Our Building

4600 Louisiana
Over a year ago Cam and I purchased a building with the help of my parents. 
This was a dream long in the making. 
Demo of Top Floor
 Since my twenties, I'd been driving around St. Louis admiring all the old buildings, the red brick, the green tile, the range of styles and sizes and imagining myself working on restoring one of these buildings.  When I lived in St. Louis from 2001-2003,  I remember my friend Shannon was rehabbing her own apartment and I was impressed that a newly graduated college student could do that work.  That seemed so distant from my own range of abilities, and yet I kept meeting and hearing about  many people that were rehabbing a building our house.  I realized one of the dreams of St. Louis was fixing up a building.  Years later when I returned, this idea remained alive in me and I remember driving around with grad school friends, from other cities, admiring the buildings.  The most daunting aspect was the amount of work that would need to be done, my not having previous experience, and not wanting working on a house to take away from my own studio practice.  My partner Cam was an excellent builder and he had worked on other people's houses so I began to feel less afraid of this project and we started to dream about this together.
Green Tile Fireplace we found, was covered up with fake fireplace.
As Cam and I aged together and became more deeply committed to being with each other, we also re-examined how we valued our time and self worth.  At some point we decided we were just tired of renting and we wanted to have agency over our own space.  No more bad neighbors below us.  No more waiting for landlord to fix things that never got fixed.  No more random showings of our apartment.  One of the double edged swords of being an artist was that renters and developers usually liked to have us in their neighborhoods for the care and community building we represented.  Unfortunately without owning our own property we were at the renters whim to raise rent, sell the house or eventually send us packing if the opportunity looked right.  One of my values was community building and investing in a community as a renter was a bit more risky.  I began to feel jealous of other friends that had purchased property or owned multiple properties.

For several years we just spent time looking.  We really loved the idea of finding a store front so we could have are studio space on the first floor and live above.  This did limit our search slightly.   One of the scary things we experienced as we started to look for buildings, was that we could not afford to buy a house in the neighborhood we had been living in, Tower Grove,  and other neighborhoods we were looking at, like Cherokee Street, were being bought up by outside developers or current property owners were sitting on their vacant buildings waiting for things to increase in value.

I should say that we were lucky,  my parents were willing to help us initially buy the building and pay for the rehabbing supplies with the agreement that when the rehab was complete, we would get a mortgage and pay them back.  I don't know how or if we could have done this without them.  As artists, with erratic income, we probably would have had a hard time getting a loan without their support.  There didn't seem to be resources for artists wanting home loans.  So often the arts community wanted to help build artists lofts, why didn't they consider that artists might want a home?  I didn't want to live downtown, I wanted to live in a neighborhood where we could have a garden and neighbors next to us.  I didn't want to be surrounded by other artists, I wanted to be in a diverse neighborhood with people that didn't look of think like me.

Dutchtown Green Lawn
After several years of looking at buildings, we found one in Dutchtown.  The owner had taken great care of protecting the structure of the building, but it would still be a gut rehab.  We loved the skeleton of the building and we could imagine our selves living there.  We were slow to move and then suddenly we bought the house.  In my typical impatient way, I imagined we'd be in the house in a year. 

 One year later
Which I guess technically we are- in that we have the bedroom and bathroom finished and we are now living in the building, although we still have a ton of work.

Me in window during first weeks of Demo.
My favorite diamond wall paper we found.
Crazy patriotic wall paper found in kitchen.
The building has meant lots of weekends for me, weekdays and nights for Cam, our art making has slowed down, or at the very least partially transferred onto the building. 

I find so many parts of fixing up the space to be healing and beautiful.  When we pulled off the paneled walls and scraped away the layers of wall paper, we saw the layers of time.  When I knocked off the crumbling plaster and then later cleaned and filled the holes with spackle, I felt like I was doing surgery on the building. When my family came over and helped us put a support under a slightly sagging floor, it had the community feel of a barn raising.  I've learned about the fine art of "hiding your work" through mudding, a process where the goal is to make the work invisible.  The same would go for filling nail holes and then sanding away their "evidence" bump.  Priming the walls and trim reminds me of how I prepare a canvas, each layer shifting the surface a little whiter, a little smoother.  I guess what I am trying to say is that despite the time I've lost making, I think skill wise I've gained something for my making. 
Nonetheless, I had to still clearly create time for studio practice. 
All the old materials we pulled out of the house.
My readiness to be in the building was an anxious hunger.  After our honeymoon, Cam and I had to spend a month living at my parents as we finished the final aspects of the bedroom and bathroom.  We'd moved out of our apartment to save money.  I am so thankful for my parent's graciousness in hosting us, but I was also so ready to return to city living and lose the commute and backpack living.  Backpacking was fun when we were traveling in other places, but when we were back home, it started to feel desperate and un-grounding.  Plus living at my parent's home, made my inner teenage angst return.  I wanted to unpack, to organize, and
to visualize spaces. 

First Floor Early days.  Future Studio
Top Floor with framing.
Working on the building we've missed things.  We've been unsocial and introverted and non-committal.  I am hoping that in the end it so we can be a little more plugged in to community and finally call a space our own home.  I'm imaging: an Eames like working studio,  art classes with neighbors, and dinner parties with friends.
Bedroom before pic.

After pic: Bedroom painted with wood floor.



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