Three years ago we bought a wonderful little house on Vashon Island. We loved the layout, loved the size, but knew there was something just slightly “off” about the way it functioned. Guests always seemed too cramped, there was not great traffic flow, and there was no place to store spices. After talking and negotiating solutions, we finally decided we needed to turn our little house into a massive remodel.
We just celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary and let me tell you, the number of people who told us their marriage could not survive a remodel (let alone living in it and DIYing it!) was nearly everyone. Remember how stressful planning a wedding was? Multiply this by 100. And live in it. And you know what? Every step has been worth it. So many decisions, design disagreements, inconveniences…the list goes on, but at the end of the day, this is us building a dream together. The stress of a remodel will take any tiny crack in a relationship and cause a rift. However, if you approach it as a challenge you are facing together, it can teach you a lot about you two as a couple and grow an even stronger bond.
Even though our case is a bit extreme in scope, scale and doing all the work ourselves, these lessons can apply to any project big or small. And if you are working with a contractor, could be tips to ease your relationship with them AND your spouse.
Project Scope Timeline
Before even starting, rough out a scope and schedule. If you are working with a contractor, they will help you with this. Ask questions. Make your opinion heard. Do you have a goal on when things will wrap up? Our initial goal was March 2016. Then Halloween 2016 (my birthday…I had grand visions of a dinner party in our newly finished house. Ha!) and now Christmas…but really, it is getting pushed out into 2017. Not only do projects take longer than you anticipate, but new little add-ons (scope creep) will undoubtedly happen.
Just as an example: we were planning to put in new baseboards, so we decided we may as well refinish the floors (not in the original plan), so as long as we were doing that, we may as well move the fireplace and build a hearth, and built ins…you get the picture. Added scope increases complexity, time, cost and ultimately you project schedule. Just be ready for this.
Anyone who knows me knows that I like to be in charge. I like to have a goal and make it happen. Well, I am still working a normal day job (off island) and Matt is home actually doing the work all day long. At first I tried to be involved and manage the whole project progress. I would come home and ask questions that really just added confusion and stress to Matt’s plate. Not good! I finally had to let go and give him reign to just make progress, make decisions and own the projects. Now Matt has ownership of the remodel and HE is the manager of it. I bring home supplies, give input, but he is in the driver seat. Not only has it made our communication much less stressful and has skyrocketed his confidence in the project. Win win!
Establishing Work Pace…and Clear Micro Goals
Matt and I have very different paces of work. I work fast and am of the 85% camp…get it to 85% and you are probably close enough. Matt, not so much. He is a 155%er, which is really great for a remodeler (no cutting corners here!) but my expectations of how much I/he/we can get done in a day can lead to unintended disappointment and frustration. How do we avoid letting it go there? We make a work plan, for the day or weekend or week, and talk about our expectations. Simple steps and micro progress goals ensure we are on the same page. This gives him a change to share with me all the items I did not anticipate (and time needed) and I can express my priorities to him.
We learned early on that it is really REALLY hard to take the picture in your head, turn it into words, and understand if the other person can see the same thing. We recognized this and have leaned on new tools to help mitigate the frustration. Pinterest? Awesome for showing examples of specific details and what we want. Drawing? Helpful, but still hard. The best tool? Taking a deep breath and acknowledging out loud it is hard and frustrating. Then working through it together. Sounds simple but it really takes some practice.
On Design Ideas
I like muted colors. Matt likes bright. But this is OUR home and we will both need to be happy with the end result and aesthetic. How do we make design decisions? Take. Our. Time. I also learned that my default is to shoot down any new idea. Not one of my finest qualities and I am working on it. If you give me a few days I may come around to some of them anyway. We take extra time to really think about our design decisions, even if it means extending our schedule. If we are really pinched, be gracious and each take a particular piece and make decisions based on individual preferences. With paint, the best approach for us was for me to pick out 8-10 paint colors I could live with, and Matt gets the final call.
Take a Break
Going hard at any house project is exhausting. You are living in disarray, extra expenses are piling up, nerves are frazzled, you are tired/frustrated/etc…so take a break. Our #1 rule: no working after 5PM. Now if you are doing all you remodel after coming home from a typical work this may not apply, but keep it in mind; especially on weekends. It seriously helps avoid burnout (and mistakes and injury!) Plan a picnic dinner out, weekend away, or a full on vacation. Acknowledge that this pause will help you successfully push through the next phase and come back with fresh eyes…and perhaps a few new ideas!
Follow along with our remodel and homesteading adventures at our blog or on Instagram @vashonturtle.
Lauren is a homesteader and blogger on Vashon Island. She balances her time between a professional program manager career in Seattle and DIY remodels, gardening, sellingseaglass mobiles on Etsy and running a weddingand events company with her husband Matt.