Matthew & Mikel's DIY Water+Works Remodel

House Tour

Name: Matthew, Mikel and Peri the dog
Location: Vestavia — Birmingham, Alabama
Size: 2,300 square feet
Years lived in: 8 months — owned

Mikel says her husband Matthew, co-founder of Green Bottle Workshop, finds design opportunities everywhere — particularly, in things old, broken and rusty. But when she began hearing him talk about the "water works building", an abandoned water filtration plant for sale and residentially zoned, she had yet to realize how right she was. The property presented a rare opportunity to have the weathered industrial space they desired, paired with the comfort of a private yard and forested views. So a month after their wedding, Matthew and Mikel decided to give this fetid utility building a fresh start, as their do-it-yourself dream home.

To Mikel's relief, this wasn't the first time Matthew had decided to take on a sizeable DIY project. Inspired by their time at the Rural Studio, Matthew and the folks at Green Bottle Workshop, firmly believe in closing the gap between design and construction by engaging in the building process through a collaborative hands-on architectural approach. With this in mind, Matthew knew from the onset that his home design-build renovation, affectionately called the Water+Works project, would require that he pull out all the tools, and then some.

Aiming to create a light-filled airy space, Matthew focused on opening up the walls and windows; thereby, connecting living areas to each other and to the surrounding landscape of southern pines. He painted the dark, tired brick walls and the industrial truss ceiling with a fresh off-the-shelf white. The soiled 70's carpet tiles were replaced with a radiant-heated concrete floor, installed by Matthew of course. Each mirrored frame and hand-me-down chair has been thoughtfully placed; the kitchen readied for entertaining, and the thrift store collection of colorful chicken pottery positioned to watch. After more than a year of laboring nights and weekends, Matthew and Mikel's old water filtration plant has become a home, as though it had never been otherwise.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: Modern / Industrial / Homemade

Inspiration: Mikel and I both loved the idea of living in a loft downtown, but knew that with all my junk and the dog, Peri, it wasn't very practical. The concept of this project was to have the same modern aesthetic with concrete floors, exposed duct-work, and 13-foot ceilings; yet, be able to open the windows and hear the local high school band play on Friday evenings, or walk down the street to nearby restaurants. So ultimately, I was inspired to create a new kind of loft space. Since we weren't cut out for downtown loft living, this project offered the perfect balance for us: loft style with a backyard.

Favorite Element: The kitchen. With a huge custom door that allows us to flow out to the patio, the kitchen provides a great space for entertaining. The heated concrete floors are sturdy enough to play "indoor fetch" with our dog Peri, which was previously forbidden due to hardwood floors, while keeping the kitchen a barefoot-friendly-zone all winter long.

Biggest Challenge: The scale of the project was overwhelming at times. I tried to do as much as possible by myself to cut costs, so there were times when progress really slowed to a crawl. It was challenging to see a light at the end of the tunnel some days. Staying on budget was another huge challenge, and I should go ahead and admit that I failed miserably at that one!

One of the biggest challenges was removing the two water tanks from, what is now, the living room. I knew they would be a challenge, but didn't realize they would be quite so difficult to take out. Several people attempted to slice them up with very little success. I worked long hours to cut the tanks down to pieces and then called on the aid of two cranes to pull the remains out of the house. With all the pieces loaded onto the trailer, we hauled nearly 3 tons of steel to the recycling center. Steel prices were terrible those days, but at that point - we just wanted the water filtration tanks to go!

What Friends Say: We get a lot of requests from friends to come cook in our kitchen, and we never turn down a guest chef!

Biggest Embarrassment: The staggering number of items on the punch list (a running list of things needing to be completed or repaired).

Proudest DIY: The whole thing, really. But if I had to specify, I'd say the fabrication of all of the doors and windows. I decided to scrap the plan I had for using off-the-shelf doors and fabricate my own. You know, because I like to make things difficult. The good news is that it allowed the window and door system to be more seamless, and let us have glass in the door which was something we couldn't have afforded if we were buying them. The bad news was that it was a little challenging to install traditional door hardware in a door made of 3/16″ steel tube. Not one to back down from a challenge, I simply employed almost every tool I owned, and a day and a half of my life, but now we have five doors with handles and deadbolts. For a while, you could still walk through the doors because the glass didn't come in until a couple days later; but, since we moved in, I'm proud to say we need a key to get in the building!

A more interesting question may have been "worst DIY"! There were things I did that definitely didn't save me any time or money.

Biggest Indulgence: The kitchen appliances. We desperately wanted a commercial (or commercial looking) range. I had all but given up hope, until I found them listed on Craigslist two hours away.

Best Advice: Do not get hung up on the tiny details. On a project of this size, the broader gestures are going to provide the biggest impact.

Dream Sources: Living etc. and Dwell

Resources of Note:

PAINT & COLORS

    • Exterior - Sherwin Williams: 'White Dove'
    • Interior - Home Depot: off-the-shelf White paint
    • Trim - Sherwin Williams: 'Dragons Breath'

ENTRY

    • Rug: IKEA 'Gislev'

LIVING ROOM

    • Couch: Room and Board
    • Coffee Table: Custom (Matthew made it.)
    • Rug: Lowes
    • Barcelona Lounge Chairs: Knock-off brand (hand-me-downs from Matthew's parents.)
    • Entertainment Console: IKEA 'Besta' collection
    • Chicken Pottery: From thrift stores all over the Southeast
    • Mirrors: Local discount store called 'Southeastern Salvage'
    • Wall Shelving: Custom (DIY) built-ins

DINING ROOM

    • Tables: Room and Board (hand-me-down)
    • Chairs: IKEA, painted
    • Frame (against the wall): Found item

KITCHEN

    • Cooktop Stove: Viking (through Craigslist)
    • Dishwasher: Viking (through Craigslist)
    • Refrigerator: GE Monogram
    • Kitchen Island: Birmingham Restaurant Supply Co.
    • Cabinets: IKEA
    • Quartz Countertops: Lowe's, LG Viatera collection, color 'Geneva'

BEDROOM

    • Bed: IKEA
    • TV Stand: West Elm
    • Rug: Lowe's

MASTER BATHROOM

    • Cabinets: IKEA
    • Closet System: combination of Custom (DIY) and IKEA 'Abstrakt' Kitchen series
    • Sink/Vanity.: IKEA 'Godmorgon/Braviken'
    • Rug: IKEA 'Gislev'

OFFICE

    • Storage Cubbies: IKEA 'Pax/Komplement'
    • Chairs: CB2 'Bubble White' office chair
    • Ceramic Chicken Pottery (yet to be fired): Suesuesuecrafts Etsy Shop

Thanks, Matthew and Mikel!

Images: Beth Lundell Garver

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