Renovating or building your home can be stressful – and certainly cause arguments between couples.
Here’s how not to kill your husband during your project.
There were days during our renovating projects I thought I’d kill my husband …
I remember one of these vividly … we were standing out the front of our place and my husband was holding some timber in his hands. He wanted a decision on the front fence, but he disagreed with the decision I made. We argued, really loudly. It ended with him glaring at me and saying angrily, “Just like an architect” – to which I replied “You’re the worst client I’ve ever had” and stormed off, furious.
A few hours later, the fence was built as I had requested (which was different to how he wanted). It would not be the last argument we’d have on a building site.
It’s a common issue I hear from many couples building or renovating their homes. The difficulty in achieving decisions can be challenging when you have different tastes, different opinions, different upbringings, and different expectations.
You’re making big decisions too – ones that will impact your permanent living environment, the place you come home to everyday. So it’s personal. Super personal.
I have mediated many a disagreement between couples (it’s part and parcel of helping couples and families with their building and renovation projects!). If this is something you fear will happen with your other half with your project, or you’re right in the midst of it now, these are some of my recommendations for finding some common ground you can move forward on.
A little time apart
Whenever you’re creating a new home, there’s a difference between what you want and what you actually need. And the stuff that’s the source of most arguments usually comes down to the difference between what you both want … NOT what you need.
Take some time out away from each other; spend time fleshing this out … on paper (or something digital). This should take a bit of time, and is where you really dig deep to get it all down. Some of the questions I suggest you ask yourself are:
- Who are you, and who are your family (if they’ll be living in the house too)? How many and what are their ages – and will this be likely to change (new babies, kids moving out etc)?
- What are you seeking to achieve by building or renovating? A beautiful forever home? A financial step up? Something else?
- Now some more aspirational stuff … So what are your interests as a couple or family. Do you love entertaining? Are you keen cooks? Are you homebodies? (Note: This is where some of your differences as a couple may lie. One of you may love having friends around and the other may think vegging in front of TV is the best thing ever.). Outline what you love, not what your partner loves. And then outline what you love doing together (in and out of the home).
- Now get specific. How do you envisage your home when it’s finished? What is your general concept and how do you want it to feel? If you are completely attached to a home that has a certain style, because you love the feeling that brings, then outline that style AS WELL AS how it makes you feel. What are you most looking forward to when it’s completed?
- Then the practical stuff. List spaces and rooms, and break it down into priorities of must haves, and nice to haves.
- Identify your budget.
- How are you thinking it will be delivered? Will you be doing any of it yourself? Who will be on your team?
- What is the timeframe you wish to deliver this in and do you have a deadline you’re working to.
Now choose 20 words that describe how you want your home to feel and look. Then 10. Then 5. Was that hard or easy? Is there a theme to what you’ve chosen?
A Picture Perfect
Now you’ve got your brief in writing, it’s time to build a pictorial version too. Houzz and Pinterest are great tools for this, because they let you store and categorise your images in idea books or boards. Don’t be frightened to go old school either, and get yourself a notice board or even a big piece of cardboard. Often this is actually better, because you start to aggregate a whole picture you can easily see, rather than a collection of separately stored images.
Identify your top 30. And of that, your top 10. And then your top 3.
Are you getting the picture? This can be challenging – but perhaps you can see what is happening here. You’ll be starting to hone in on what is really important.
Get together and compare your work
Read your partner’s version and look at their pictures. What does this tell you? Do you like what your partner has come up with? I find at this point, couples may have very different pictures, but quite similar words about how they want their home to feel.
As a designer, my task then is to start working on delivering those feelings through the design, and demonstrating that it aesthetically doesn’t have to look a certain way (that one may or may not ‘like’).
The common mistake I see people make here is to focus on the ‘look’ (and argue about the difference in likes and opinions).
Don’t focus on the look – focus on the feeling.
Without fail, focussing on the feeling is what brings a shared vision to the project.
Recognize the danger zones – and your success opportunities
You and your partner may be good at the same things, or may have very different skillsets.
If you’re good at the same things, but this doesn’t include reading drawings, understanding volume and spaces, and the details of building, then you will need to source these skills externally. Work with other team members to support you both to get the best outcome for your project.
If you’re good at different things, then be patient with your partner where these differences lie, and still seek support to assist you. I have some case studies of previous clients of mine, to illustrate how to think about this:
Case Study #1: David and Megan (not their real names!)
Megan can’t visualise anything until it’s built, or explain exactly what she want unless she sees it. David is quickly decisive, can read drawings, visualise spaces, and whilst he’s not a designer, can scribble on drawings where he wants changes – enough to demonstrate what he’s wanting functionally, and for me to make it work as a design that feels and looks great also.
They’ve built new homes before, and often what happens is that Megan walks into it at frame stage and says “Oh, this isn’t what I wanted” … and change is inconvenient and expensive at that point.
David knows this, so to avoid issues when it’s built, he knows she has to remain engaged in the design phase. He gets annoyed because he feels it slows things down.
Megan actually has fantastic taste, and a great design eye – once she sees what she likes.
