Welcome to this month’s installment of Dear Urbaneer, where our insightful clients test us with challenging shelter questions. This month, a query comes from a couple who is seeking advice on how to seek inspiration and merge design ideas for a renovation project, while minimizing potential conflict.
We’ve recently purchased a home that we intend to renovate extensively. Now that we are starting to sit down to plan out the renovations, we're discovering we have different ideas on what we like, and don't. Do you have any suggestions on how to approach planning this, including communicating our design preferences to each other?
Looking for Middle Ground
Here is my reply:
Dear Middle Ground:
Thanks for your query, because the challenge you face is one that many of my clients have to navigate, especially given so much of downtown Toronto's housing stock was constructed anywhere from 90 to 140 years ago and requires renovation. Furthermore, with the proliferation of HGTV and the 24 hour loop of design media, more and more homeowners are taking the leap to transform their spaces to suit their unique tastes, thinking that it's fairly straight-forward. After all, the television shows make it seem pretty effortless and with minimal conflict. I wrote about this four years ago in Behold The HGTV Effect On Toronto Real Estate, while team member Kellye The Newlywed shared her amusing tale in Marriage 101: Sorry, HGTV - Identifying Your Real Estate Needs and Wants that's a real giggle.
In my youth there were only a handful of shelter magazines which kept things pretty simple, whereas today we have unlimited access to a cornucopia of inspiration. Having such a vast amount of design media is helpful on one hand, but it can be overwhelming when you're planning a project. Especially when you have no idea how much everything costs and you're drooling over an issue of Architectural Digest Seeing How Diane Keaton’s House Came Together Thanks to Pinterest. Who knew one kitchen cabinet pull could cost $1000? It does when it's crystal! Or a toilet that's $9500? When it dries your bum that can be the sticker price! More challenging still is organizing your ideas to effectively communicate them to your partner and to the professionals who will assist with the completion of your project.
There is a lot of emphasis on design tips and trends when considering renovations, but what is often overlooked is some of the real-life activity that unfolds - namely how to compromise and be supportive of potentially opposing design ideas with your partner during the planning process. After all, the intent is to create a dream home that you can share blissfully together, not create opposing points of view. But when two residences are being combined into one, there can be challenges in meshing belongings and styles, and it isn’t uncommon to experience conflict. Again, team member Kellye The Newlywed made me laugh out loud in her piece Marriage 101: Love Me, Love My Owl Lamp - The “Do’s and Don’ts” of Decorating Together. It's gold! So keep in mind when you extend that mindset of compromise to the creation or re-invention of reinventing a whole new space through renovations, that butting heads on what Home should look like can be even more substantial, because there's more at stake!
Truth! According to this survey on home design website Houzz.com, 12 per cent of couples considered divorce during their renovation process! The kicker? The major source of conflict is the discovery that their partners have differing styles in mind for renovations! Ugh! According to the survey, the majority of respondents aren’t shy to share their distaste for their partner’s style, with 76 per cent voicing their disapproval of choices. However, almost half of respondents admit to being stuck with choices that they didn’t like that their partner made. It’s not a far cry to consider that a wee bit of resentment could certainly fester there, like a wound of salty tears that never heals.
The Design Process Can Be Emotional
What is it that transforms a “house” into a “home”? One major influence is the emotional connection that one makes with one’s living space. By extension, the design and décor of that living space is derived from an emotional place. I've written extensively about this, including how Maslow's Hierarchy Of Needs influences our approach to shelter. If you're truly ready to explore some of the complexities in creating your Dream Home, my post called The Psychology Of Real Estate, Housing & Home will offer you some informative insights.
When it comes to infusing your spirit on space, it's ultimately a personal act of self-expression. The thing is, self-expression is an individulal act, but when you're deciding on how to decorate a home with your partner, it can be contentious because, in this context it has to be reflection of both parties. It’s important for both members of a couple to feel validated and heard when it comes to design choices, which is why compromise is so important.
Click here to read, “Ask A Designer: How To Compromise With Your Partner On Design”, “How To Marry Design Styles With Your Significant Other” and “How Couples Can Find Common Ground When Decorating Tastes Clash”.
Thankfully, most couples report that renovations have had a positive impact on their home life in the long run, which really means they survived what can be a hellish experience and they're oddly proud - and relieved - to have survived the battle. The key here is to develop a strategy to find that middle ground when deciding what shape and style your renovations will take.
Plan Ahead To Reduce The Stress Of Renovation
Renovations, especially if they are extensive, are extremely stressful for individuals and on relationships. I suggest some strategies on how to reduce disparity in relationships during renovations by planning ahead in my post, Dear Urbaneer: Help! We Want to Renovate And Keep Our Relationship Intact, For success, it's critical to set clear guidelines and parameters ahead of time, like agreeing on a budget, being realistic in your renovation timeline, along with some tips to help keep harmony in your home. One of my tried and true recommendations? Early on you should each be given a set dollar sum to purchase an item you each dream of that will benefit the collective good. Like he may covet a 6-burner Gas Range, while she desires a deep soaking tub with the taps in the centre so both of you can lay back and relax with a glass of wine facing each other! If you each have something special that you buy at the beginning, no matter how much the renovation goes awry at times, you can each cling to that delicious reward you know will be there at the end when it's done!
