Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Can you renovate - and keep your relationship?

Yesterday I bought the new issue of House & Garden. I confess I haven't bought an issue in ages (despite having worked on the mag for many years in a different lifetime), but it looks great and... I had an ulterior motive. This month's mag comes with a Kitchen & Bathroom special attached. And I'm in a place in my life where that looks attractive (I know, I need to get out more).

One thing about moving into an older house is that you have a good idea about what's in your future. You know there'll be dust. You know there'll be tears. You know there'll be fights over whether a particular colour is 'greige', despite it's exotic moniker (calling it Tahitian Sand doesn't make it any less boring). Yep, it's renovation time. In my case, I can add AGAIN. Because, just like childbirth, I forgot the pain of the first time around and have signed up for a second bout.

The Builder and I have decided that this will be the year to drag the Fibro into the 21st century - probably kicking and screaming. New bathroom, new kitchen... the nightmare begins.

Last time we did this, I wrote a story about it (surprise, with most writers, my life and everyone in it are all fodder for the machine). It wasn't about colours and benchtops and whether the paneled doors were worth the extra cost. It was about the insidious cost of renovating. Not the budget blowout (everyone knows you need to add a 20 per cent 'contingency' fee to any estimate), but the sheer stress of the whole enterprise.

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. Are you aware of your partner’s preferences in tapware? You will be after you’ve been dragged through eight different plumbling supply shops and he’s still searching for “one with less curves, I’ll know it when I see it”.

Considering that many of us can get away with making about three decisions every day - will I get up?, what will I wear?, what will I have for dinner? - the renovating process is mind-numbing. Not only are you choosing colours, fixtures and fittings, you have to choose tradesmen, check contracts, decide if you’re going to oversee the work yourself, find someone to draw plans, decide how much you can spend (and try not to get too upset when you go over...) and the list goes on. Is it any wonder that we feel consumed by it – to the exclusion of all else?

And then there’s the question of taste: if you want to create a Balinese haven and your partner is picturing a New-York-style warehouse, you’ve got more than geography to sort out. One couple I’ve heard of got to the stage where he would paint the hallway pale blue every time she left the house and she’d repaint it cream while he was at work. Eventually, she did a final coat in black, just before she walked out for the last time.

Fortunately, The Builder and I have similar thoughts in interior design and decorating. We followed the rules - poring over magazines so we could show each other what we had in mind (rather than just trying to describe it), being prepared to compromise when one of us felt really strongly about something, and organising our space so that the dust during renovation was corralled as much as possible.

We managed to get through a full renovation of a brick Federation cottage in the city. Surely a basic kitchen/bathroom update in our nothing-in-particular fibro in the country won't be as stressful? Oh wait - we didn't have children last time. Now we have two.

Who am I kidding?

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