Danger zones for Megan (which means danger for the project overall):
- when she feels ganged up on, rushed into a decision or overruled – as it will potentially cause issues later on site.
- when she feels stupid or silly to ask questions or for explanations (because she just won’t speak up, which will cause issues later on site).
Danger zones for David:
- pushing Megan into decisions she doesn’t feel confident in making. Ultimately, if she feels pushed, she’ll just step out and then he’s left doing the whole thing on his own. He may think that’s what he wants, but making all those decisions will quickly become a burden, especially when Megan is giving him the cold shoulder!
Important tools for Megan:
- 3D sketches or computer models, real models, magazine pictures, real samples of materials and colour swatches.
- Also marking floor plan areas out at 1:1 scale. This is all about helping her touch, feel and visualise as much as possible before things are built.
Important tools for David:
- moments of pause. Yesterday is too slow to be making decisions, but in his desire to be decisive, David needs to be aware he can miss opportunities that a little time and investigation (and Megan’s involvement) bring.
Success opportunities for this couple:
- David recognising how his strengths can support her – it’s essential he stays patient and respectful and uses his abilities to help her visualise the spaces being designed.
- It’s also useful to have a designer that helps her feel safe, confident and listened to.
- Megan recognising her design strengths, and her ability to question and test ideas. Believe it or not, slowing down, and thinking things through is useful in a project. Being quickly decisive is not always the best approach.
Case Study #2: Jenny and George
Jenny is sooooo excited about renovating. She’s so sick of how everything in their home is falling apart, doesn’t work, makes life difficult – and cannot wait to renovate. She’s a bit bamboozled by what’s ahead, but she’s great with words at explaining how she wants it to feel and look. Whilst she can’t read drawings, she works really hard to research things, so can point me to spaces, places, materials and colours she loves and wants.
George is artistic, so has a great eye, but isn’t the most communicative person, and really only speaks up when things have reached crunch point … Or it’s too late to change anything. Things have to be drawn for him to make a judgement on them. He won’t necessarily offer ideas, but he’ll offer opinions when he sees something drawn that he likes or doesn’t like. He can read drawings to a point, but his thought processing is much slower. He won’t decide things on the spot, even when he understands them. He likes the time to mull things over.
Danger zones for Jenny:
- Building and renovation projects are a marathon not a sprint. So whilst she is excited and passionate, which is lovely, clients can become despondent when things take longer than they anticipate, or they can’t sustain that energy in balance with everything else in their life.
Danger zones for George:
- Because he waits too long to speak up, he may not be able to make the changes he wants to without blowing the budget. Or resent the fact he can’t get what he wants.
Important tools for George:
- a program that lays out deadlines for decisions. Whilst making all your decisions early is great, there are certain things that can be changed along the way without dramatically impacting progress. When George is aware of the deadlines and given lots of warning, he has the time to make the decisions he needs to without feeling rushed.
Important tools for Jenny:
- things that let her see progress and feel like milestones are being accomplished – so a program, an overall outline of how things will progress and the basic timeframes to be expected.
Success opportunities for this couple:
- Jenny knows George better than anyone else involved in this project, and is great with words when he is not. Using her strengths to help be his voice in the project is really useful.
- George’s artistic eye is helpful for Jenny when she can’t visualise things, if they can work together to understand what they’re both seeking to achieve from their project.
- Having a designer that can guide George so he gets lots of warning to make timely decisions is useful, and also providing moral support to Jenny so she can sustain her energy for the duration of the project.
If you can think about your work together as a couple in these terms of “danger zones”, “important tools” and “success opportunities”, it will give you some insight where you may experience challenges before you get there, how you can support each other to get the best outcomes – and where you’ll need external support to help your journey.
The Project is King
I know first-hand how hairy it can be to navigate a renovation or building project with your nearest and dearest when you don’t see eye to eye. It’s a stressful process anyway, because it is disruptive to your everyday life, involves chunky expenditure of money and/or mortgage, and decisions you’re making have fairly permanent impacts. So arguments with the one you love just make things that much harder.
When I worked at Mirvac, we had a saying … “The Project is King”. What is meant was that when arguments occurred (which they really did at times!), everyone had to put their agendas aside and really be frank about what was in the best interest of the project. The project always had benchmarks in terms of what it needed to achieve, how it needed to feel, what type of lifestyle it needed to support, and how it needed to financially perform.
The Project is King.
Our personal agendas and egos are not.
When you frame your thinking in these terms, it quickly sifts out what activity and decision-making is serving the project, and what is not. Go back to your answer about what you’re seeking to achieve with your project. The answer is usually there.
Don’t go it alone
Using a designer as a facilitator is a great way to protect your investment and your relationship with each other. (I often tell clients to not worry about disagreeing in front of me because it gives me the opportunity to ensure all agendas are brought to the table and incorporated into the project.)
However you choose to renovate or build, get support in your journey. Get help with mediating your differences and assisting you in realising your dreams for your home.
This will pay big dividends in managing your stress levels, smoothing the road and delivering a home that you both can love.