First, that strategy - the gift that keeps on giving - will help ground your emotions during renovation challenges. But how do you maintain domestic bliss while trying to decide on things like style, décor and design details? This is potentially a minefield of discord, as abstract ideas, like those around design and décor can truthfully open the door wide to possible miscommunication and of course - conflict. Which is what this post attempts to resolve. In addition to keeping an open mind with your lines of communication, it’s a good idea to find tangible tools to help you communicate - not only with each other, but to other members of your design team (i.e. your architect or designer). It’s all about setting expectations and making sure that everyone is on the same page.
Now, there are literally dozens of shelter magazines, websites and TV shows (multiple channels even!) from which to gather your inspiration. One site I often recommend to my clients for identifying aesthetic preferences is Houzz.com - not just because of the endless examples and great ideas - but because I find the site is designed and laid out in a way that is conducive to helping couples find and share ideas productively on their way to seeking middle ground.
The Benefits of Using Houzz As A Tool
Houzz.com is a great tool because can click through the photos and bookmark the ones which resonate with you. Basically it allows you to build a library of photos by rooms which you can then share with each other, and eventually your architect and interior designer. It’s also highly visual and organized, which will help on the communication side of things.
Doing a single room or your whole home? There is a slot for every space in your home. The site is broken down into rooms including:
- Home Office
- Home Bar
- Storage & Closet
- Kids' Room
- Wine Cellar
When you click on any of these rooms, you then have the option of viewing images based on the design style or size, including:
- White Kitchens
What I especially like is that, once you become familiar with the design language and the website set-up, you'll discover that you automatically start gravitating to images with a design continuity that will reflect your preferences. This is helpful when you're developing how to communicate your design desires, because it provides a tool to demonstrate them concretely.
Breaking Down The Design Process
Now, it's really important you take this process slow and steady. Think tortoise and the hare! I recommend you do no more than one or two rooms a week on Houzz, (or whatever design media that you choose) and always use a systematic approach, so that you or your partner don’t get overwhelmed. If you try do an entire home in a few visits you run the risk of choosing haphazardly from being over tired, or you risk that the aesthetic you're favouring is what which you like 'at that moment' but could be subject to change or perhaps too on trend and fleeting. If you spread this exercise out over time, you're more likely to be refining your design sensibilities naturally. And the same goes to your partner. Taking your time is critical to ensuring your truly identifying your design aesthetic. In fact, you may see it evolve between your first efforts and as you progress. This is important, because if your aesthetic evolves so will your partners, and you may find over time you find more common ground. Here's how I recommend you approach your design process:
Start by you and your partner sitting down together (Hello, wine!), but each on your own devices so that you can each bookmark your favourite images for each room. Spend 30 minutes or less searching through the website.
After the 30 minute period, share your images with each other and discuss them. This allows you to each show the other what your personal aesthetic is.
As you discuss this, you will find a shared common ground on many (but not all) of the design elements. When you can't, that's ok too. Keep your favourite images so that when you meet your architect and interior designer (you should really set aside some of your budget to help someone snythesize your aesthetics and blend them, even if it's for a few hours of their professional time and fees), you can give them each of your bookmark and your design team should be able to translate each of your preferences into a harmonious space.
It is likely that during the process, each of you will hate a design aesthetic (or type of furniture, colour, etc.) that your partner loves. In that case, it is smart to be proactive to create an environment for compromise.
For example, if you undertake a significant renovation/rebuild, I recommend you each get a dedicated room in the dwelling that is allocated as your own personal sanctuary. As a realtor, I find he often gets a 'man cave' in a lower level and she gets one of the upper level bedrooms as her 'study'. By having your own dedicated space, you grant each other the freedom to decorate it in your own personal styles.
What I love about this approach is that when you're out and you find an object you adore and want to purchase, your partner can respond "By all means, it will look amazing in your room!" with a big grin. This is a cue that your partner doesn't want to stop you from buying said object, but it's a gentle nudge that says "I don't like it enough to see it displayed within sight of our everyday lives".
To circle back to your question, the key to a happy home (renovation) is to approach the process with a pre-determined strategy, which includes the opportunity for both parties to express themselves and be heard. And of course, mutual compromise will effectively create a middle ground. Enjoy the journey!
As a realtor in his 27th year with a comprehensive education in Housing, I’ve also lived through a number of my own renovation projects, some which I have documented in The Tales of Tennis Crescent , Rejuvenating The Button Factory, Renovating The Movie House Loft and The Tales Of Upper Hillsborough series. Having lived through my own transformations, my experience in urban planning, construction, building code, architecture, interior design, and landscape allows me to offer a comprehensive point of view on your real estate objectives! If you, or someone you love, is seeking a property with 'potential' it would be my pleasure to share my unique perspective to help you and yours achieve the quest for a Dream Home.
If you' enjoyed this blog, I encourage you to read these other posts of mine:
Thanks for reading!
~ The Urbaneer Team
Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage - (416) 322-8000
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