Digging for tin- 1st update on big blue!

The beginning. This is really my favorite part of these old building renovations, the part where the building starts to tell you what to do… So despite the insane cold the last few weeks we’ve got a bit of gutting, cleaning, and searching for architectural details to save.  A very long road ahead but some exciting progress!


My cousin Kyle Reindl and I stripped most of the brick. (well, mostly Kyle… You are a champ!) We tore out a bunch of walls and dropped ceilings, cleaned out a TON of cat litter buckets, a ceramic horse, and a bunch of weird junk. I can’t wait to see these ceilings get back in shape!


I love the curved panel in each corner.


This crazy old storefront will have to go and be built from scratch later this summer, but the floors and brick are in great shape.




Kyle “the brick master” is still going to bring out that pretty old brick! Sadly the second side of the building is really badly water damaged, and has a lot less original character to preserve but we’ll have to put some of our own character in!  Until next time-


Before! ( A new adventure for 2018!)

Woot Woot! Kristen and I decided to go for this crazy project in December this year. I hope you are all as excited as us to see some big changes on this old place. Gulp…





Merry Christmas Kristen! Here we go again!

Stripping away the layers at the Opera House!- Before and after.

Another exciting phase of Hillsboro’s Opera house Brewing Company renovation went off tonight.  The Marcolini’s, and The Schmidts, (co-owners of the brewery) with help with some friends peeled back the old green paneling that covered the old opera house facade.  The nearly finished recessed entrance, is part of a plan to restore the old foyer to it’s original layout, including re-building the old staircase, double height entrance and re-opening the front windows to their original size. Pretty dang cool.


The beautiful carved limestone “Oddfellows Hall” sign had been heavily damaged, but Tony plans to retain or repair it sign to show the history of the building.


“Grind” house?


Jim May makin some sparks…


What can I say, it’s just dang purty.


Jeremy and Jennifer getting the last bit of paint on.


This is going to be a great year for our small town friends! Thanks for sharing the excitement. See you this weekend at the storybook Christmas, and next weekend at the Small Town Cool/ Black Rabbit art pop up!

DIY’er- a cheap way to make custom windows in the future site of “The Gold Pan”- by Brian Lee Carpentry

A few months ago studio owner Devin Moroney and I were talking about the vision for The Gold Pan, a recording studio and vinyl records store Devin, Brian Lee (me), and Matt Sands have in the works to open in Hillsboro, IL March 2018.  Devin was passionate about the community aspects of recording in a small town and wanted a place where people could watch up close as artists record and where artists would feel connected to the street as they worked. So, I had the daunting task of trying to create a large scale window that felt like it belonged to this historic spot, looked visually exciting, soundproof, and oh yeah, super cheap… So here’s what I came up with.


I love curves. Here I’m cutting out the curved shape from a single piece of MDF.


I traced and cut two of these, stacked them, separating them with a six inch piece of luan, which easily bent to match the curve.


Using used double hung windows that I got for free, I disassembled each one and let the odd sizes hang wild outside of the trim. Two more layers of the traced MDF trim, some spray foam and caulk and paint and this pretty crazy looking window is ready to install. Don’t drop it!



In the rough framing, the window sits above some beautiful room divider panels donated by local neon sign maker Jeff Dunn. The piece was in his family’s Law office for years in a nearby building.  The gap under the window was filled with glass from another free set of rotted sliding glass doors found on Hillsboro buy-sell-trade.

Next, cover with drywall, being very careful not to put screws through the glass behind the drywall and there it is! No basket ball in the studio!


The lights in the reflection were donated by local Rich Chamberlin who just walked in while I was working one day and said “I have some lights I’m going to give you.”


In the coming months, the renovation will be getting finished, Matt and I will be looking for record collections to buy while selling at The Refinery Vintage Goods, and Devin will be getting gear together and starting to take bookings at the studio.  We’re all pretty excited for this project to get into gear in March.


Underground with local Black Rabbit Coffee Roasters

The underground roasting room of Black Rabbit Coffee Roasters is a bright, industrial work space filled with books, art, and furniture from the likes of Jean Prouve and Ghost Shrimp, as well as original art by head roaster Isaac Reynolds. A heavy coffee scent and a copious amount of various coffee brewing equipment surround us as we talk about the origins of the two year old roaster in small town Hillsboro, IL.


