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Design duo shares tips for surviving remodeling project

By Marni Jameson

Some married couples work together in business. Some couples remodel together. Jennifer and Steve Clark, heaven help them, do both.

The Clarks, who have been married seven years and have three kids, not only team up in a business to renovate homeowner’s properties, but they also regularly tear up their own living space.

On a stress scale of one to 10, home remodeling is a 12. But sometimes it works out, as the Clarks will attest.

Their success isn’t because one is meek as a daffodil while the other is bullish, though that combination can work. On the contrary, the Clarks both have formidable personalities and run their own separate companies in Lafayette, Calif.

He’s a general contractor and owns RFC, a residential construction company. She’s a real estate agent and owns The Home Co., a real estate sales, design and staging firm.

Four years ago, they began collaborating on each other’s projects in a more formal arrangement than they had previously.

Steve agreed that his construction clients could benefit from his wife’s design and home-staging advice, while Jennifer’s real estate clients often needed renovation work Steve could do.

So far, they have collaborated on 15 residential renovations for others, and a few for their own home. Along the way, they have had to figure out how to do that and stay happily married.

Here are their tips to avoid or minimize common areas of conflict:

• Set a budget – then assume most projects will go 25 to 30 percent over it. To bring expenses closer to estimates, balance splurges with savings. If Jennifer feels strongly about a $1,400 vanity that puts the project over budget, they look for other places to cut.

• Balance your styles. Couples often clash over the choice between a color-filled “female” design and one that feels more “male,” or industrial. The Clarks are no exception. Wallpaper, for example, seems feminine to many guys. “So we compromise, and just do one accent wall,” Jennifer said.

• Plan it out. Good planning can minimize the construction period. “Have everything selected before you start,” Jennifer said.Then tear your place up.

• Offer choices. Whoever leads the design decisions should give their partner a chance to weigh in. “I need to give Steve options, because it’s his home, too,” Jennifer said.

• Play to your partner’s strengths. Know what your partner does best. Steve appreciates Jennifer’s decisiveness: “She can look at three colors, pick one and go.” A former military guy, Steve “really can whip his crews into shape,” according to Jennifer. The combination of her decisiveness and his ability to keep the crew moving make an efficient team.

• Use professional courtesy. Even though you’re married, treat each other like professionals.

• Keep tempers in check. “We definitely have our moments,” Jennifer said. To restore peace, they try to hear each other out, and they also know when to step away and cool off. “Eventually, we both know that when we consider our family and future together, nothing is worth fighting over,” Jennifer said. “Plus, we love doing this, and know that together we can create something even bigger and better.”

Jameson: marnijameson.com
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