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  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.

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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!)

Dune on Pyramids

Building the set for a concert in Hillsboro by The Young Eyes with my buddies Ryan Young and Devin Moroney.  We filmed this the night before the show…  We projected the movie Dune on our set while the band played their set. FUUUUUN.

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Here’s the video!


So for all you people who dream or do take on huge projects this one to me is a major milestone for us.  We are finally putting up the “For Rent” sign in this FULLY RENOVATED beauty of a storefront in our little town of Hillsboro, IL! (I’m yelling as I write this…)

My father in law Stan Huber and I bought this building about five years ago and the dropped ceilings, shredded carpet and tin paneling storefront were such a mess I could hardly imagine them getting the start-over that they so needed.


I posted a few months ago about the renovation of the facade . Stan and I were all but sure that we would never have the money to do something about the 2500 sq ft. of really bad carpet, tired dropped ceilings, and concealed side windows.  I was talking with my coffee roaster/building renovating buddy Isaac Reynolds about how thick and many layers of flooring he had cut through when working on his building and realized we probably had the same wood floor buried deep under the carpet… and so…


While we were working on the floor I stuck my head into a tile in the dropped ceiling and we found tin the original tin and good ducting that could be exposed! No more dropped ceiling!


We decided to put a finish on the old, worked floor without sanding it to retain some of it’s aged glory. I love how this spot at the back of the store shows paint can rings..




If you know anyone who would be a good fit for this storefront have them call Stan Huber at 217-741-0953! The rent is $550 a month plus utilities. This photo warms my heart to see this building all pretty and now having a Sage on Sage next door (they are still doing rare tea week!)


This is going to be a great year for Hillsboro! Can’t wait to show you some of my upcoming projects and a few really crazy ones that friends are working on.  Come out to the Black Rabbit/ Small Town Cool/ Young Eyes show at the shop this Friday!

-JAI Renee Pop up shop!


Last September, friends Jenna Holtschulte and Anna Limbaugh started a business on a whim. “Anna Limbaugh is my hair stylist and we literally came up with this little sign business at one of my hair appts back in September (we both love crafty things and LOVE calligraphy) and decided to sign up for the Hillsboro Harvest Market last minute.”


The duo and their husbands, Brian Limbaugh & Alex Holtschulte, cranked out roughly 60 signs and ended up selling 95% of them at the market. Fast forward six months, a few events, and a bunch of custom orders later, JAI Renee (pronounced Jay) will be hosting a pop-up shop.  This Sat., March 18 at 309 South Main. (Same spot as the pop up art show in January)


“All of our signs are hand cut, hand stained, painted and lettered all by the four of us.”


This is the kind of creative blood that can help change our town for the better. I’m seriously restraining myself from going on a positive rant here… This is good stuff by good people.


Local Teameister Sage on Sage will be brewing his magic iced and hot teas, so you can grab a mug or a tumbler and fill it with goodness. (8-10am)

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This Saturday from 8am-3pm come out and show your support. It will be really fun! DON”T FORGET, a pop up shop is only a one day shop so make sure you make it out!

Follow JAI Renee at facebook here. or instagram @jaireneehandmade

P.S. photos are via-Jenna Holtschulte (see, these girls are good!)

THE REFINERY OPENING- Hillsboro goes eclectic.

This weekend Hillsboro, IL gets a new eclectic vintage goods store! Owner Jami Sarceny combines vintage collections with a colorful, fun sense of style. I’ve been anticipating this store opening since helping gut the building last December. I got in to take some pictures tonight and get a little preview and oooh, it’s good.




That couch is just…




Lebowski would be proud.


I love lamp.


Regular store hours of Saturday/ Sunday 11-5 start THIS WEEKEND!

Follow them on Facebook here, and come out this weekend and help welcome them to town and pick up some cool stuff!