In 2015, Isaac Reynolds bought a dilapidated downtown building across the street from his wife Bailey’s parent’s family run movie theatre.  “I was spending a lot of time learning about coffee, the roasting process, brewing beer, cooking, and lots of other things, while working carpentry in the day and at a restaurant at night. Roasting seemed to be one of the most important aspects of the process, and I realized that you could make money at it right around the time we got married and bought the building.”


The couple bought a ten kilo Ambex commercial roaster for a steal at ten thousand dollars and immediately stared selling at the theatre across the street during movie showings. Within a month they built a website and were selling online offering free local deliveries (which they still do!).  A big turning point was realizing how much the community would support them. The first time they sold at the “Hillsboro Harvest Market”, they gave away free coffee and sold 90 bags of beans in three hours, meeting many new local coffee fans.


They had assumed sales would be mostly wholesale to stores, but have had strong local support since day one.  Black Rabbit was featured in Roast magazine’s “Daily Coffee News” in their second month of operation.  The interviewer remarked that it was a good sign for third wave coffee to see such a high caliber company coming out of a small town like Hillsboro. This year, in addition the the daily roasting, they are in the middle of a full swing renovation of “Black Rabbit Cafe” currently scheduled to open some time in 2018.



Isaac is an artist and designs the packaging.  Both he and Bailey customize, make, and design just about everything they can themselves.


The Alien typography inspired door handle to the the bean storage room.


The view of the stair case leading from the street level to the basement roasting area.



Black Rabbit now sells at local IGA, Hyvee in Springfield, and regional coffee shops as well as in their online shop at www.blackrabbit.com  Speaking of, they have kindly offered a mail only promo for Small Town Cool Readers…   Try a bag or two for yourself, or buy one and have them send it to your uncle in New Hampshire…

Type in Promo code SMALLTOWNCOOL17 this week and get your beans for $10 a bag + shipping!

Photography- via Black Rabbit, and B.Lee

Hillsboro gets a record store! (inside The Refinery.)

Hillsboro is getting a record store! Like a real live record, record store! They have taken up temporary residence inside Hillsboro’s hip, eclectic vintage goods place The Refinery. Collector buddies Matt Sands and Brian Lee have taken the plunge and decided to open a place for locals to buy (and sell) vintage albums.


The store’s future location is under renovation. There they will partner up with friend and local musician Devin Moroney.  The new location will be the start of a (unnamed as of yet) record store and music recording studio.  The trio plan to open the new location early next year.

Lee and Sands opened the temporary spot at the refinery to help build up 10-15,000 lp’s (enough records to start the bigger store with). The new shop will have vintage Lp’s, 45’s, cd’s, and turntables, as well as store/ studio t-shirts and music related items.  These guys are “actively buying collections” so give them a call at 6152023837  follow and share the new store on facebook here.

Store hours are Saturday 10-5 and Sunday 11-5

Come give us a visit!

Making a small town commercial building into a big city dream home.

Hillsboro, IL-

Just 8 months ago this fresh, modern apartment was a dingy warren of dark rooms, leaky roofs, and a nightmare for all but the bravest of home owners.  Owners Devin and Emily Moroney recently re-located back to their hometown of Hillsboro, IL (pop 4,500) from the cultural hotspot Denver, Colorado. The couple teamed up with local renovator Brian Lee Carpentry, who along with his brother-in-law Seth Huber, put the memories of the old, dodgy place to bed.

Living_frontLiving shelves_angle

The team gutted the space, vaulting the ceilings, laying fir floors, and exposing the brick.


Ikea Cabinets painted a pretty, blue/black paint from Farrow & Ball.


The Moroneys found an old locker set to substitute for built in coat closets.



Storage for Devin’s record collection, speakers, and book cases were incorporated into the stair rail/book case, as well as power and wiring for a hi fi system.


Customized vanity bought at new local hotspot The Refinery.



The Moroneys may have moved to a small town to be near to family, but in their new place, a few doors down from Black Rabbit Coffee Roasters, across from Orpheum Theatre, in this blossoming small town, they are set to be a big part of making this small town a great place to live. -Small Town Cool

New Ideas Use Old Buildings- a visit to Nokomis, IL

After a few weeks of being taunted by pictures of delicious pastries, my family and I finally made the trip out to Nokomis, IL to check out the new Ugly Mugs Coffee. Owner Tim Brookshire and us have a lot in common including buying old buildings and doing your best to restore them and breathe life into the community. We ended up spending the morning there at the local bookstore, and walking the downtown, and then the beautiful garden store.  Here’s the day set to music by our old friend and creative wizard Kelly Latimore… (check out his free albums here!)