Four years ago, I had the good fortune to run away from my San Francisco home and temporarily move into Luci and Lydia Daum’s schoolhouse on the South Shore of Lake Superior. The Daums’ 1891 brownstone schoolhouse occupies three stories, plus a full basement, and logs in at over 10,000 square feet of space. As small businesswomen, these crafty ladies supplement their income by renting various rooms at the schoolhouse; the rooms themselves are close to 1000 square feet each, and include full kitchens (which Luci and Lydia built), loft spaces (again, courtesy of Luci and Lydia), and feature 12 ft high ceilings, blackboard-covered walls, and beautiful, ancient wood floors. Recently they launched their latest business Party In My Pants, which offers ladies a stylish eco approach to their periods. I sat down to chat with the sisters about what it was like to live, work, and play together in their charming home.
E: How did you come to own this house? What is its history?
Luci and Lydia: Wilmarth School was built in 1891 and was used as an elementary school until 1991. The school district consolidated all the neighborhood schools into one new building and Wilmarth, like the other old schools, was going to be torn down. In the end they sold it to us for next to nothing.
E: How is your house beneficial to the running of your business?
Luci and Lydia: Wilmarth has been exactly what we needed: an incubator. Having lots of space is great for creating art, but usually means a big overhead. And having different floors allowed us to create more of a separation between the working and living spaces.
E: What changes or renovations did you make to the house?
Luci and Lydia: Originally there were only bathrooms in the basement: boys and girls. So that was the first order of business. The kitchen was next. And then the heating system. When we moved in, Wilmarth was still being heated by a gigantic coal-burning boiler. But other than that, we’ve tried to kept things original. In a lot of ways it was perfect and charming as it was. Over the years we’ve done mostly cosmetic things like repainting, taking out the florescent lighting, and replacing the front doors. More recently we put in some lofts to take advantage of the 12 foot ceilings and create “bedrooms.” And the old fire escape has become a fantastic deck.
E: Tell me a little about your studio space.
Luci and Lydia: Where we’re thrifty around the rest of building, we make up for in the studio: industrial sewing machines, rotary cutters, walls of fabric. Most people are overwhelmed when they see it for the first time. It’s a business space, but also a place to play around with new ideas and make a mess.
E: Tell me a little about your renters.
Luci and Lydia: Right now we are eight people and an eclectic bunch: from blacksmithing handymen to AmeriCorps Vistas. We’ve lived with all sorts of people; Wilmarth seems to attract an unconventional crowd. We live two blocks from Northland College and often have a student or two living with us. Lots of people are coming to the area to settle and choose to live here while they’re building a house.
E: What do you have in mind for future renovations, if any?
Luci and Lydia: Our biggest fantasy is to turn the old boiler room into a spa with a sauna and pool. Sigh. But we have some practical things to take care of first. We’re overdue for some new shingles and the 115 windows could stand replacing.
E: Where are your favorite places to pick up home decor items?
Luci and Lydia: Any place specializing in second-hand! Estate sales, auctions, garage sales, thrift stores. During the summer we practically leap out of bed on Saturday mornings. One of our all-time favorites is a local second hand store called Bargain Hut: “By seniors, for everyone.”
E: What have been your favorite home finds?
Luci and Lydia: What’s awesome about finding cool things for cheap it that you don’t feel bad returning them to the thrift cycle a few years. We’ve had some mega yard sales of our own. But the best things usually come from being in the right place. We bought a 14-foot antique oak display case out of the basement of an old store for 20 bucks. A few years later, we scored loads of tin ceiling tiles an old building being remodeled and they were happy to see them go. Once Luci went to an estate sale and bought a vintage black leather couch in perfect condition for $50. When we got it home found an original $790 price tag from 1972 under the cushion. And we can never get enough ‘60s psychedelic trashcans from old ladies’ bathrooms; we’ve got one in every room.
E: Any advice to other business owners who are crafting/working out of their homes?
Luci and Lydia: Go out for lunch. No, seriously. When you are excited about your work and involved in a project it’s hard to stop. But if you don’t, eventually you’ll start feeling a little trapped and frustrated. Make sure it’s not all work, but play too. You’ll end up being much more productive!