Everything I Learned From Renovating a House With My S.O.

Kristen Bousquet
Everything I Learned From Renovating a House With My S.O.
Photo: Shutterstock/Lindsey Lanquist.

There comes a moment in most relationships when it’s time to take the next step—it’s time to move in together. Maybe you’ve been paying separate rents for too long, and you can no longer tolerate the waste of money. Maybe you’ve been functionally living together already, and it’s time to get rid of that extraneous other apartment. Or maybe you’ve been dating for so long that you’re honestly kind of shocked you haven’t moved in together already.

For me, this moment came at the beginning of 2018. Andrew, my boyfriend of two years, and I decided to move in together. And after eight months of that, we decided to take the next next step—one inarguably more challenging than living together. We decided it was time for us to buy and renovate a house together. (When you know, you know—right?)

This wasn’t a last-minute decision—quite the contrary. We’d been talking about purchasing a home for a while. Still, the opportunity fell into our laps a lot sooner than we anticipated. We had the chance to snag a 1958 fixer-upper in our neighborhood of choice. And we took it.

Though the house was built 60 years ago, it was in pretty good shape. The original owner was the only owner, which meant it hadn’t encountered too much wear and tear. That said, it had basically become an old woman’s paradise. We’re talking walls covered in layer after layer of floral wallpaper (that had clearly been caked on over the years)—and doors that had clearly been treated like scratching posts by the previous owner’s cats.

The house needed an aesthetic tune-up and a structural update. But we were up to the challenge.

The only issue? My boyfriend and I rarely fight. In fact, over the course of our nearly three-year relationship, we’ve really only bickered here and there. Moving in together had gone smoothly, but I worried tackling a challenge like this would upend our harmonious dynamic. Thankfully, it didn’t really—and I attribute our success to a few tips and tricks I picked up along the way.

1. Make it clear what responsibilities belong to whom.

I’m a total Type A gal, so I tried to keep the entire renovation process as organized as possible—hoping this would keep the miscommunication to a minimum. I started by creating a note on my cell phone that basically functioned like a to-do list. I shared the note with Andrew and made it collaborative so we could both edit and update it at any time.

I wasn’t the only one writing out the to-do list, either. In fact, Andrew and I carved out a night to sit down together and run through everything that needed to get done. Because we were doing all the work ourselves, we clearly designated the responsibilities in the note so that he and I would both know exactly what was expected of each of us.

2. Invest in things that can help keep the peace in the long run.

After we divided up the major responsibilities, we took note of the smaller things we’d need to do to. This meant touching up paint, dusting and—unfortunately—vacuum. Neither of us were particularly into the idea of vacuuming, so we did ourselves a favor and bought a Roomba we could unleash in our new home once we were finished with the overhauls.

This was, of course, an investment—especially because we were already spending so much money on the major renovations. But it was totally worth it. After getting our beloved Roomba, we never fought about things being dusty, cluttered, dirty, anything.

3. Know you’re going to have to compromise.

No matter how many times your partner assures you that they don’t care how you decorate the house, they do. They’ll be living there, too. So as much as I wanted to paint our walls pastel colors and hang framed inspirational quotes all over the place, I kept reminding myself this wasn’t just my home—it was our home.

Not only did I keep my Pinterest instincts in check, but I also asked Andrew what he thought abut something before I bought it. (And he was honest with me about whether something was too pink or too girly when necessary.) Of course, compromise is key. So sometimes we bought art I really loved that he wasn’t super into, and other times, we bought art he really loved that I wasn’t super into. The result is a place that feels like ours. Not too much Kristen. Not too much Andrew. Both of us.

Kellie Sirna, principal and co-founder at Studio 11 Design Firm, also offered some valuable advice on compromising when it comes to aesthetic. “When moving in with a partner, it is important to understand which design preferences to give on, and which accents or elements are essential to creating your ideal space,” she notes. “When approaching co-designing with another, both people should identify their design wants and needs [on the front end].” Then, she recommends clearly prioritizing stuff on that list. So if something is really important to you, make that clear. If you’d be down to compromise on something, make that clear. “[This] will lay a good foundation for an enjoyable and stress-free experience,” she says.

4. Have a third eye when you need one.

Even when you’re doing great at the whole compromising thing, sometimes, things will come up that you just cannot agree on. For us, it was the grout we should use for our kitchen backsplash. I know, I know—who cares about grout? It’s just a few small lines in between some tiles. But I was absolutely convinced it would make a big difference in the overall look and feel of the kitchen.

I wanted to keep things ultra-simple with white grout, while Andrew thought white would look too plain—he preferred gray, instead. Naturally, we went back and forth presenting our cases as seriously as we might if we were trying someone for murder. I did research. I showed examples of how absolutely wonderful white grout could look. And Andrew did the same.

After spending way too much time discussing the merits of various shades of grout, we decided to get a third opinion. Andrew’s brother, who helped us a ton with the remodel, served as our dealbreaker, and we decided to go with gray. (He brought up some great points!) Whether it’s from a friend, family member or even a professional, sometimes an unbiased opinion (or even a new point of view) can get you from Point A to Point B a lot faster than you can get there yourselves.

Minor quarrels aside, I’m here to let you know that renovating a home with your significant other can be and incredible and deeply fulfilling experience.

Just remember, nothing good comes easy. You’re going to have to work at it—just like you have to work at your actual relationship—but keep in mind, you just bought a house! That’s a huge accomplishment, and renovating it is a huge one, too.

When things get tough, take a breather and reflect on the amazing things you have done and will continue to do with your partner by your side. No matter how important an argument about grout may seem, the life you’re building together is even more important. Keep your eye on the prize: a stunning house you and your partner will undoubtedly fill with memories.