by Amy Dorsch Heavilin of Vivacious Victorian
One of my goals in life has been to take down the (as I call it) the HGTV myth : that restoring a house, or taking on a renovation, is an automatic death blow to any relationship. Of course, TV shows are meant for drama, and I’m sure a lot of people DO get into spats during the stress of a renovation. But everyone is different! And when people find out that we’re restoring a 4,700 square foot Victorian by ourselves, the first question is usually, “How haven’t you killed each other?” People are so fascinated that we can be involved in such a long-term project and still adore each other after 14 years of marriage – and multiple renovations. But it’s TRUE. In fact, I’ll argue that the renovation of our house has made us a stronger couple, and a stronger partnership.
I’m not naïve enough to think that our experience is the rule. I know it’s not. But I wish that people wouldn’t exclude a fixer upper from their future, just because they think it’ll cause issues. If you like working with your hands, if you like CREATING, if you like puzzles and solving problems, if you like making a space to works for you – then jump on board. It’s the best.
There is Coziness in Finished Spaces
When we bought our Victorian, my mother’s initial reaction was, “This is the weirdest house ever. Some of these rooms are fine, and the others look like they need to be rebuilt.” She wasn’t wrong – that’s what water damage does: pockets of destruction. So, you might have a giant house, but if only two rooms are habitable, you get to hang out with each other a lot more! It really is cozy, and creative, and makes you feel like you’re on an adventure! You probably don’t want to stay in this stage forever – everyone needs room to breathe and think and BE – but you learn a lot about each other when you are living within just a couple of rooms. Also, it’s GREAT motivation for moving fast to get a few more spaces done.
Old Houses are Inherently Romantic
It doesn’t get more romantic than that! There are features of old houses and charms within them that just show you that you’re living somewhere special. And that makes you feel special. The things about old houses – wood, age, patina, hand-carved moulding, nooks, craftsmanship, fireplaces, giant windows, clawfoot tubs, large porches, giant trees, stained glass – I could go on. AND ON. There’s a reason that people love quaint B&Bs for a weekend away. You feel wrapped in warmth and history. And I don’t think that you take it for granted when you truly love an old house. When you live in something special, your life feels special. And that’s pretty awesome. Your house isn’t someplace you live – it’s a character in the novel of your life.
Drafty Homes are Perfect for Cuddling
Speaking of the quirks of old houses – yes, they tend to be drafty. (And this is where I like to scream that restoring windows is SO MUCH BETTER than replacing them, so do that!). So, when your house gets cold, throw on some layers, put on a fire, make some s’mores, and snuggle under a blanket. It’s the best way to watch a movie or take a break from the house.
Prepare for Some FASCINATING Dates
I like movies, but I’ve never been a fan of going to the movies as a date. I like talking to people too much. When you have an old house, you end up doing so many interesting things because you have to learn about your house, and then you have SO MUCH to talk about. Bookstores to look for books for your DIY collection, Historical Societies to research your house. Workshops on Window Restoration. Staying at a B&B to see what a finished house looks like. Home tours, where you can be inspired by looking through other people’s houses. Late night trips to the hardware store because you need something. There isn’t a rut of “Dinner and a Movie” all the time, because you can’t think of anything else. But, watching “Money Pit” should definitely be a once-a-year date night plan!
No Money? No Problem!
Then, there are times that you can’t go on dates even if you wanted to, because the last project sucked all the money from your bank account and you just have to let it build back up. This seems like it would be miserable, but it really makes you creative. We’ll dive into old books that we haven’t looked at in a while, to try and plan the next project. We’ll use it as time to try and organize the utter chaos of our lives when we’re in the middle of a project. We’ll have people over for themed dinner parties, or porch parties, and everyone pitches in food. We’ll play board games, or cards, and make some ridiculous bet on the outcome (he wins most card game, but I win most Monopoly games). Our house is big, and will take years to restore. So sometimes, you just make a bowl of ice cream, and sit on the floor of some room that’s WAY down the list, and start falling in love with the room. And that’s really fun.
