Ask Sally

Ask Sally

Dear Sally:


My husband has recently inherited a wonderful home that has been in his family for several generations. It’s a circa 1890 home in a desirable historic neighborhood. My husband has always loved the house (it is quite wonderful) and because we liked the area, we decided to move our family and make it our own. Over the years the house has been renovated several times (though the renovations are now a little dated).


This house has great bones and has been well-maintained. It’s in a fabulous neighborhood and has an obvious emotional appeal. But, the whole place needs an intense top-to-bottom cosmetic make over.  We currently have the time and the income to do an outstanding renovation. The problem is that my husband is really wrestling  with  the idea of redesign, literally second-guessing every recommendation. As I strive to make his family’s house our family’s home, I watch him struggle at every turn, no matter how big (the entire house needs a new heating system) or small (he’s objected to me ridding the house of his grandmother’s short lived love affair with misplaced, mid-century modern light fixtures).


I love my husband. I know that he’s processing change that far exceeds a home renovation, but I am frustrated with his inability to let go. I respect that he has all of these magical, positive childhood memories, but he’s an adult, with a wife and children and we need to make this house the sort of place where we can all live in the present.


Can you help?


Hobbled by History

Dear Hobbled:


Life in a historic home (especially one that is more than a hundred years old) is often a struggle between challenges and rewards. When it comes to renovation I would recommend going at it thoughtfully and with a mind to balance. First, take a look at the components that are most important— are there structural issues?  how’s the electrical, heating and plumbing?  Then contemplate the overall layout and obvious design challenges. Pick your battles. While you don’t necessarily have to do everything at once, you may need to carefully discern to renovate one floor at a time or all major structural and mechanical first and cosmetics later.


Living in an older home is a bit like being in a long term partnership or marriage. It often entails getting comfortable with compromise. When I am working with couples I often find that the person who is resisting the suggested change needs the opportunity to talk about what they actually like and don’t like about the space as-is before they can devourer any suggested change. Instead of talking to your husband about the many things you need and want to change, maybe it’s time to slow down and listen. For folks who are not visual (and certainly those with emotional connections to the property), a little time to live with the idea of change and digest the suggested renovations might be just what  the doctor ordered. Although I would love to present ideas to clients and have them jump up and down, hop on the Sally Spiegel Renovation Train and write a check for what I can see will be a fandamntastic new space, there are a significant number of  folks who find middle ground simply by stepping back and chillaxing. While I personally don’t operate this way, there is something refreshing about their process of decision.


If we were running buddies and you were pouring this out on trail I would (albeit with some sweaty heavy breathing) suggest that he is maybe not saying no but not yet. Back up Betty. He is not contemplating you and your relationship. It’s a house. It can, and likely will, get renovated.


Trust me sister, you DO NOT want to enter into a renovation of any kind until you are both ready, willing and able.

Confidently Yours,



P.S. I am hoping that the original big chunky carpentry details such as trim, door casings and baseboards in your house are there and ready for your refurbishing. These are such lovely details that new construction often skimps on or simply overlooks. Repair if need be but please, please but don’t remove it (and if it’s been removed in renovations past, restore those fine original details).

Next week: How Much Renovation Is Too Much? (Hint: Staying out of the dog and mad house while renovating).

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