Mandle repurposed the nine bedrooms into two bedrooms, two studies, and a kitchen, leaving the center space as an open living/dining area.
Mischak did most of the work himself (aided by contractor-friend Gordon
Cruz). “I would go over there and wave my hands, saying things like ‘The
ceiling’s got to go,’ ” says Mandle, “and Jerry would groan.”
Removing the dropped ceiling proved to be more than an aesthetic inspiration, as a skylight and the original steel beams were revealed. “I looked
up and saw the words ‘Bethlehem Steel,’ ” says Edwards, “and felt a connection, as several generations of my family worked at Bethlehem Steel.”
Once the beams were cleaned, they took on a green patina that is both
industrial and lustrous. The beams and skylight now define the dining area.
“It’s a great organizing element,” says Mandle, who received a 2007 Merit
Award for Adaptive Reuse from the Rhode Island Chapter of the American
Institute of Architects for the project.
Indeed, architect and clients took the notion of adaptive reuse quite
literally, incorporating many original elements. They kept several dark-wood bedroom doors in place, for example, the color becoming the cue for
the kitchen cabinets. They resurrected two 10-foot-long planks from a fire
hose storage room on the lower level and turned them into a dining table.
Two of the bathroom’s original sinks, two slate shower stalls, and all of the
room’s original subway tile were salvaged. The brick facade and aluminum
windows were kept intact, while the three roll-up garage doors were replaced with aluminum-framed storefront window walls.
The resulting home is light-filled and minimalist: Ebony-stained pine
floors (revealed when Mischak tackled the job of removing linoleum) are a
dark contrast to the bright white chosen by the couple for the interior walls.
Vintage furniture and selected artwork add color and visual stimulation.
And although the remnants of the three firehouse poles still can be seen,
the couple had no interest in jumping feet first into their studios on a daily
basis. The holes in the dining room and living room floors are filled with
wood and plexiglass. After all those years of driving across town to rented
studios, a walk down a flight of stairs is more delight than drill.
Insulating the (Fire)house
To change the firehouse into a home, Wendy Edwards and Jerry Mischak
were required to meet residential (versus commercial) energy codes,
which meant adding insulation to the entire building envelope. The best
solution on the second floor, which contains all the living spaces, was
to borrow some of the ample interior volume of the 2,500-square-foot
space. Foil-covered insulation was nailed to existing plaster and brick
walls, metal studs were installed and batting was added between the
studs; finally, new sheetrock walls were built. Even though this process
ate up about 8 inches of usable square footage around the perimeter,
it had a silver lining. “It gave them really nice deep windowsills,” says
architect Luke Mandle, “deep enough to become display ledges.”