This is not an episode of Queer Eye, where deserving professionals who help people every day have creatives makeover their headquarters, giving back to those help others every day. But it’s almost like it. This old firehouse needed a dire makeover to become the place where registered flight nurses spend their time while on duty and from where they are dispatched to save countless lives of those who are in critical condition.

Carly Trippe of Designed by Carly Interior Design brought this Cardiff-By-The-Sea neighborhood eyesore back to life, giving the space a warm modern look that not only met the nurses’ functional needs but also gave them a second home where they could spend their time in between transports. We were curious about this extraordinary project and client so we asked her a few questions:

This is quite an unusual project – tell us who the client is and what they wanted you to do for them?

Air Care Transports is a long-distance air and ground medical transport company. After acquiring the lease of the old Encinitas firehouse from the city, they hired me to renovate and redesign the space to serve as their headquarters to dispatch and house the medical crew 24/7. Not only did Air Care Transports need a livable working space, but also wanted to preserve and pay homage to the building’s history; after all the old firehouse is a landmark here in the city of Encinitas.

What was the firehouse like before you renovated it?

The Encinitas Fire Department abandoned the property when they outgrew the 2,447 square foot one bedroom, one bath station. It received frequent complaints from neighbors: it was not only a dilapidated eyesore close to the heart of Cardiff-By-The-Sea but it attracted vagrants who squatted on the property, leaving it littered with trash and debris. While in use by the fire department, a miscalculated fire engine had torn through the garage door opening leaving the exterior damaged.

The firehouse is in close proximity to the beach, so the salt water air had eaten and peeled away at the paint. It needed a lot of love! Inside was in no better condition. It hadn’t been remodeled since it had been built in the 1960s so everything was outdated. The floors were covered in teal vinyl. The kitchen countertops and backsplash were a teal laminate. (Teal must have been a trending color at the time!). The floor plan was cut up disproportionately, giving more than enough space to the sleeping quarters and not enough for the kitchen and dining. Not to mention there was asbestos in the mastic that was used to adhere the flooring. All of this allowed for a dramatic transformation!

What were the requirements coming from Air Care Transports, was there something, in particular, that they wanted to be integrated into the design?

Air Care Transports dispatches around the clock, so medical crew work and sleep on site. In addition to an office, the redesign was to include all of the comforts and amenities of a home. Many transports are long-distance so when the crew returns to headquarters they are typically resting up for the next call, much like firefighters. In order to achieve an open concept floor plan without sacrificing the separation of private and public spaces, the wall that separated the kitchen and dining from the sleeping quarters was replaced with an oversized barn door.

Security was another priority as the building sits on Cardiff-By-The-Sea’s busy main street and houses medical equipment and transport vans. To ensure better security, several fences and gates were erected- one along the street side, one enclosing the front patio, and another that restricts access to the back. The incorporation of these fences and gates into the exterior design not only made the property more secure, but also added a more residential feel, a request by the city to integrate the property into the residential neighborhood.

That sounds like very clear but practical needs. How about the aesthetic of the space: were they really hands on or did they let you have free reign with the design?

With a comprehensive understanding of their business and how it operates, my clients entrusted me to take the design reigns, a true rarity in the world of interior design! Our vision was in sync so it was a relatively seamless project. My clients were set on an industrial vibe, yet remained reluctant to go for my pitches to use more conventional industrial materials for less conventional applications. Using concrete for the kitchen and bathroom countertops, for one, was out of their comfort zone, but eventually, they warmed up to the idea and now it is one of their favorite details. They were DIY clients and wanted to get their hands dirty when they could. Some medical crew members helped with demolition, landscaping, painting, etc.

That sounds like an enjoyable experience overall. What was your inspiration for the look of the space and why did you choose it?

Air Care Transports took on this project with the intention of honoring the building’s history and preserving the look and feel of a firehouse. To achieve this, we went with a modern industrial look that incorporated industrial materials like concrete and metals. A neutral, timeless palette and wood accents added warmth to the otherwise sterile space. Pops of brass and the integration of mid-century and mid-century inspired pieces honed in the nostalgia of the old 1960s firehouse.

Tell us about how you integrated usability into the space?

The firehouse, although a place of business, was designed to function much like a home. The office operates as a dedicated work zone, while the rest of the space mostly serves the purpose of rest and relaxation. The bedroom is the most multi-functional space where the medical crew can nap, read, listen to records, and attend to personal business at the bedroom desk.

Of all of the rooms in the space, the bedroom and kitchen look the most luxurious – was that intentional?

In my designs I love to mix old with new, the juxtaposition of the rough next to the refined creates unexpected interest. For this project, I wanted to balance the raw industrial materials like cement with more elegant touches like brass fixtures. That said, I designed the bedroom and kitchen to be on the more luxurious side. When the medical crew is on a long-distance transport, they don’t have the luxuries of home. They are often stationed in motels the night before an early morning patient pickup.

Meals are dictated by time constraints and are typically eaten en route. When back at base, we wanted to provide the crew with a home away from home experience- one that is clean, comfortable and allows for the two most important things that they are deprived of while on the road, home-made meals and a good night’s sleep.

This story seems like it has a happy ending. How did Air Care Transports react to the final space?

Air Care Transports is currently utilizing the space and love it so much they wish they could buy the property from the city! However, the most overwhelming reaction came from local residents. The restoration and redesign sparked a lot of interest within the community. During the process, the now-retired firefighters who were once stationed there would pop in to check out our progress, telling us stories from the good old days when the station seemed more like a fraternity house than a firehouse. One firefighter reminisced when they would sneak off to catch some waves, while a few others would hang back to cover the station. The neighbors were really enthusiastic about the restoration too, walking and driving by giving us thumbs up and sharing words of encouragement, which added to our sense of pride in the project!