Heart, Home, Renovation, and Divorce

Posted on October 23, 2008
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With the crash on Wall Street and a housing market slump, many couples are turning to home renovation.  Warning: this can be hazardous to your marriage.

The ABC of relationships and renovating: does it work?  Alex May is an author and editor of Renovation Nation for the Sydney Morning Herald.  SMH  She offers tips and guidance  “and general stuff about homes and how we live.”  She apparently is aware of the stress and strain of renovating and how often a renovation project can lead a couple into divorce court. Planning Your Perfect Home Renovation

I think that understanding how we live and how we wish to live and defining our expectations of house and home is key to a relationship.  So often divorce comes about because two people really do not share the same values.

My children’s first excuse for an apartment:  When I observed my children search for their first Boston apartment several years ago, I began wondering if “love” should be turned over to social architects who understand the dynamic interplay between individuals and the space they call home.

The two had met in law school and as I watched them search for their first apartment, they could have been a vignette from House as Mirror of Self  by Berkeley architect Clare Cooper Marcus.  She believes that your home and how you live is a reflection of your personality or your particular sense of self.  (Always check out how a man lives before you marry him!)  House As Mirror of Self

The young couple wanted to live Beacon Hill.  When they asked me to look at just one more “closet” with them, the Realtor led us to a brownstone with a peeling red painted door that opened into the hallway from hell. They danced up the uneven circular staircase into the apartment that they wanted to call “home.”

I stayed behind hoping that they might fly down immediately.  Instead I heard words such as: “Wow, it’s great” and “Take a look at this!”  Clearly this was my cue to venture up and make at least two positive statements.  I tried not to blanch when I walked in.

I remember saying: “Oh, look, windows,” and “Oh, wood plank floors.”  As they “oohed” and “aahed” their way through cramped quarters, I scowled at the Realtor, “Let’s talk about the mice who have made this place their home.”

Words moved in: Oblivious to my concern, they began discovering nooks, crannies, moldings, and charm.  Their words moved in a chair here, a couch there.  They visualized books, desks and window boxes in a tiny space to call home.

And immediately I realized that they had a profound sense as to the core of security in our daily lives – where we rest our heads at night and greet the day each morning.

Rebuilding and healing: After an unexpected divorce, former House and Garden editor, Dominique Browning, let her house fall apart, even the ceilings collapsed.  Reclaiming her home, rebuilding, refurbishing, restoring became her healing. She documented the journey in her book Around the House and in The Garden: A Memoir of Heartbreak, Healing, and Home Improvement. Around the House and in the Garden

Renovation Nation:  Alex May tells us: “There’s no doubt that renovating places a huge strain on even the strongest partnership. When you find yourself poring over colour charts for the 900th time that week, arguing whether to go for the Crescent or the Baroque or the Lancelot (who even knew that green could be called so many things?) and, worst of all, really, really caring about the tonal differences between the three, it can be an eye-opening experience.  Alex May website

Think before you hammer: As such, in a difficult economy, before you start to renovate, make a list of priorities.  Find out what you might do to make your current space more livable. Take a page from two young people in their 600 square feet of space and be creative.  What it may mean is that you do a lot of stripping down and tossing out.  But if it saves you money and your marriage, it is well worth the price. Divorce it too expensive an option in today’s economy.

To read Alex May’s advice go to: Renovation Nation

Also, let’s not forget House and Garden TV with their myriad of household tips.  HGTV.com

PS: My children are still in Beacon Hill, but have graduated to a proper Beacon Hill brownstone which taught them the art of compromise – she kept her car and he sold his.

Copyright 2008 Rita Watson

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