You’re Making a Home
When you start talking about all of these rooms, it brings out a level of communication that I think is – for us – our own form of marriage counselling. It’s true. Maybe people in cookie cutter houses do this too, but I really think it’s a product of restoration. When you’re designing a room, and trying to figure out where you need lighting, and what kind of furniture you need, and how the plumbing should be…. You get into deep discussions on how you LIVE. And how you want your day-to-day lives to function. And when you get in a conversation about NIGHT STANDS, because you might only have space or money to build, not buy, and you realize that you both have completely different expectations of that piece of furniture. I need at least one drawer, because I want to hide some things away, but know they’re always there. He needs a top large enough to hold a couple of books. And, maybe lamps are awful, because they take up room on that top, so maybe we want pendants, or wall-mounted sconces. And I get migraines that are light-sensitive, so he wants to make sure I can control every bit of light in every room, so he puts dimmer switches EVERYWHERE. When you plan a space, you talk about how you want to live your life, and what’s important to you. And it’s really fantastic to know that you know – specifically – why your partner wants to build a headboard that has upholstery on it. Because reading at night is important. Or why your wife (who has had surgery on her vocal cords) wants to put an instant hot water feature in the Butler’s pantry, because she wants tea to be as easy as possible when things get sore. You can build a house that loves you back. And you learn so much about your spouse or partner in the process.
(Sidenote : This doesn’t mean you get everything you want. I won the great Rain Showerhead Debacle of ’11, and Doug was CONVINCED he would hate it, but decided I could have something I really wanted, as long as I would concede something somewhere else. Fun fact? He now doesn’t want anything BUT rain showerheads. So sometimes you lose, but you end up winning in the end.)
It’s Fine Dining, Done the Creative Way
I realize I am absolutely in the minority here, but I really enjoyed not having a kitchen when we were building a new one. I HATED washing dishes in the kitchen sink – we both did – but the cooking part wasn’t nearly the nightmare that I thought it would be. We had to be specific about planning menus, both for logistical reasons, and for cost, and so we talked about food. A lot. We didn’t eat out or have pizza all the time. And when you talk about food, and plan around making sure that you eat something you love at least a couple of times a week, it’s really nice. And when you make menus, you’re constantly aware that life is in chaos, and this is something you can control, and you can make food that makes you both happy. We made a game of it : how fancy can we cook in a toaster oven? Or an electric griddle? On the HGTV show that I host in my imagination, I would totally have a cooking segment on recipes that are fantastic without a kitchen.
Candlelight is the Most Romantic Thing Ever
Along with no kitchen, you’ll have times when you don’t have electricity. Maybe it’s for an hour, or maybe a few days. Instead of getting cranky, have a candlelight dinner, and think about how your house was run in the days before electricity! Reading, cooking, eating, talking by candle light…. It’s really lovely. It’s the ultimate way to unplug.
It’s the Gift that Keeps on Giving
I’ve never been a fancy jewelry gal – my wedding ring is the only expensive piece that I have, and that’s perfect. Owning an old house, we find that we never, ever run out of present ideas for each other, because the house needs so much. The house gets the jewelry – a chandelier, a piece of stained glass – not me. And that is perfect. If I got a necklace for every major birthday, I would never be able to wear them all at once (unless I woke up tacky overnight). But when I walk through the house and see the chandelier I got for my 30th birthday every day, that brings a whole new meaning of special to me. And maybe a router doesn’t seem like a romantic gift for Doug, but with it, he creates and learns and builds our home, or builds furniture for us. And the pride and joy and love in what we create, is so crazy awesome. Another fun idea, is giving the traditional anniversary gift for each year, as a gift to the house. Maybe paper is a book on how to fix something. For copper (Seventh Anniversary), we outfitted a dresser-turned-vanity with a copper sink. And when we moved, we took it with us, and replaced it in out last house with an equally beautiful piece. Sometimes you have to be creative, but that’s the fun of it!
You’re Building a Foundation. Literally, and Figuratively
When you restore a house, you are constantly learning. Constantly working. Constantly failing and succeeding. And that carries on to other aspects of your life. Sometimes, you’re mentally frustrated with things, and your partner helps you cool off. Sometimes, a door handle on the third floor breaks, and you’re trapped in a small room with only a can of spray paint, a chandelier, and a bottle of water for an hour until your husband who is working two floors down wonders why he hasn’t seen you in a while and comes to say hi and finally hears you screaming (true story). You realize so quickly that you don’t have all the answers or all the solutions, but most of the time, the other person fills in. I can’t unscrew anything with force. He can’t sew or identify colors. But we recognize the other person’s weaknesses, and complement each other. It’s nice that 14 years into our marriage, we both still manage to impress the hell out of each other. I’ll design a space that knocks him over, and he’ll build something that I never thought could be done. And that’s pretty great. It’s never boring. And we’re always learning. And we always have fun, even when something doesn’t go right. Which is good, because we have 17 rooms still to go!
When you find something that feeds your soul creatively – like restoring a house has done for us – latch onto it. And if you share that passion with someone, it’s phenomenal. All relationships have their ups and downs, but truly, we have way more ups – because we have learned to love and thrive in the chaos. We embrace the insanity around us. And nothing’s more romantic than being on an adventure, all of the time, with someone you know is going to catch you when you fall.