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Q: Our new house has laminate countertops. We want to enlarge the island and replace its laminate top with granite, but we can’t afford to replace the rest of the surfaces right now. Would this look funny?
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Space War How renovating saved our marriage.


Photograph of couple holding hands in front of their home.

A few years ago, my husband and I became smitten with an old fixer-upper built in 1900. Our "new" home was so decrepit that even lower life forms--centipedes, mice, silverfish--took one look around and skedaddled. We had to renovate, although rival philosophies about domestic organization had already started to nibble away at our sanity.

Never mind the stress of haggling for a good mortgage rate or the impulsive purchase of an Edwardian relic, replete with leaky pipes and knob and tube wiring. Our anxiety had more to do with the fact that I grew up dreaming of a minimalist abode, while my husband fantasized about living in a jungle of knick-knacks and making his domestic palace a collector's paradise.

We have reasons for such extremes. He wanted to escape a sterile, pink and lime-green suburban childhood. I fled my parents' pack rat compulsiveness; my house had been obsessively governed by the hoarding principle.

The hubby and I also had to contend with two lifetimes of technological advancements in home entertainment and pre-marriage pop culture stockpiling. What to do with old Who posters, defunct laptops and K-tel compilation LPs? Amid Mad Men DVDs and Blu-rays and CDs replaced by iPods, the two of us had already spent years bickering about which paleolithic artifacts to trash or stash, like old Abba albums and The Breakfast Club on VHS.

We've lived as singles for much longer than previous generations. We've accumulated much more stuff. When it comes to redesigning a home, we've developed less-than-desirable idiosyncratic ways to go about organizing it.

Surprisingly, renovating became an inadvertent form of marital therapy, a sort of Outward Bound exercise in personal growth--but without the wilderness camping. Sure, it was stressful. Those winter nights in sleeping bags on a plywood floor bickering about paint colours were hardly romantic. But when the old, crumbling Gyproc came down and the new walls went up, we finally had a blueprint for spatial compromise that would never have existed if we hadn't renovated.

Between his schlock-shop aesthetic and my hospital-room sensibility, there was new-found harmony between our two extremes. I got my minimalist kitchen with exposed brick; he got floor-to-ceiling shelves for LPs and the old oscilloscope he gleaned from the trash. I scored the feng shui sleeping arrangement; he won me over with a little halo of lights installed above his vintage toy collection.

The renos are done; the space war over. Now we have a home we can finally call our own.