The Ultimate Test of Love: Redecorating

Of all of the tests that couples endure together, perhaps none are so trying as a redecorating project.   It’s a multifaceted event involving shopping, planning, achieving consensus, and last but not least, many hours spent painting, sanding, etc.  Ask any couple about their redecorating experience and you’re sure to hear some exasperated sighs and funny stories (that weren’t so funny at the time).  In my case, my wife and I came to a deadlock on plaid versus paisley for a living room chair.  For what seemed like days, a palpable tension hung over our fabric swatches and sketches like a VOC fog in an unventilated room.  Since then, I’ve tried to learn more about how couples can complete a successful and happy renovation. 

I was watching a home renovation show recently in which a group of decorators descended on a suburban home and completely redid the space.  At the unveiling, the couple looked aghast.  To the chagrin of the surprised TV host, the wife blurted out, “This is horrible!”  I thought this is reality television at its best!  How true to life!  When only one party takes charge of a project, chances are the space will not address everyone’s needs and tastes.  Sometimes the results are downright disastrous.

Perhaps it is the plethora of these types of shows that has created so much interest in redecorating.  We see our homes as a blank slate rich with infinite possibilities.  We hope to turn our outdated décor into something chic and wonderful.  We watch the pros wield staple guns, scissors, saws and hammers with grace and ease and quite reasonably assume we can do something somewhat similar. 

As hard as it may be to accept, both people in a couple may not share an equal interest in the project, even if the home needs to be updated in preparation for a sale or sorely needs some modernizations.  The crucial step before starting a major redecorating project is to agree on which rooms need to be updated and the scope of the renovation.  It may take weeks to complete the project and gaining agreement from both sides will make those weeks much more pleasant!   For some couples, agreeing on every colour of paint and type of fabric is problematic.  When they compromise on everything, neither person is ever completely satisfied.  One solution is to divide up the project, each taking charge of a different room or area where they can express their style. 

The Plan:

  • Decide where each other’s strengths lay.  Perhaps one of you has a great eye for colour and the other person is good at visualizing three-dimensional spaces and how best to arrange furniture.  A redecorating project might just be an opportunity for both people to learn some new skills.
  • Agree to a budget.  Redecorating can be an emotional and expensive experience.  It’s not unheard of for a whole project to come to a screeching halt because one person insists that only the most expensive drapery or flooring will suffice. 
  • Decide on the purpose of each room.  Do you need an office, a library, or a crafts room?  If space is limited, does it need to double as a guest room on occasion?  Do you need to plan ahead for children? 
  • Talk to your spouse about their decorating expectations.  It’s better to find out what style your spouse is envisioning before work begins.  Do you and your spouse share the same style such as sleek and minimal modern, comfortable farmhouse, breezy West Coast, serene Asian-influenced, and so on?  Choosing a feel for the room doesn’t necessarily mean you will end up with a style that looks like it came right out of a magazine.  By using some of your current furniture and accessories, you will create a fusion of styles, not to mention save money.
  • Set a schedule taking into consideration any deadlines you may have such as visiting relatives or Christmas holidays.  It’s a good idea to set a deadline even if you don’t have any pressing engagements to create some structure.

Break down your project into manageable pieces:

  • Keeping in mind the budget, purpose and style you have established, peruse decorating magazines and home décor stores to gather ideas.  Take photos and make notes as you shop in order to avoid lapses in memory and disagreements later on.
  • Bring home samples and swatches of paint and fabric to see how they look in your home.   Home decorating software is available to help you plan out your new design.  Alternately, you can take digital photographs, download them onto your computer, then use photo-editing software to experiment with the colour of the walls, floors, furniture etc. 
  • Try to reach agreement with your spouse on as many details as possible in the planning stage.  It is easier to make adjustments before any renovation work has begun.
  • If you need to order furniture, fabric, flooring, etc. do so at this point.  Never assume that just because a store has something on the shelf that they can deliver it at a moment’s notice.  Allow extra time for custom orders.  Likewise, you probably don’t want to receive your order before you’re ready.  Try to arrange with the sales person to hold your order at the store if it arrives early.  The best time to do this is before you make a purchase. 
  • Decide whether you will need to rent or buy equipment and if you should hire extra help. 
  • Remove old furniture.  Decide what you would like to sell, give to charity and put in the trash.  This can be a tough one.  Over the years, we get attached to certain items like a favourite armchair but it may not fit into the new decorating scheme.  Rather than getting rid of everything that doesn’t work in the new décor, consider some innovative solutions: reupholster or refinish furniture, and try rearranging accessories and furniture into new configurations. 
  • Once the clutter has been removed, do major work such as rewiring for new lights, painting, and/or changing the flooring.  If you don’t plan to change the flooring, now would be a good opportunity to sand and refinish hardwood and steam clean carpets.  Allow time in your schedule for walls and floors to dry. 
  • Arrange new and old furniture and accessories in the various rooms then step back and enjoy your work.
  • What starts out as a compromise can become a synergy of talents and style.  The final result may be something more attractive and liveable than either person could have achieved alone.  And isn’t that what being a couple is all about?

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