If you’re going through a divorce, you know that keeping the home fires burning is more important now than ever. The home is our refuge, a place to nest during a time of transition. That’s why you – like so many other separated or divorced people – may be hoping to redecorate or renovate your home after divorce. For Angela, 50, a bit of simple decorating was just the ticket to lift her spirits and personalize her new condominium. “For years, my ex and I argued about our home’s decor,” she explains. “He’s neo-conservative, while I love bright colors and modern furniture. After our divorce, he got the plaid recliner, and I got to live how I’ve always wanted to live. I’ve painted my walls bright yellow and added a great new black sofa and turquoise throw cushions.”
Tim, a 43-year-old father of two, found that doing some work on the house was also a great way to spend newfound time. “My divorce was final two months ago, and I decided to keep the house,” he says. “I never had the time to do the work I’m doing now – I’ve built a workshop in the basement, and I’m working on a deck off the master bedroom. The renovations I’m doing are improving my environment but, more importantly, they’re keeping me busy and productive.”
Planning to Redecorate or Renovate Your Home After Divorce?
If you’re considering a remodeling or decorating project, good for you! But here’s a word of caution: without proper planning, costs can quickly escalate. Worse still, you could inadvertently invite chaos into your living environment – the last thing you need as you move forward with your new life. That’s why it’s important to consider your needs, budget, and timeline very carefully before taking on any remodeling or decorating projects. Dream big – but start small.
The following five simple questions were designed to guide you in the right general direction as you start to re-feather your nest.
1. Do You Own Your Home, or are You Renting?
It may sound obvious, but if you rent your home, you’ll need to talk with your landlord or superintendent about the type of changes he/she will permit. Sometimes, these discussions yield surprising results: when Janet, a divorced mom of three, spoke to her landlord about replacing the worn linoleum in her kitchen, he agreed to cover the costs of new sheet flooring, provided she chose a neutral color and laid it herself. What a great win-win situation: Janet got her new floor, and her landlord got a new floor and free installation. You can try the same strategy with bathroom fixtures, a new kitchen sink, refrigerator, or carpet. A good landlord will recognize that these changes only add to the value of his/her investment. If your proposal is a no-go, you can update your room by laying area rugs and/or sisal carpeting over existing flooring. Armoires and stand-alone bookshelves also add depth and character, and you can take them with you when you move. Lastly, there’s always paint: it can make a tremendous difference to the way you feel about your rental unit.
2. Are You Selling or Staying Put?
Home-renovation magazines and real-estate agents tell us that kitchen and bathroom renovations sell homes, but consider Janice’s experience. The divorced mom of one decided to gut her kitchen and bathroom just one year before moving to an apartment. (She and her former husband purchased the house about three years prior to their divorce.) The new buyers were thrilled with the beautiful new kitchen and bathroom, but Janice lost money on the renovations.
The moral of the story is this: think about the length of time you plan to live in the home before you begin your remodeling project. If it’s less than three years, choose neutral colors and less expensive options (ready-made versus custom-made cabinetry; laminate versus solid-surface countertops; re-glazing versus new fixtures in the bathroom) or update cosmetically with paint, new cabinet doors and hardware, or new plumbing fixtures, lights, and switch-plates. If you own your home, you’ll have only yourself – and your budget – to please. Why not create that room you’ve always wanted?
Mia, a divorced mother of five children, added an elegant new master bathroom to her four-bedroom home. “By the time I get home from work, get the kids dinner, tackle homework and laundry, and get them to bed, I’m exhausted,” she says. “Having a great bathtub and a peaceful sanctuary that I don’t have to share is just the best!”
3. Can you DIY, or do You Need Professional Help to Redecorate or Renovate Your Home After Divorce?
Take a good look around your home. Does it need extensive, professional renovations, or can you handle it by yourself? Tim, a skilled carpenter, knew he had the skills to tackle his two renovation projects. But Mia, who needed to move a load-bearing wall to create her new bathroom, realized she would have to involve an architect and a contractor to get the job done, so she made sure to budget for these professionals upfront.
