Keeping a marriage happy throughout a remodel

Comic by Besty Streeter

Comic by Besty Streeter

One of my clients shared this cartoon with me and, after a good giggle, it made me think about how often a kind of “marriage counseling” comes into my work. As both a ballroom dance instructor and an interior designer I have learned a number of things that can make or break a project for a couple, and I’d like to share some of that insight with you. If you’ve never undertaken a remodel together before, you’re in for a pretty big adventure, and you want to go in with the right attitude and, ideally, the support of a designer that *both* of you like and trust and who can make sure that the final design is one you both like.

Here are key ingredients to achieving the goals for your home and, when you’re done, still have a happy relationship:

1) Identify your dream(s).
First, understand that you both have some idea of what this project will end up looking like, but that you might have very different ideas of that end product. We have to figure out how you want to feel in your home when it’s done, how do you want to live. The key here is to LISTEN to each other, and don’t judge! At this stage every idea is valid.

2) Destroy preconceived notions.
Both partners are going to have some concept of how much it will (or should) cost and how long it will take. Again, LISTEN to each other and *never* laugh at your spouse. If you ridicule your partner they’ll just clam up and be that much less open to your desires when it’s your turn to be heard. It’s normal for someone not to know how much a sofa or flooring or any of the other ingredients will cost – how often does the price of a kitchen faucet come up in your spouse’s work?

3) Draw a map.
This is where the designer starts pulling together ideas and options and will ask for decisions. It often helps to assign “homework” and divide up the decisions – let the husband choose the counters, the wife choose the flooring… and trust the designer to guide the decisions so they all work together. Agree to honor the work and decisions of the other person.

4) Demo and remodel.
You are going to face dust and dirt, perhaps weeks without a kitchen or bath, delays, etc. Last minute decisions will have to be made, and changes approved when things don’t go as planned. Stay on the same team. Budget for a night in a hotel or a nice meal out once in a while as part of the project. Be a cheerleader for your spouse and know that even thought they might stress about different things (she’s worried about the money, he wants the lighting to be just so) their worries are just as valid as your own.

5) Celebrate!
As you achieve goals, break out the champagne. Not just the big goal (the kitchen is done and we are having a housewarming party) but the small goals, too (the cabinets came in!)

6) Throughout, remember what’s important; your marriage and your family.
There are NO design emergencies, and the cabinet color and finish is NOT more important than your spouse. If you see your spouse digging in like a mule, chances are that they feel they aren’t being heard, or felt steamrolled on the last 10 decisions. If you’ve been getting your own way for a while, it might be time to get them really involved again. Or, if *you* start acting like a stubborn mule on a design decision, take a deep breath, set it aside, talk about it with your designer. Go out and get a little perspective. Sometimes you just need a walk, sometimes you need to go volunteer at a soup kitchen, but do something that reminds you that beautiful design and new kitchens and baths are a luxury and a gift, not a right or emergency.

Then go kiss your husband or wife.

You’ll learn a lot about yourself and your partner by taking on a remodel together, and it can be surprisingly easy and even fun if you have a though-out budget with a little extra set aside, and keep some light-hearted perspective

Hi! I’m Rebecca West.

I’m not your classic interior designer because, frankly, I don’t care if you buy a new sofa. I do care if your home supports your goals and feels like “you.” Remember, happy starts at home!


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