Renovating a home with a significant other is one of the ultimate tests of relationship endurance. It’s like having a baby, only if every detail of that baby were customized by you and your partner — eye and hair color, haircut style, eyebrow texture, cuticle length, frequency of spit-ups, etc. OK, so maybe remodeling a house together is the ultimate test.
In a recent survey, more than 1,400 Houzz users answered questions about how remodeling projects impacted their relationships in both challenging and positive ways.
Among the highlights:•46 percent of respondents said the remodeling and redecorating process with their significant other was collaborative.
•46 percent also found the experience frustrating.
•12 percent admitted to considering a separation or divorce midremodel.
Why all the tension? It’s everyone’s style choices, dear. The survey found that one-third of respondents did not like their significant other’s taste. (Honey, put the paintbrush down and step away from the power drill. You have the right to remain color blind and/or otherwise design challenged, but anything you attempt to further renovate can and will be used against you …)
Anonymous comments from the survey:
• “I love my husband, but he honestly has no taste. But I am saying that in a loving and caring way.”
• “I found renovating to be a mostly enjoyable and challenging experience, but my husband was close to a nervous breakdown.”
• “It’s hard to remember in the heat of the moment, but you’re both doing this for you, no one else, so plan well, and try to relax and enjoy it. It’s only a house, and you’re lucky to have one in a world where homeownership is an unimaginable luxury for many.”
• “Don’t get a family member as a general contractor.”
• “I love the help and effort she gives, but her painting is so messy, it creates more work for me having to clean or touch up behind her. That’s my only complaint so far.”
• “First time in 10 years I did not like my spouse.”
• “A lot of her decorating tastes are very childish, and I am sometimes embarrassed with some of it; but I love her very much, so I deal with it.”
• “We did a lot of the remodeling work ourselves, and we are by no means professionals. But even through the frustration, we grew closer in our relationship, and it really makes us look at our home in a different way. We put the hard work into it ourselves, so it truly is a home built with love.”
• “My husband is like all the husbands from TV shows: He doesn’t finish the project all the way. He always starts something else before he finishes the project that he started with. So now I have a basement that’s not finished; I have a kitchen that’s not finished; I have a living room that’s not finished; and I could go on and on about the garden. Where’s Mike?”
The Beauty of Compromise
Indeed, renovating is a crash course in compromise. But that’s one of the great things about it, because compromise often creates the best design. “I believe it’s really joyful when you can find a way to work with both styles and come up with something better than either,” says Judith Taylor, an interior designer with a degree in psychology. “To me, the most interesting designs are eclectic.”
Conflict arises when one person refuses to compromise. “Some purists find other pieces of different styles to be polluting the space and wrecking the purity of the aesthetic,” Taylor says. “But this is a marriage, and that’s a blending outcome. They can’t see that they’re trying to exclude a partner. They can’t see that the jewel is with the blending of two different people with two different interests that they both can love.”
Many of the survey’s respondents suggested divvying up responsibilities so each person has a say in the creative process. “I do most of the decorating decisions, but my husband picks the TV that will go on the wall, complete with speakers or a particular fireplace that he likes,” one respondent said. “He gets his say without feeling the need to get involved with my area.”
“We early on decided to assign departments to each other based on our strengths,” another said. “I am Negotiations, Logistics, Procurement, Paint and Design; he is Health & Safety, Food & Drink, Dirty Jobs and Heavy Lifting.”
Build the Right Team
Bruce Irving produced This Old House for 17 years. He’s now a renovation and real estate consultant who helps homeowners realize what they’re getting into from the get-go, pressing them to consider if they’re really ready for it — in terms of both time and budget.
“I’m not there to lecture or probe or analyze them in terms of how they get along, though I will point out how stressful it can be for them,” Irving says. “I lay out what the dimensions are in terms of time, money and stress. If they do insist on moving forward, I do get into psychoanalysis. I take a read on them in terms of the level of project, then I rifle through a Rolodex and try to find them the right professional, because team building is crucial.”
A common response in the Houzz survey was that many homeowners who had negative experiences wished they had hired professional help instead. “In my 20 years of doing renovations, I’ve learned this: Do not do it yourself,” Irving says. “I learned that you should almost never be doing stuff that a professional could do better. You’re about to spend more money on anything than you ever thought possible. You might as well build it right.”
Irving says remodels are such a sticky situation because they involve money and often a power struggle over who gets to make the decisions.
“When you throw in serious dough and a seemingly endless array of choices — I heard an average renovation can involve 15,000 decisions — it’s a real, new proving ground,” he says. “And you’re not on a beach vacation trying to figure out where to go to dinner. There are people in your house tapping their foot, waiting for those decisions. The clock is ticking. Your domestic life, the most important physical and spiritual place, is under attack. It can be pretty charged.”
Irving suggests that before you embark on a serious large home project, try collaborating on something small with your partner, like a birdhouse or mailbox. There are design elements and thousands of choices to consider, and you’ll be making a statement about who you are. “It sounds a little silly, but during This Old House we had someone split up on us,” Irving says. “That really drove it home for me.”
The Good News
Some heartening results from survey respondents:
• 84 percent said they now spend more time at home.
• Four out of five said they feel more relaxed in their home.
• 42 percent do more entertaining.
• 41 percent reported an increase in their level of happiness with their significant other.
Compromise, hiring professionals and knowing what you’re getting into were all elements of positive experiences, according to the survey.
“Remodeling is not easy,” wrote one respondent. “There will be painful and frustrating moments, mostly around schedule and budget. … Believe me, the end results of remodels are worth the wait and sacrifices. But if your relationship is not strong enough to handle it, then considerations should be taken in finding a better home that suits your needs and trading up.”
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