Oakland Tribune, July 2013

Marni Jameson: The couple that remodels together

By Marni Jameson


Posted:   07/25/2013 10:00:00 AM PDT | Updated:  7 months ago

Some married couples, Lord knows how, work together in business. Some couples, heaven help them, remodel together. Jennifer and Steve Clark, of Lafayette, somehow do both.

The Clarks, who have been married seven years and have three kids, not only team up to renovate other people's properties; they also regularly update their own living space.

I'm all for couples collaborating on home improvements. I personally have built, or rebuilt, three homes with my spouse over the years. But many couples who have survived a remodel would rather sleep on a bed of glass shards than renovate with their mates again.

This is because we humans like -- no, rely on -- stability, consistency and routine. Remodeling upends all that. Suddenly you're doing dishes in the bathtub and brushing your teeth with the garden hose.

But sometimes it works out, as the Clarks will attest. After talking with them, I can tell you their success isn't because one is meek as a daffodil while the other's a steamroller. On the contrary, the Clarks both have formidable personalities and run their own companies.

Steve, a general contractor, owns RFC, a residential construction company. Jennifer, a real estate agent, owns The Home Co., a realty, design and staging firm. Four years ago, they began collaborating on each other's projects.

"Honestly, a lot of times I would butt in when I heard him talking about paint color," says Jennifer. "I couldn't let him paint a house a horrible color, so I would dive in."

Steve agrees that his construction clients can benefit from his wife's design and home-staging advice, while Jennifer's real estate clients often need renovation work that Steve can do. So far, they have collaborated on 15 residential renovations for others and a few at their own home. Though clashes happen even for this well-oiled machine, they share advice on how they resolve conflicts.

Money. "We'll set a budget," says Steve, "and we always go 25 to 30 percent over." While that's pretty standard in most remodels, Steve would like to bring costs closer to estimates. But if Jennifer feels strongly about installing a $1,400 vanity that puts the project over budget, they look for other places to cut. "If we were talking about a vacation to Hawaii, we may decide to go to Lake Tahoe instead," says Steve. "If we're going to splurge somewhere, we have to recapture somewhere else."

Masculine or feminine? Couples often clash over design that's female (colorful) vs. male (industrial). The Clarks are no exception. On "wallpaper, for instance, guys tend to think it is over-the-top feminine," says Jennifer. "So we compromise, and just do one accent wall, which makes a statement."

Timing. "Nobody wants to live in a renovation, so the key to keeping conflict down on the home front is to minimize the under-construction period by good planning," says Jennifer. "Have everything selected before you start." Use Pinterest. Pin your vision there, pulling together images of inspirational rooms, tiles, light fixtures, paint colors and fabric swatches.

Give options, negotiate. Whoever leads the design decisions should give his or her partner choices. "I need to give Steve options," says Jennifer, "because it's his home, too." So when it's time to pick a chandelier, Jennifer will select four she likes, and ask Steve to pick one. However, if Jennifer must have a light fixture he isn't crazy about, they negotiate. "I say, if we go with your chandelier, can we upgrade the TV from a 48-inch to a 52-inch?" adds Steve.

Know what your partner does better. In the Clarks' case, Steve appreciates Jennifer's decisiveness: "She can look at three colors, pick one and go." Jennifer likes Steve's leadership skills. He served in the Army, so "he really can whip his crews into shape," she says. On a home project, her decisiveness and his ability to keep the crew moving make for efficient teamwork.

Use professional courtesy. Treat each other as pros. Steve says, "I sometimes speak to Jennifer as if she were one of my soldiers or employees. She has to remind me that she has her own company and is a professional. She's right. We should treat each other better than our employees and better than our clients."

When tempers flare ... Jennifer says, "We definitely have our moments and exchange looks that say 'I can't stand you right now.' " To restore peace, they hear each other out. They also know when to step away and cool off and when to agree to disagree.

"Eventually we both know that, when we consider our family and future together, nothing is worth fighting over," Jennifer says. "Plus, we love doing this and know that together we can create something even bigger and better."


After collaborating on 15 residential renovations, plus their own house, Jennifer and Steve Clark, of Lafayette, have learned how to remodel and stay happily married. Here they are seen during the transformation of an Oakland church into a home. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Clark). See article and photo at http://www.insidebayarea.com/ci_23718428/marni-jameson-couple-that-remodels-together?IADID=Search-www.insidebayarea.com-www.insidebayarea.com

Marni Jameson is the author of "House of Havoc" and "The House Always Wins" (Da Capo Press). Contact her through www.marnijameson.com.