were lucky enough to have the room to do everything undercounter, I know that as long as I can cook, I won't have to get up on a stepladder to reach my everyday dishes.

Our hope, since we don't have kids and have several couples who are dear friends who also don't have kids, is that we essentially have built our own future retirement facility!  Think Golden Girls but with couples.  Nice retirement communities are wildly expensive, and a lot of what you pay for is good food and good socializing opportunities.  We figure if we just move our besties in with us, we get all the socializing, and we know the food is great!  We will pool our resources, hire whatever help we need, and as long as no one needs memory care, we can be a bunch of fabulous independent old folks up in here.

Which brings me to the elevator.

Yes.  We are installing an elevator.  In fact, we are installing an elevator right this very second as I am typing this.  I know this sounds like the ultimate chi-chi fancy Warren Buffett sort of thing to do.  But I am here to tell you that not only is an elevator sort of shockingly affordable, it is something that I think anyone in a multi-level home they adore should look into.  I know so many people who have had to leave their family homes before they really wanted or needed to because they just could not handle stairs anymore.

We are already middle-aged people with wonky ankles, bad knees, and backs that occasionally slip out of alignment.  We have a house that is a total of four living levels, with 18 steps to get from level to level.  That means when I'm in the basement to workout, it is 54 stairs to get to my bedroom.  This is fine right now, but won't be in 20 years.  And you had better believe I intend to be here in 20 years!
When we were first designing the house I said we would need an elevator.  And we would need the elevator to do a few unusual things.  One, it would have to be able to open not only on each of the four floors, but also out the back in our parking pad at ground level. That means it would have to open on two contiguous sides, the front side and the left side.  It would then also have to have some security features since one door is external to the building.  And we would need it to be large enough to accommodate a wheelchair with a caregiver.

Lucky for us, we had the perfect spot!  When the house was three apartments, there were a series of small powder rooms in the very back corner of the building, all stacked up on each other in perfect alignment.  So we had a natural elevator shaft (or hoistway, as I have discovered the companies call them) just waiting for the interiors to be demoed and the floors to be removed to create 40 feet of elevator housing!

This is looking up the shaft from the first floor to the roof, you can see the two doors and the blocked off windows!

When we started looking into elevator companies, there were several local folks specializing in residential elevators.  But only one could really do everything we wanted in our budget.  That was Extended Home Living Services and their home elevator arm To The Top Home Elevators.  From the first meeting they were great, giving us all of the information on how to get an elevator that would work best for our ongoing needs.  They had all the best stuff, both hydraulic and winding drum mechanisms available, all sorts of options for the interior of the cab, and most importantly, they could do a residential elevator that would be able to do the full building and have the essential two-side opening feature!  It has all sorts of extra features like accordion style gates that open and close automatically, the ability to turn it off completely when we go out of town, and an external access security system that uses a punch code to call the elevator, which means that when my family comes to visit and they park behind the house, they can just punch in the code and come right on in!

We got to pick interior finishes, which I will share later, but you can go as simple or fancy as you like.  We went with winding drum instead of hydraulic since it is a bit easier to maintain.  And when I tell you that we were truly blown away by how affordable this thing is, let me just say that it is less than half of what it is going to cost us to redo the stairs.  Yeah.

this is our elevator being delivered!!!!

My contractors were able to prep the hoistway on their own and said it was pretty straightforward with the input EHLS gave them.  But if you don't have a convenient spot already in your house like we did, you can actually build an elevator shaft on the outside of your home in a good location and then just open doorways to get internal access.  Who knew?

Lucky for us, at the moment, we don't need any of their other services like stair lifts or ramps or stuff, but they do it all for accessible living.  And while affordable elevators doesn't mean cheap elevators, if the only thing preventing you from getting another 10-15 years out of loving your house is a flight or two of stairs, they start to look practically cheap.  If you have a parent who really doesn't want to leave the family home, and is still able to be independent but for your concern about stairs, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you at least call someone to come take a look and see what is possible.  By the time you add up the cost of fixing a home up for sale, finding a new one, paying for moving expenses etc., you might find the cost is a wash!

Stay tuned, there will be more elevator updates as it gets installed.

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath