The Fixer


  • Two and a half years ago, my wife and I bought a small 1909 farm house-style home on a quiet street in Seattle.

    The house needed a little work.

    We've done most of it ourselves, although we had contractors to:

    • add more structural framing to keep the house from caving in
    • drywall the living room ceiling to cover the holes left by the water damage when the roof came off
    • lay a concrete pad for the driveway instead of it just being hard-packed dirt
    • put in a new heating system
    • rebuild the fireplace
    • paint the house

    And that was only about 20% of the work we've had to do on the house.

    I won't bore you or brag about the litany of things WE did in those years. Because of all the things we learned, framing techniques, the Uniform Plumbing Code, or just how to paint, none was as important as our learning to work with one another.

    We're lucky, the two of us. We knew from the moment we met that we had found our life-mate. For the three years prior to buying this house, we rarely had a fight. The first six months working on the house changed that.

    We didn't know what we were doing most of the time. I'm pretty gung-ho, so would just start ripping open walls, sometimes before I had much of a plan. My wife is very analytical, so she wanted to know what the plan was before turning our living room into a demolition area.

    So I was frustrated often in the beginning, partly because we didn't know what we were doing, but also just because that's a bit how I am. And I have difficulty expressing myself. I'd get sullen, she'd get mad, the downward spiral would begin.

    Fortunately, there was that "true love" thing, so while I hated to not work, I hated her being mad at me more. So we'd sit down, talk out what got us angry and how we could avoid it in the future.

    We did that again and again.

    Eventually, it didn't happen as often.

    I learned that when I was feeling frustrated, to tell her and then go take a break. Just stop, grab a drink and go into an area we had finished. And the house got better. Initially, there wasn't anywhere we could go which was "finished". First we got the living areas in shape, painted the bedroom, dry walled the dining room. And learned along the way how to work together.

    We also learned when not to work together. There are still some jobs that we just don't do well together. Most of the rough carpentry I never had the patience to teach her, nor she the real interest to force me to. So I do that mostly by myself. She's better at laying out the broken concrete walkways -- you get the idea.

    The moral here is that working on a house together is a great experience to share with your partner, as you will not only learn a great deal about construction, decoration, landscaping, but it will force you to work together in a cooperative manner on something you both care a great deal about.

    In the end, you will both be able to look back over all the photos and retell all the stories and look around your beautiful home and know that you did it together.