Boho Bungalow – Renovation Survival for Couples

The mere idea of a renovation project can strike fear into the hearts of many couples. And for good reason. While the reason for undertaking a renovation is exciting – a new kitchen, updated bath, an addition to allow for more living space – the thought of going through the process can be daunting.  Whether you’re opting for the DIY route or hiring a contractor, the process can be challenging and fraught with emotional land mines that can derail even the strongest couple.

When Micheal and I did our first renovation nearly two decades ago, we started out like most couples – excited at the prospect of transforming a rundown house into our home.  And for the most part we were in sync throughout the project.  Until we got to the cabinet hardware.  You don’t see it coming, but all of a sudden, a renovation project can go from smooth sailing to DEFCON 1 over the smallest issue!  We were at Home Depot on a summer evening, this was back in the day when Charleston only had one big box hardware store and so Friday nights became our shopping/date nights.  We’d drive up to North Charleston, shop for supplies and then go out for dinner.  As we were standing in the middle of Home Depot looking at cabinet hardware it didn’t dawn on me that we were headed into what can only be described as a frosty weekend!  I picked out the draw pulls and knobs that I wanted but Micheal vetoed them because he was controlling the budget.  He looked at me and said, “try again”.  But I insisted that the ones I had picked out were perfect for our kitchen.  He pointed to the ugliest low end hardware and I seriously wanted to smack him!  So I found some others that were a bit less than those I had originally picked out and his response was “no”.  I reminded him that I had come down in price and it was his turn to come up a bit, so I wasn’t expecting his response, “how about no hardware?”  I was so damn mad that I yelled, “FINE!” and stormed out of Home Depot.  We didn’t have knobs or drawer pulls for quite some time.

A few weeks after the kitchen hardware incident we were at Home Depot again and when we walked into the store there was a young couple standing off to the side – she was crying and he had a calculator in his hand.  I knew exactly what was happening and wanted to go over and give her a big hug!  That’s when it dawned on me that the big box hardware stores should offer mediation – I can hear it on the loudspeaker now, “there’s a couple in appliances on the verge of meltdown, marriage counseling aisle 13 STAT!”

Since that’s obviously not an option, Micheal and I devised a system on our second renovation project.  We divided everything into form and function. Since he’s a mechanical contractor and I’ve got a design background this was the perfect solution for us.  If it had to do with how something looked, I had the final say – and if it had to do with function, he had final say.  And contrary to the old adage, form doesn’t ‘follow’ function in our system.  They’re created equal – or so I like to think!

Here’s how it works, we discuss the overall design, finishes, paint colors etc. and I take Micheal’s input into account but in the end I make all the final decisions in these areas.  He, in turn, makes all the decisions on things like heating and air, electrical, plumbing, electronics, etc.  And yes, there can be some crossover and this in when it gets a little dicey.

Case in point – we renovated a darling 1940s bungalow before we moved downtown.  We both fell in love with the house and all it really needed was some cosmetics.  Our last project was the guest bath.  We both agreed on the tumbled marble tiles and I found a great second hand dresser that was ideal as the vanity once I painted it and found the perfect drawer pulls (yup I got to choose – form won out!).  We even found a great piece of ‘scrap’ marble for the vanity top.  Everything was just about finished, the soaking tub was installed, we’d done the tile work and all that was left was the toilet.  You’d think this would be a simple thing, buy a new toilet, right?  Wrong.  We headed over to Lowe’s and that’s when form and function went to battle.  Micheal thought the original toilet was fine and he actually preferred it to many of the newer water efficiency models.  The problem was that the original toilet was ecru and our tub was white.  He argued that it was a function decision, and of course I steadfastly insisted it fell under the heading of form.  I really felt sorry for the poor salesman who walked up all cheery asking if he could help us find something.  One look at our faces and he quietly stepped away.  I don’t know why I got so emotional over a toilet, but I did.  The second time the salesman came back to check on us, I was literally in tears – just sure that the wrong toilet would ruin the entire bathroom!  This is what can happen when you’re in the midst of renovation, the smallest issue becomes magnified and all reason flies out the window.  To make a long story short, we ended up keeping the original toilet – and it looks just fine in the room.  At least now we can laugh over the ‘damn toilet’ debacle!

So my advice to couples undertaking a renovation project is to determine a system that will keep discourse to a minimum.  Don’t just assume that you’ll agree on everything because I can almost guarantee you, you won’t!  If form and function doesn’t work for you, consider dividing the decision making by room.  For instance, whoever does the majority of the cooking has final say in kitchen decisions, likewise if the entertainment area is more important to hubby, let him make the decisions regarding the great room. If you’re doing a major whole house renovation or even building a new home, consider dividing it by interior and exterior.  The point is you need to have some sort of system in place to avoid long drawn out confrontations with no resolution.  You also want to play on each other’s strengths which will result in harmonious teamwork making the process much more fun!

Keep your eye on the end goal – creating a home that you both love.  And remember when all else fails, step back, take a break and ask “will this decision really impact our lives in a year?”  Usually the answer is ‘no’ … you won’t even notice the color of the toilet after a while!

As Micheal and I embark on renovating our Boho Bungalow, we’re sticking to our form and function rule – I’ll keep y’all updated and will share our progress along the way. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what has helped you maintain harmony during times of renovation conflict!



Melissa Gray

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