If you can’t afford professional help just yet, and your renovation plans are modest, don’t be afraid to approach friends and family for their help. Most will be happy to assist you; they’ll see it as something positive and tangible they can do to help you redefine your life. “My close friend Betty is an interior designer,” says Angela. “She was thrilled when I asked for her advice, and she even took me shopping to help me find the right sofa for my new place.”
4. How Much Can You Spend?
If the sky’s the limit, consider yourself lucky. Hire an architect. Hire an interior designer. Hire a contractor. Go to town!
Unfortunately, few recently divorced or separated individuals have complete financial freedom, at least initially. That’s why it’s essential to get a handle on your budget, right from the start. Start by asking yourself which room is your top priority – and then take a good hard look at your budget. Using a separate worksheet for each project, itemize your needs (for example, lighting, window treatments, paint, furniture, art, etc.), and research products that fit into your budget. Don’t forget to scope out flea markets, resale shops, and discount stores: both online and brick-and-mortar shops and auctions.
Price shouldn’t be the only consideration, though: value is equally important. Contrast the cost of an item with the enjoyment it will bring you, and you’ll be on the right track. Lastly, it’s wise to give yourself a budget buffer of 10–15 % per project. Most experienced home renovators know that costs usually increase once work is in progress.
When Mia expanded her bathroom, the carpet in her bedroom suddenly looked shabby next to the beautiful new ceramic tiles. She ended up adding an additional $1,000 to the bottom line for new carpet.
Evelyn planned to put in a new IKEA kitchen, but the contractor discovered major structural damage from termites when the crew began demolition. It added almost a month and $20,000 to the original budget.
5. What Can (or Must) You do Now – and What Can Wait Until Later?
It’s a good idea to break your renovation plan down into small, manageable projects, then prioritize in order of importance. It’s easier on the budget, and less chaotic.
For Tim, the basement workshop was “Job One.” He built a solid wood workbench using plans he found online, and after two weeks of evening and weekend work, the workshop he’d always wanted was complete. “Finishing the workshop was very satisfying,” he says. “Finally, I had a place to hang all my tools, and a base from which to work on my next project: the deck.”
For Angela, the living room was a top priority because it defines her entire living space. “It’s a loft-style condo, so the living room is the first thing you see when you walk in the door,” she explains. “I plan to update the bathroom next year.”
10 Quick Tips to Help You Redecorate or Renovate Your Home After Divorce
- Clip magazine pages from home decorating publications and save for future reference in an accordion file, along with your project worksheet/ budget.
- Be careful not to renovate your house beyond its market value; check out the “comparables” by attending neighborhood open houses.
- If your style is discriminating but your budget small, take things slowly, buying one piece here, one piece there. Janet’s kitchen re-decoration project began with the purchase of a single, coveted item: a fire-engine-red Kitchen-Aid mixer.
- Don’t get trapped into a poor furniture purchase. Measure the area you’re planning to remodel and create a working floor plan. Draw major pieces of furniture or appliances to scale, cut them out, and arrange them on the floor plan. Then go shopping.
- Consider setting up a separate bank account for your renovation schemes. That way, you won’t be tempted to go off budget.
- Estimate start and finish dates for each project so it’s easier to stay on target with your overall plan.
- Be sure to consult your children about your plans, especially if they involve their bedrooms or play/study areas. Avoid upset by making it a fun family project.
- Carry a digital or Polaroid camera with you to the stores. Keep the pictures in your style file for future reference.
- Get a better sense of how a paint color will look: mount six or eight paint chips in the same color together on the wall. (Some paint companies also sell sample size containers of paint for you to test out.)
- Turn on the television for great interior design and renovation tips and advice: try House Rules, Fixer Upper, Love It or List It, Property Brothers, Grand Designs, Design on a Dime, Rehab Addict, and This Old House.
Jane Zatylny is the former Editorial Director of Divorce Magazine. She has survived 14 moves, owned four houses, and lived through more than one major home-renovation project; her current home needs both decorating and renovation.