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At Home: Design duo's tips on how to survive remodeling

July 26, 2013 

Some married couples work together in business. Some couples remodel together. Jennifer and Steve Clark, heaven help them, do both.

The Clarks, who have been married seven years and have three kids, not only team up to renovate properties, but they also regularly tear up their own living space.

I don’t mean to be discouraging. I’m all for couples collaborating on home improvement. I personally have built or rebuilt three homes with my spouse. Of course, we now live in separate states, so you see how that worked out.

I would just say that many couples who have been through a remodel would rather sleep on a bed of glass shards than renovate with their mates.

This is because humans need stability, consistency and routine, and remodeling upends all that. It wreaks havoc on daily patterns. All of a sudden you’re doing dishes in the bathtub and brushing your teeth in the garden hose.

It compromises your privacy, unless you’re used to encountering strange men while you’re still in your nightgown. And it makes fool’s gold of your finances.

I talked to the Clarks, of Lafayette, Calif. He’s a general contractor and owns RFC, a residential construction company. She’s a real estate agent and owns The Home Co., a real estate sales, design and staging firm.

Four years ago, they began collaborating on each other’s projects in a more formal arrangement than they had previously.

Steve agreed his construction clients could benefit from his wife’s design and home-staging advice, while Jennifer’s real estate clients often needed renovation work Steve could do.

So far, they have collaborated on 15 residential renovations for others, and a few for their own home.

Here are their tips to minimize common areas of conflict:

• Set a budget – then assume most projects will go 25 to 30 percent over it. To bring expenses closer to estimates, balance splurges with savings. If Jennifer feels strongly about a $1,400 vanity that puts the project over budget, they look for other places to cut.

• Balance your styles. Couples often clash over a color-filled “female” design and one that feels more “male.” The Clarks are no exception. Wallpaper, for example, seems feminine to many guys. “So we compromise, and just do one accent wall,” Jennifer said.

• Plan it out. Good planning can minimize the construction period. “Have everything selected before you start,” Jennifer said. Use Pinterest to create a mood board, pulling together images of inspirational rooms, tiles, light fixtures, paint colors and fabric swatches.

• Offer choices. Whoever leads the design decisions should give the partner a chance to weigh in. “I need to give Steve options, because it’s his home, too,” Jennifer said. So when it’s time to pick a chandelier, for example, she finds four she likes and asks Steve to pick one.

Once the work starts, use these strategies to help keep the process moving smoothly:

• Play to your partner’s strengths. Steve appreciates Jennifer’s decisiveness: “She can look at three colors, pick one and go.” A former military guy, Steve “really can whip his crews into shape,” according to Jennifer. The combination of her decisiveness and his ability to keep the crew moving make an efficient team.

• Use professional courtesy. “I sometimes speak to Jennifer as if she were one of my soldiers or employees,” Steve admitted. “We should treat each other better than our employees, and better than our clients.”

• Keep tempers in check. They try to hear each other out, and they also know when to step away and cool off. “Eventually, we both know that when we consider our family and future together, nothing is worth fighting over,” Jennifer said.


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