Aug 16, 2015

About renovation and relationships

Some years back we came across an article about challenges of building a house. There was one paragraph that stuck with us (freely translated): "I'll build a house. You take care of the kids. See you in two years." Unfortunately we were no longer able to find it online, which is a pity - it was a great read.

It is also a well known fact that while building a house or extensively renovating one things may go sour quite easily. The entire process is a stretch for a relationship, and thus a true test. Will we really see in two years as agreed?

We have always been renovating. Thus when asked how do we deal with such a lifestyle it would be easy to say: "Oh, it is our mission. We just love it."  But the fact that we tackled our first shared project only a few months into our relationship and are still on that road does not make us superhuman. Quite the contrary, we do not love every minute of it. There are times when we absolutely hate renovation. And there are times when we grow frustrated with everything, even each other.

Helsingin Sanomat (a national Finnish newspaper) wrote about renovation and relationships just recently (1). The article was based on interviews with a couple who had finished a major project and a therapist, who compared renovation to a third wheel in a relationship. It all starts with a beautiful idea of a perfect home to be built/renovated together. Then, one commits to the project work whereas the other takes care of the kids. Slowly, the latter one starts feeling excluded and stranded. Most likely, unexpected challenges will arise, deadlines and budgets get exceeded. Everyone who has ever renovated can vouch for this message.

We have certainly received our share. Nasty surprises of a 1960's apartment, broken machinery, unfavourable weather conditions, stretched budgets, constant mess and eternal incompleteness, long working hours either with the project or children,  - the list is quite extensive. In addition, as mentioned before, we have very different personalities. Pekka enjoys to process, Minna would love to finish things as soon as possible. Keep adding careers, daycare and a dachshund not forgetting too few hours of sleep. At worst, it might get very interesting. Still, we hardly ever really fight.

Of course we have talked about it trying to recognise our key success factors. The HS article mentioned above lists a few very good points we fully agree with. Choose a partner with a similar taste. Recognize each others strengths and utilise those. Allow ideas to fly, bounce them back and forth with each other to reach the best outcome for both. Celebrate project landmarks.

Another crucial one for us is involvement. It is not sufficient just plan something together, we both need to participate in the actual work, be project owners. Even if Minna would be mostly watching the children, every now and then the roles get reversed and she will get to do the "dirty work".

Also, there need to be breaks for "normal life" and to allow inspiration. Sometimes it is difficult to get started even with the smallest project, there is no drive. In these cases, we drop the gloves, forget renovation for as long as it is needed. We dive. Play tennis. Visit relatives. Sometimes the wait is shorter, sometimes longer, but eventually the motivation and enthusiasm will return.

And finally, acknowledgement of each other. Visitors always kindly pay their compliments to how beautifully something has been designed and implemented, but the work of a support team remains more invisible. But it doesn't matter. The most important thing is that between the two of us, not a day go by we wouldn't thank each other or recognise the other person's achievements.

It is teamwork. And fortunately we seem to be pretty good at it.

Last but not least. These photos were taken by our favourite photographer, Nani Härkönen from Nanianette Photography during a day when she was photographing us in our home. Thank you Nani, you are a Star - a pleasure to work and hang out with and skilled beyond measure!

1. Helsingin Sanomat 2.8.2015 (

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