Feb 19, 2014

Can Your House Wreck Your Marriage?

Marriage is a complicated thing, what with all that blending of two lives into one.  Differences are resolved, or ignored, or filed away for future reference.

But differences there are - and they're often magnified during the process of designing and building a home.  At our office we've seen it all, I think.  Consider these "true" stories:

John and Cindy

The new, bigger closet he was having built for her would finally allow them to spread out and organize their apparel. His golf shirts wouldn’t be jammed together so tightly that the colors bled. Her skirts wouldn’t be hidden between her dresses and her slacks, and both of them would be able to find their shoes.

He’d get rid of the temporary studs-and-cedar plywood closet he’d built in the basement and bring her out-of-season clothes upstairs. He saw it as an opportunity to give their wardrobe a breather.

She, however, saw all this new, empty space as an opportunity to buy more clothes.



Vicki and Don

As an account executive in charge of a large budget, she was used to organization and was therefore taking a methodical approach to planning their remodeling project. She researched costs, compared returns on investment for different kinds of additions, and even attended an evening course on house design.

She measured their existing house and calculated exactly how much new space they’d need. She charted the construction schedule and got pre-approved for the loan. She’d done everything but draw the plans but even then, she’d interviewed five architects before she made her selection.

She knew he’d appreciate the careful, logical approach she’d taken and when everything was ready, she showed him the plans.

“Wow” he said, “This bathroom plan is sweet! I’ll be able to watch Sportscenter from the toilet!”

Rick and Fran

There was no doubt about it. They’d outgrown their house. Well maybe not outgrown, he thought. After all, it wasn’t too small; it was just that the house and their lifestyle didn’t really fit anymore. The children were nearly teenagers, and it seemed that the adults controlled less of the house every day. They’d still be living together as a family for another seven or eight years and they needed a change.

“It’s time,” he announced one evening at dinner, “to look for a new house!”

And so the search began. He’d be in charge, of course, since the purchase of a new home is really an investment decision, one he’d make by evaluating cold, hard facts. “Most houses and neighborhoods are the same,” he declared to his wife, “we’re looking for value, school system, and proximity to work.”

Eventually he narrowed the choice to three candidates; a moderately-priced two-storey colonial with a large yard, but the kids would have to take the bus to school; a somewhat larger, more expensive home within a five-minute commute to his office; and an older home that needed a little work but in a highly desirable neighborhood.

He arranged to show her all three homes on Saturday morning. It was a crisp autumn day and they enjoyed the drive around town.

He could tell that she liked the first two homes and he began to contemplate skipping the third. It wasn’t a brand-new home after all, and he didn’t think she’d be up for remodeling. Why go through all of that hassle and expense when the other two homes were in move-in condition?

And so, secure in the knowledge that he’d chosen the two best possible homes in town for his family, he turned the car left, away from house number three, and headed out of the neighborhood.

About three houses down, a small handwritten sign with two yellow balloons attached to it caught her eye. “Open House Today” it said, “1 to 4”. “Look honey”, she said, “there’s a nice house”. He slowed the car and took a quick look over his shoulder. He recognized the Tudor-styled house with the painted siding as 1245 Carnegie Street, a home suggested to him several weeks earlier by a real estate agent.

He’d glanced at the listing but dismissed it immediately. “It’s a nice-looking house" he said, "but it's too small and needs too much work - we’re looking for something we can move into right away”. “It has great curb appeal,” the agent said,  “and yes, it needs some TLC but it’s priced well below market.” “I’m sorry,” he replied, “but it just doesn’t meet our criteria.”

“Can we just stop and peek inside?” She was still looking at the two yellow balloons tied to the posterboard sign.

“Honey,” he said, trying not to sound patronizing, “I checked into that one a little while back; it’s not a good fit for us.”

“But it’s so cute!”

Cute. He felt a slight tightening in his stomach. The last time he’d heard her use the C-word it had cost him a new Boxster, when he’d been all set to sign the papers on a two-year old LeSabre.

But wait a minute, he thought, there’s no risk here. The house really is too small for us, and it does need a lot of work. Why not satisfy her curiosity?

“OK,” he said, “one quick look. But we have to hurry – we need to get an offer in on a house today.”

Five weeks later, he was showing friends the kitchen of their new home. It was a very nice kitchen, really, especially if you could imagine how it would look after the remodeling.

New cabinets, countertops, and appliances, that’s all. And then it would be brand new, as would the bedroom and bath they’d soon be adding onto the second floor.

“Welcome,” he said, “to 1245 Carnegie Street.

Working It Out

If you and your spouse are dreaming together of your new home or remodeling, are you dreaming the same dream?

There's a lot to lose if you're not communicating well, and sitting in your Architect's office isn't the best place to discover that you and your spouse don't agree on something important.

Don't wait until crunch time to start working it out.  Get your dreams out in the open.  Write down what's important to you.  Talk to each other.  You might be surprised at how much common ground you really share.


Need expert Residential Architectural advice for your new home or remodeling project? Contact Richard Taylor, AIA at RTA Studio Architects to arrange a meeting or an online consultation.