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Architects as Marriage Counselors (Sort of)

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All couples fight. And if they don’t, watch out! A big storm is probably on the way! Anyways, we all know couples have their differences, differences in tastes and habits. So, when couples are designing their home together, these sometimes prove stormy waters for their architect to navigate. We went ahead and talked to two architects Carina Harney-Rogerson (Managing Director, Antigua) and Marvin Flax (Managing Director, British Virgin Islands), both with extensive experience in designing for couples, to dive a little bit deeper into the intricacies involved.

Challenges when designing for couples are normal due to differences in design tastes and priorities. A husband may want one thing and his wife a completely opposing one. This doesn’t have to do so much with what side you’re on, wife or husband, it has more to do with personalities really. Both Harney-Rogerson and Flax agree that it’s not easy to solve the diverging views, but they do provide a challenge they enjoy. The key is to find a middle ground by listening carefully to both sides, much like a marriage counselor does. Because in the end, it’s imperative that both end up living in the house they want. Flax goes further by saying, “If I can include design features that both like and can use as well, then I’ve done my job, and it’s usually very satisfying.” Harney-Rogerson’s approach when she encounters complete opposite personalities is to design a blend of “yin and yang.” A good compromise can add design interest and avoid “too much of one thing,” evoking instead a harmonious blend of personalities, expressed in the architecture or interior design.

Believe it or not, good design can help a marriage, because it helps in the day-to-day. It creates harmony, balance, and order. Harney-Rogerson believes that the function of the spaces, beautiful spaces, and organized spaces, allow for less stress, and create “happy places” for both spouses. And Flax sums it up very well, “Think of a house as a big puzzle. Each puzzle piece presents a component that doesn’t fit or function well individually, but collectively they do. This analogy translates to a marriage. The average couple lives in a home for 25 – 30 years. That’s a long time to have an issue with an element of your house! Those issues don’t go away and can lead to conflict.”

Flax recalls a meeting he had with a couple. They were halfway through the design stage, and he sensed that husband and wife were at opposite ends. They had opposing views on the location and size of their children’s bedrooms. The debate was to either have the bedrooms next to their master bedroom or on a separate level. Since this had a significant cost and functionality implication too, the solution did not come right away. By listening carefully and interjecting where necessary and appropriate, a sensible choice was attained that both husband and wife are happy with to this day. That day, Flax learned that it’s best to meet couples at their current home or their favorite restaurant, to chat comfortably and relaxed, in this way better observing and understanding the couple, serving as a pseudo-marriage counselor and mediator.

Both Harney-Rogerson and Flax have very entertaining stories to tell, although they kept most of them off the record; Flax had one recent story he could confess in public: “We met a couple that had opposing viewpoints on the type of roof their house should have post-Hurricane Irma. The husband had been locked in a bathroom by himself while the hurricane winds tore the house apart, while his wife was away traveling. So guess who wanted a reinforced concrete roof? In the end, we came up with a suggestion that would suit both, a way of incorporating both concrete roofing and traditional hip or gable ends with a corrugated metal roof covering.”

What’s also interesting, is when it comes down to color options. Certain colors can fuel certain emotions, therefore, these should be carefully managed so that the interior design can foster peace instead of conflict. Colors such as reds, oranges, etc. are aggressive; therefore it’s best to keep these colors to a minimum and especially away from the bedrooms. Colors are essential for complete home design and many times couples are on the opposite sides of the spectrum. One of Flax’s strategies for resolving these issues resides in incorporating accent walls in specific rooms. For him, a major topic is where a color starts and finishes, defending that it should only happen at inside corners. He also tries to educate the couples on colors that can increase value post construction. It seems that’s a point all can agree on.

Although house design preferences are mostly due to different personalities, when looking back there are some husband vs. wife trends, which are salient. Sometimes, women are more concerned with the kitchen and laundry size and where they will be in the home, and a majority of women desire large closets and open bathrooms with abundant storage space. Men frequently are more concerned about the overall aesthetic of the home, and elements which could compromise safety. If a pool is part of the house, then both parties are on the same page from a safety standpoint, especially if they have young children. Another area where couples converge is making the most of amazing views and outdoor spaces.

Ultimately, Harney-Rogerson and Flax have expressed that if couples are happy during, and at the end of the design process, it’s extremely gratifying as an architect. It highlights an exceptional level of involvement from both of the clients, as well the architect as a listener and purveyor of common ground.   Happy couple, happy architect, so goes the adage.