When we were building our house, we did not intend to really live in our house. We planned to live here, but only temporarily while we built our "real" house. Where we live now was then to become either a place for guests to stay where they could have some privacy and feel more at ease when they came to visit or a rental apartment. Regardless of which we settled on, the lower level of the house would be storage/Shawn's workshop. He had long waited to have a place to work on race cars, build street rods, and set up all the woodworking tools he'd purchased over the years that were still new in the boxes.
As he neared completion of the framing and we prepared to finish the interior, I looked around one day and said, "You know, I wouldn't mind making this our permanent house. It's plenty big for our needs." This should be interpreted as, "You know, I wouldn't mind making this our permanent house. It's plenty big for my housecleaning attention span."
This brought out a most positive response. First, living here meant we wouldn't be looking at adding six figures of debt building a house rivaling those we'd been looking at when we lived in Kansas City. Shawn could continue working as a relief veterinary surgeon instead of starting his own practice right away. We'd all grown to love having him spend so much time at home with us and sending him back to the grind of 12 hour work days seemed impossible to accept.
Second, I gave my husband hope that he could look forward to living in a house free of cobwebs that hung around so long they looked like they were made of yarn. Not only do I have a short housecleaning attention span, I don't do ladders. If we were to have a house with vaulted ceilings, living with that country barn feel would be the way I'd roll.
Along with the positives came a couple of negatives. Some were immediately identified. As soon as he'd approved of my idea (3 seconds after it rolled out of my mouth) he said if I'd have told him sooner, he'd have installed nicer looking windows. Some problems didn't manifest until much later. When we began finishing the lower level, we weren't able to have the stained concrete floors we so loved because when the concrete was poured, it had been sealed. We didn't want to deal with caustic chemicals to remove the sealer so we had to settle on a painted floor.
The biggest complication, but one we had no choice but to conquer, was access to the lower level of the house from the upper level. Until I'd decided I wanted this to be our home, there was no reason anyone staying upstairs would need access to the lower level. Shawn knew, however, that me going outside, down the stairs, and into the lower level through the garage door when it was anywhere in the range of -20 to 110 degrees outdoors just to get meat from the deep freeze wasn't happening. If he ever wanted a steak dinner again, he'd have to find a way to make Mama happy. The problem was since he hadn't planned one into his blueprints (meaning plans drawn out on graph paper with Caelan's plastic DARE ruler and a ball point pen), there really wasn't a good place to put a staircase.
Shawn came through for me. He introduced his plan and I was a little skeptical. He'd shortened the living room by 3 feet and made a narrow staircase coming off the existing hall that went down to a landing, turned 90 degrees, and then turned 90 degrees again. Being walled on both sides, it was very narrow going down the first flight. Once you got to the landing, the rest was open to the lower level. He promised when he was finished, it would look just fine. I trusted. And I was, once again, right in my decision to trust. His vision for it turned out pretty darn cool. It's a narrow staircase but he finished the walls in cedar car siding. The risers and treads of the stairs are rough-sawn cedar. And when you open that door in the hallway to go down the stairs, you immdiately think of an old farmhouse. It's both fun and charming and looks completely intentional to the design of the house.
And this is what we ended up with when it was all finished. I just love to open the door and look down to and see Shawn's hat and Carharrt coveralls hanging on one of the antiqued coat hooks. The finishing touches, a set of old framed locomotive pictures that hung on the walls of his grandparents' basement and a Jesse James WANTED wood plaque that Shawn made when he was in Cub Scouts. Simple yet sentimental which means I couldn't love it any more.