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10 Truths About Renovating With Your Partner

I wrote this piece for Houzz a while back; Houzz is where I spend my working days – come and say hello over there some time. From a survey we'd done a while back it seemed that, for many, renovating with a significant other can be an emotional rollercoaster. So it is an apt piece to share over the Bank Holiday weekend, I thought, when many of us may have been tackling a spot of decorating with our beloveds.

Given the expense, the barrage of daily decisions to be made and, of course, the fact that you – literally – have to live with the results, it’s perhaps unsurprising that many of us have found working on a project with our nearest and dearest rather challenging. In fact, 48% of Houzzers in the UK found renovating with their partner to be ‘frustrating’, 33% said it was ‘difficult’, and 17% even described it as ‘painful’. Can you relate? If so, you’ll recognise these home truths about the process.

Photo, Brian O'Tuama Architects, via Houzz

1 You might have different motivations
While some renovators are spurred on by an image of the finished project – a pristine kitchen extension like this one, for example – others simply aren’t quite as driven by the idea of completion. Which can be, like, really annoying for both parties.

DIY projects are fertile ground for this kind of couple discontentment. If you’re in the former camp, you will be infuriated that a person can sleep at night having paused halfway through the re-grouting project two months ago! If you’re in the latter, you will vainly argue for quality of life, weekends off and the importance of mental rest.

This kind of relaxed attitude, of course, does not extend to a relaxed response when said partner is prodded towards completion; the ‘doer’ will tread carefully, itching to get in there and finish it themselves, or grumbling to get someone in.

But if this is you, be warned: the repercussions of ‘taking over’ may be greater than the satisfaction of seeing the work finished. Throughout this impasse, a comfortable resentment will blossom between you.

2 The paint aisle can be a dangerous place
Decorating should be the fun part of a renovation project, the final polish when you can enjoy making creative decisions about colours and finishes.

But when there are two of you making those decisions, ‘fun’ may not be the first adjective you’d both use – especially in the aisles of your local DIY store. Here, the stage is set for one of you to demonstrate theatrical disbelief that the other doesn’t know the difference between oil-based and water-based gloss / eggshell and satinwood. How can a person get this far in life without such basic knowledge?! (And doesn’t everyone know the difference between Hague Blue and Stiffkey Blue?)

Defensiveness from the accused party will (understandably) ensue, as will amused glances from fellow shoppers, each of whom will feel your pain – unless, of course, they’re single and blissfully autonomous when it comes to DIY. (By the way, if you recognise the accent paint shade in this kitchen, you are almost certainly the theatrical one in this stressy shopping situation.)

3 The worker bears the brunt
When you first embark on a DIY renovation, or perhaps just some redecorating together, forget those happy paint adverts, where smiling couples laugh and joke as they paint the nursery together, or those content-looking husbands or wives bringing their relaxed-looking beloved a cuppa and harmoniously surveying the hard work.

This status quo is a privileged one, earned only by those who’ve done their time at the coalface of communal redecoration, gained a deeper understanding of one another, and made (and stuck to) some serious relationship promises. The reality is that the person without the paintbrush will:
a) Dislike the colour upon seeing so much of it for the first time (and the painter, having spent several hours on the job, will not agree).
b) Ask why the skirting boards weren’t masked better.
c) Get quite passionate about whether or not the radiator should have been painted.

You can read the rest of this piece over at Houzz.

My House: A Basic But Happy-making Ikea Hack

As Ikea hacks go, giving one of the Swedish homeware giant's classic Frosta stools a paintjob is as simple as they come. But sometimes simple is what's required – especially in my house where colour and pattern can get a little carried away together.

I found this sorry looking stool on the way back from a dogwalk, sitting sadly outside someone's house with a note saying 'take me'.

I've got into a habit of painting everything black lately (more of that anon) and thought I should deviate. The stairs in our house are painted several different colours, I'm kind of tiring of them to be honest but the effort it took to paint five flights, even though they're very small flights, hasn't yet faded and so they're staying.

Bear with me: this is relevant because, to rein in the visual chaos that's easy to get when you're a bit of a collector, as I am, I find a house palette is a helpful thing. And my stairs pretty much dictate that palette. (That they might be the chief cause of visual chaos is something best unsaid until there is energy to repaint them.) Anyway, here they are.

I have a box full of all the paints used for them. There was quite a lot left in the tin containing the blue of the bottom stair. So that was the stool's destiny. First some sanding.

I had actually been going to paint the top, but its clean, smooth paleness was so pleasing once sanded that I wanted to keep it exposed. Legs it would be then.

By the way, yes the garden tiles are filthy. They got a good wash after these photos, but they never look close to pristine. I have made peace with this.

It looked pretty good with white primer and I was nearly swayed, in my trying-to-be-more-minimalist enthusiasm, but also a little cold. The blue is a rich, warm blue. Greek island blue.

Annoyingly, I opted to mask everything off carefully rather than simply unscrewing the legs. The masking actually took longer and turned out to have been a waste of time as I couldn't pick all the tape off afterwards and the messy bits, even though they were underneath the stool, really bothered me. So off the legs came.

Back to the sander. I picked off all that paint I'd put all over the screws, too.

I wasn't sure what to do with the top – Danish oil, perhaps?

The garden table you can see in the background further up has been oiled and it looks great, but it's an outdoor table and I like it being a bit richer in colour in that context. I tried wetting the stool's surface to see how the wood changed colour and considered some kind of limewash to highlight the paleness, but what I had in the cupboard, and what I thought would let that nicely exposed birch ply shine through the best, in fact, was matt varnish. I painted it over the tabletop and over the legs, to protect them from chipping (and getting ruined when I spill tea over them).

And now here it is in its new home, picking up the blue in the Dutch wax cloth DIY valence (it's stapled to the top of an ugly divan base) and looking happy next to the bright yellow Parker Knoll, revamped by Jay Blades, now of Jay and Co, which you can read about here.

Lovely Places: Foxfire Mountain House, New York

The roof is down on the convertible Mustang. Twinkling in the sun, the mountainsides and their gentle peaks are lush with midsummer greenery. Pristine lake after pristine lake is making you feel kind of romantic. You might find yourself humming 'Hey Baby' by Bruce Channel*. Welcome to the Catskills, upstate New York.

That this is the area where 'Dirty Dancing' was set is only one of two reasons I shaped an entire mini US road trip around it. (But it was a deadly serious reason. I loved, loved, loved that film as a kid. I still love it as an adult and was more than a little overexcited about being in the very lakes and mountains where it was set.) The other reason is the Foxfire Mountain House, just outside the town of Phonecia at Mount Tremper, which became a dream destination when I ogled photos of of it on the Remodelista newsletter. It's lucky Foxfire turned out to be one of the most beautiful places I've ever stayed, since disappointment was on the horizon elsewhere...

* This hummable song, some may recall, features in this rather famous scene in the soundtrack to the 1987 film