Renovate Your Way To A Better Marriage


Renovate Your Way To A Better Marriage
How a fixer-upper first home became one couple's labor of love.

Not Ryan and I. While I was in San Francisco eating cracked crab with my family, Ryan spent Christmas Eve with our plumber.

Six months after getting married, and four months after moving from the Bay Area to Portland, Oregon, in search of a less stressful and more affordable lifestyle, we bought our first home.


A 1908 four-square with three bedrooms, hardwood floors, a full basement, and a garage, the house met most of our criteria. For reasons I have never been quite able to articulate, I didn't fall in love with the house when we found it. But Ryan had a vision for it—landscape the backyard, maybe convert the attic to a master suite, and upgrade the kitchen and bath—and its location, across the street from a park and within walking distance of coffee shops, restaurants, and a great bookstore, ultimately won me over.

For me, buying our first house dredged up a lot of intense emotion. I'd lie in bed at the apartment we were renting before the move and visualize all the things we might go through in the many years we planned to live in the new house. Would one of us nurse the other through a major illness? Would we have children who would attend the elementary school across the street? What would it feel like to host holiday dinners and start new traditions there?

Such weighty thoughts about what the home represented for us made me ripe for disappointment when, room by room, we discovered that the house needed a lot more work than we had originally expected. For some reason, the damp wooden cabinet under the bathroom sink, the powder-blue faux-brick wall, and the seacreature tile in the shower hadn't seemed quite so bad when we first toured the house with the realtor. Or at least they'd seemed like things we could live with while saving for a bathroom remodel. But when we walked through on Halloween night after picking up our keys, that bathroom was scarier than any trick-or-treater.

Apparently the dampness was due to decades of leaky plumbing. At first, eager to take possession, we weren't fazed by that revelation. I'm not sure where we thought we'd bathe while our one bathroom was out of commission, but I'm glad we never had to find out. Eventually, we decided to overhaul the bathroom before we moved in, and that turned out to be one of the smartest decisions we've made.

Unfortunately, however, it also marked the beginning of many grueling months.


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