Catchy title – isn’t it? But people don’t seriously jeopardize their marriage by undertaking a home improvement decorating project – or do they? Just how much resentment can a husband and wife build up if one or the other is resistant to change, spending money, or cleaning up their space? Everyone has their own comfort zone and if one is pushed too far out of it, there are definitely repercussions.
As a designer for well over 30 years, I have encountered situations bordering on the bizarre (one husband had a single key made, wore it around his neck and locked up his impossibly cluttered office so no one could get in to clean, organize or decorate). This is not to say that the husband is always the clutterer or pack rat. There is often a “Felix” and an “Oscar” in the same household and we never know who it will be. Many times, I have acted as the mediator to avoid serious problems with my personal design clients. This gives each a safety net, a way to compromise gracefully. People are then forced to “drop the baggage” of other issues and disputes and stick to the business at hand.
I’d like to share some of my strategies for success in getting a design project off the ground when two people don’t always agree. Here are some tips on keeping conflicts to a minimum.
1. Broach the subject when both parties can listen to one another (no screaming babies, football game commercials or when you’re late for work).
2. Make an appointment to sit down and make a plan, or better yet, walk through the house and then sit down and make a plan.
3. List the things you would both like to do and establish priorities. (Here’s where the fun begins). He might want a media or pool room, you a new kitchen or bedroom. Priorities and parameters for a design project can always be adjusted based on need and cost. (While you are disagreeing about which project should go first, two kitchen appliances may expire and that might give you your instant priority).
4. Find a common ground for agreement, even if you have to start with generalities.
5. Do some homework. Get real information with estimates and time frame for your project. It’s always a good idea to call a viable designer for a consult to help get you started and make new discoveries. Here’s a cute story: A really lovely couple invited me in to their home only last week for a consult. It was a large house with a two-story entry. We began here sharing ideas and suggestions. I noticed a beautiful chandelier hanging up too high and looking too small for the space. When I mentioned this to the wife she said, “Oh, no – we can’t touch that – it’s my husbands’ favorite piece. He picked it out and hung it. He’d never let me change it.” As we walked through the rest of the rooms, the happy husband arrived – just in time to help me move some furniture and we all continued the tour of the house. By the time we entered the dining room, husband and wife were both happy with the changes we made. Husband observed that the fixture over the dining room table needed to be replaced, at which point I suggested using the foyer fixture. There was a pregnant pause as wife and I looked at each other whereupon husband promptly replied: “Great idea!” The point of this tale-assume nothing when a qualified third party arrives and you might get surprised!
6. Assess what you have that each in both want to keep. Share the reasons and respect each other’s feelings. There’s always a place for something special to someone, even if it’s not the place they thought it should go.
7. In order to decorate of course, you must clean up the clutter. Easy to say – hard to do. This issue can be the very reason a design plan gets sidetracked. Remember, “Felix” cannot throw out “Oscar’s” things while he is off to work or away for a weekend business trip. On the other hand, “Oscar” should not expect everyone in the household, as well as visitors, to be subjected to his mess. If the partner’s offer to help is the worst thing for marriage-saving, get a third party to assist, that’s why professional organizes and so popular today. (You’d be surprised-cleaning and organizing is contagious-once you start, you may not want to stop)
8. Make a budget and be realistic. Don’t forget sales tax, labor charges and other eventualities that may occur.
9. Investigate lines of credit and home equity loans, as well as 0% financing over a several month period. There has never been a better time to make other peoples’ money work for you.
10. Share the responsibilities equitably. Agree that the person with more time has to scope out the project but that both partners must shop to approve final choices. (No sofas, chairs or beds should be bought without physically trying them out to make sure each one is comfortable)
Most important: Try to have a little fun. I have seen many couples use this shared experience as a means of bringing the family closer together and can benefit your family and home for a long time. (A vacation may last two weeks, but a new bedroom set with a great new mattress may give you years of pleasure and many good night’s sleep)
Know that having done something good for your home will also be doing something good for you – It will truly make you feel better about yourself.
Lighten up and use the shared experience as a means of bringing two people closer together in a better environment because that’s what your home is all about.