My husband, Rob, and I have been together almost 20 years, and never once in those two decades have we agreed on a house.
I hate a cookie-cutter home. Those rows and rows of suburban abodes all look like they were cut from the same mold, slapped with a few coats of gray and white paint and given a granite countertop or two and some new appliances. Voila, instant house! It’s the kind of place I walk into and immediately want to leave.
The problem? This is the kind of house my husband loves.
This disagreement is a problem—especially since marrying in 2003, we have lived in five different houses in three different cities and two different countries. In other words, we house hunt more than your average couple. So this problem keeps cropping up. Here’s more on why, and how, we’ve struck a balance that I hope will help other couples do the same.
Why my husband and I have different tastes in homes
Perhaps the root to this problem comes from our childhoods: Rob grew up in a 1970s home that calls to mind “The Brady Bunch” home, a ranch with central air conditioning and a sprawling footprint.
My childhood home, on the other hand, was a 1920s house in Dayton, OH, with a small backyard, red brick front, and a series of built-ins on the inside.
We moved when I was 11, but I remember the home clearly: a sunroom surrounded by windows, and a round table in the kitchen jutting out from a built-in hutch replete with thick shelves and heavy panels. It had a finished basement I was terrified to enter, a room over the garage with wall-to-wall bookshelves, and a sewing room beside the master bedroom that wasn’t big enough to be a bedroom and wasn’t small enough to be a closet.
In 1990, my family moved into a brand-new home. My father hired the contractor, and he and my mother built the home to their specifications. And yet, the house was still riddled with the same problems that most places have. It had leaks and peeling paint, and problems with the roof when the wind blew too hard. It was as much a money pit as an old house, if not more.
Although we lived in that new house for just five years, the memory of it stayed. So why would I trade character and quirkiness for a cookie-cutter house that is guaranteed to be just as unpredictable?
How we compromised on our first rental
When Rob and I rented our first place together in Boston, he fell in love with a place that looked all new inside—white walls, a minimalist aesthetic. I wanted something Victorian and colorful, with history and maybe a ghost or two.
The place we settled on had a little of both. Some new construction to suit him and lots of old character to suit me.
How we compromised on our first real estate purchase
When buying our first house, we butted heads yet again, and again ended up meeting in the middle. We bought an old triple-decker built in the late 1800s, but with the kind of gutting inside that made it palatable to Rob. Granite countertops for him and an ancient, peeling porch for me. Perfect!
Eight years ago, when we moved to New Jersey, I walked into one house and fell in love. The oven from the 1940s, the ancient wallpaper, the original stained-glass windows from the 1920s—this was definitely up my alley.
All my husband saw, however, were weekends wasted examining ancient plumbing, leaks that would reveal much bigger problems, electric wiring that would cost a small fortune to replace.
How we strike the right balance today
After my husband relocated for work, we decided to rent a house in the English countryside. We looked at 20 homes and settled on a manor built in 1867 because I couldn’t live without it. I dreamed of this house my entire childhood, steeped in Jane Austen and Frances Hodgson Burnett.
And luckily, Rob loves it, too. Now. But every few weeks, when something breaks—and something always does—he shares how happy he is that we don’t own it. When the pipes run cold, the heat stops pumping, or the water heater leaks into his closet in the space that used to be the dumbwaiter, he is always glad the problem isn’t ultimately ours. Still, we are lucky we get to live here, even if only for a few years.
We are scheduled to move back to the States in two years. We are already in hot discussions about our house hunt. The photos my husband sends are of houses built in 2010. They have pools in the backyard and open floor plans with a lot of light and neutral paint schemes. I am still enamored with the old Victorians with wraparound porches and fireplaces in every room. I am from Massachusetts, I tell him. When you think of my house, think of Louisa May Alcott, of cold nights by warm fires. My husband’s dream is more palm trees and built-in outdoor grills.
How it all resolves itself is anybody’s guess. We have two years—and our whole life together—to keep making these compromises and to keep discovering the way two people with opposing visions can come together.
In any marriage there are compromises. My husband hates broccoli and I love it, but I eat broccoli only when he is out of town. I hate action movies and death metal, so he watches those movies and attends those concerts without me.
There is constant give-and-take between us, so why should our housing be any different?