As if planning a wedding isn’t stressful enough, imagine gutting and renovating your house at the same time. That’s exactly what Adam and Erica Finestone did to their Pennsport home, built around 1860.
It wasn’t easy; they have very different design styles. Though they admit to some high anxiety moments, now, three years later, they remain happily married and love their house.
“He likes a new, modern feel to a home, while I like an older, more antique feel,” said Erica, a special education teacher in Springfield, Delaware County.
There was a lot of compromising. For example, Erica felt strongly that they keep the home’s original wooden floors, but that involved a lot of time in sweat equity. They had to go through about three layers to get to the original floor, something Adam, a Realtor with Compass, wasn’t expecting.
“I remember Adam was there one night super late with his face mask on, digging up tar that was stuck to the wood flooring,” Erica recalled. “He came back with bloody knuckles.”
In the end, the nine-month project was a success. They both love the house and learned a lot about compromise.
“If you can remodel an entire house while planning your wedding, you can make it through anything,” said Erica.
The Finestones’ experience isn’t unusual. In 2018, long before COVID-19 kept many of us in the same home 24/7, the Houzz Remodeling & Relationships Survey found that more than half of respondents involved in a home project with their significant other claimed it was a collaborative and fulfilling experience. One-third, however, found the process frustrating, and 7% even considered separation or divorce during the project.
The process of redesigning a home can be stressful for any couple, especially now when most of us are home together, said Suzie Pileggi Pawelski, a positive psychology expert based in Society Hill and author of Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts.
“If we can agree on, psychologically, what we want the home to look like, maybe we can compromise better to make decisions, whether they are budgetary or design,” said Pileggi Pawelski, who encourages couples to discuss their individual goals before getting started.
There will be disagreements because we’re unique individuals and should understand it’s OK to have different ideas, she said. The focus should be on how you argue. Avoid attacking each other’s character when one of you feels disrespected, because that’s a sign of an unhealthy relationship.
“Take a deep breath and be calm,” she said. “First, we have to control our own emotion so we can approach our partner in a thoughtful and loving way.”
Each member of the couple should work to their strengths. She recommended trying a free survey from the nonprofit Via Institute on Character, based in Cincinnati, which, in about 15 minutes, lists your top five strengths.
“If I have a top strength of creativity and my husband’s is maybe analytical thinking, when we’re working on the house together, we can plan in advance what person is working on what aspects of the design,” she said.
If there’s more argument than agreement and you aren’t making progress, it may be time for some professional help. A designer can play middle man, in addition to having a keen sense of style.
“I’m known for being able to blend those styles, listen to the clients, and create a design that’s tailored for them,” said Christina Henck, owner and senior designer at Henck Design in Queen Village. “I can make both people happy, which is sometimes quite a feat!”
To help her clients be aligned on their budget, she provides tiered proposals so they can see what’s possible at different cost levels. She also serves as tiebreaker when the couple can’t seem to agree.
“My goal is not to be a marriage counselor but to try to be the voice of reason and advise them to the best of my ability without overstepping,” she said. “It’s about balancing personalities, managing expectations, building trust, and getting results.”
Neeraj Jassal and Monica Jindia needed that kind of help when they bought their home in Bella Vista in 2019. While they both like a modern look, Jindia wanted to weave in some of her Indian cultural background.
“We hired a designer because we were coming from two households, and we needed all new furniture to try to design this 4,000-plus-square-foot home,” said Jindia, who works at Commonwealth Land Title Insurance Co. in Philadelphia.
One of their biggest challenges was agreeing on what items to purge from those two homes. For Jindia, that meant leaving some artwork behind because Jassal, a photography enthusiast, was excited to finally have wall space to showcase some of his photos from trips the couple had taken. Jassal, a Realtor with Rosedale Real Estate in Queen Village, had to purge his old Ikea furniture.
The couple interviewed several designers, ultimately choosing Henck, who they felt best understood their goals. She had them make individual Pinterest boards with their own vision of what each room should look like.
“She did a really good job taking into consideration the things that were important to me and also to Monica and marrying those thoughts together to deliver something we are happy with,” Jassal said.
It’s often a volley, Henck said, in which each partner must get some wins, while also giving up some things. Her role is to give her best advice from the perspective of the overall project. For example, if one partner wants to keep an old, comfy chair, she might point out whether it fits in with the overall style of the room. There are typically many decisions to make — furniture, window treatments, lighting, artwork, paint color, to name just a few — and they are all subjective.
She also reminds clients that the relationship with her works both ways. They must value her time, which means keeping the project moving with quick responses to her questions and suggestions, and providing appropriate feedback.
“It’s a design process, and they need to participate,” she said. “They can’t hold up the project because it could affect the timeline. It’s very important that clients are able to make decisions on time.”
For Henck, it comes down to gaining her clients’ trust: “You can’t have somebody come into your house and tell you how to move everything and what to get rid of and bring in if you don’t trust them.”