How to survive a home renovation without a marriage counselor

Nobody knows the havoc a renovation can wreak on a marriage better than interior designer Laura Schwartz-Muller, who runs the Los Angeles design-construction firm Four Point with her contractor husband, Cliff Muller. Here, she shares her dos and don’ts, so you and your better half can survive your home improvement project in one piece.

DON’T … allow (or force) one partner to take the renovation reins.
DO … home in on each other’s strengths, and play to them. “Couples tend to identify with one of two roles,” Schwartz-Muller says. “Usually, one partner is motivated by aesthetic while the other is motivated by finance. It’s important to figure out who’s who and keep both people involved in the process.”

DON’T … say, “Whatever you want, honey!” without knowing how much “whatever” costs.
DO … manage expectations by setting a preliminary budget before you hire an interior designer. Talk about what you want (now’s the time to bring up that spa shower), potential obstacles (will you have to move walls and beams to get your dream space?) and what you can realistically spend on your home renovation.

“Understand there are going to pitfalls. There are no perfect budgets or seamless renovations,” Schwartz-Muller says. She suggests setting aside 30 to 35 percent of your rough budget for interior design, execution and supervisory fees; the rest goes toward materials and construction.

DON’T … pick an interior designer alone.
DO … interview designers together. Even if one of you couldn’t care less about granite colors and wallpaper patterns, the room should still reflect your aesthetic as a twosome. Schwartz-Muller says a good designer “gets” you as a couple and won’t let the louder partner dominate decisions.

DON’T … merely chitchat about what you hope the finished space looks like.
DO … sit down together. Schwartz-Muller suggests popping a bottle of wine and making it a date night, and ripping out magazine photos and browsing Pinterest or Houzz for images you both respond to. Extra points if you organize them in a binder or on a board.

DON’T … go to battle on every design decision.
DO … prioritize. Long before demo begins, each of you should make two lists: the five elements of the room that matter most to you (say, finding a spot for Granny’s antique china cabinet) and the five items you’re willing to bend on (don’t care about the window treatments? Write it down).

DON’T … feel like compromise is a dirty word.
DO … remember that your interior designer is there to help you navigate the renovation, come up with creative solutions and let both parties shine. “Often, my clients refer to me as the tiebreaker, but a lot of times I can present a third option that makes them both happy,” Schwartz-Muller says. “If they say, ‘One of us likes purple and the other likes green; you choose!’ I might say, ‘What about blue?’ or suggest a compromise they haven’t thought of.”

DON’T … hang on to illusions that the dust, stress and chaos are no big deal.
DO … acknowledge that “a renovation is like having a child. It brings up new issues if your relationship has never tested these waters before,” Schwartz-Muller says. Keep your eye on the prize: a new space you can share with your sweetie. “Remember to tell yourself, ‘I love this person more than I love purple.’”