Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Design duo dishes out remodel survival tactics

From page HS4 | July 26, 2013 |

Some married couples, Lord knows how, work together in business. Some couples, heaven help them, remodel together. Jennifer and Steve Clark of Lafayette, Calif., somehow, do both.

The Clarks, who have been married seven years and have three kids, not only team up to renovate other homeowner’s 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 over the years. Of course, we now live in separate states. So you see how that worked out.

From experience, I would just say that many couples who have been through a remodel would rather light their hair on fire and sleep on a bed of glass shards than renovate with their mates.

This is because humans like, no, rely on, stability, consistency and routine. 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 foundation, literally, and your privacy, unless you’re used to encountering strange men in your home while you’re still in your nightgown. And it makes fool’s gold of your finances.

On a scale of one to 10, 10 being you accidentally ran a car over your parent, home remodeling is a 12. But, sometimes it works out, as the Clarks, who have had plenty of practice, will attest.

I talked to the Clarks, and can tell you, their success isn’t because one is meek as a daffodil while the other bull runs his or her way into reality, though that combination can work. On the contrary, the Clarks both have formidable personalities, and run their own separate companies.

He’s a general contractor and owns RFC, a residential construction company. She’s a real estate agent and owns The Home Co., a realty, design and staging firm.

Four years ago, they began collaborating on each other’s projects, when neither could help injecting themselves in the other’s work.

“Honestly, a lot of times I would butt in when I heard him talking about paint color,” said Jennifer. “I couldn’t let him paint a house a horrible color, so I would dive in.”

Steve agreed that 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.

Along the way, they have had to figure out how to do that and stay happily married. Though clashes happen even for this well-oiled machine, here’s how they resolve common areas of conflict:

Common clashes:

  • Money.  “We’ll set a budget,” said Steve, “and we always go 25 to 30 percent over.” While that’s pretty standard in most remodels, Steve would like to bring costs closer to estimates. But if Jennifer feels strongly about a $1,400 vanity that puts the project over budget, they look for other places to cut. “If we were talking about a vacation to Hawaii, we may decide to go to Lake Tahoe instead,” said Steve. “If we’re going to splurge somewhere, we have to recapture somewhere else.”
  • Masculine vs. feminine. Couples often clash over design that’s more female (colorful) or more male (industrial). The Clarks are no exception. “Wallpaper, for instance, guys tend to think is over-the-top feminine,” said Jennifer, “so we compromise, and just do one accent wall, which makes a statement, but we don’t cover the whole room.”
  • Timing. “Nobody wants to live in a renovation, so the key to keeping conflict down on the home front is to minimize the under-construction period by good planning,” said Jennifer. “Have everything selected before you start.” Use Pintrest to create a mood board. Pin your vision there, pulling together images of inspirational rooms, tiles, light fixtures, paint colors and fabric swatches. Then tear your place up.
  • Give options, negotiate. Whoever leads the design decisions should give their partner choices. “I need to give Steve options, because it’s his home, too.” So when it’s time to pick a chandelier, she will pick four she likes, and ask Steve to pick one. However, he adds, if Jennifer must have a light fixture he isn’t crazy about, they negotiate. “I say, if we go with your chandelier can we upgrade the TV from a 48-inch to a 52-inch?”

Survival tactics:

  • Play to your partner’s strengths. Know what your partner does better than you. In the Clarks’ case, Steve appreciates Jennifer’s decisiveness. “She can look at three colors, pick one and go.” Jennifer likes Steve’s leadership skills. Steve served in the Army, so “He really can whip his crews into shape,” she said. When working on a home project, her decisiveness combined with his ability to keep the crew moving make an efficient team.
  • Use professional courtesy. Even though you’re married, treat each other like professionals. “I sometimes speak to Jennifer as if she were one of my soldiers or employees. She has to remind me that she has her own company and is a professional. She’s right. We should treat each other better than our employees, and better than our clients.”
  • When tempers flare. “We definitely have our moments and exchange looks that say ‘I can’t stand you right now,’” Jennifer said. To restore peace, they try to hear each other out. They also know when to step away and cool off, and when to agree to disagree. “Eventually, we both know that when we consider our family and future together, nothing is worth fighting over,” she says. “Plus, we love doing this, and know that together we can create something even bigger and better.”

Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through





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