The romance of renovating

While chivalry and courtly love is not a big part of our Kiwi heritage, Kylie Jurgensen reckons that bonding over an honest day's work most certainly is...

The romantic bedroom with round bed
COLUMN Kylie Jurgensen

While chivalry and courtly love is not a big part of our Kiwi heritage, Kylie Jurgensen reckons that bonding over an honest day’s work most certainly is...

I once came across a poll that rated New Zealanders as one of the least romantic nations on the planet. Heaven only knows why! I did a bit of informal polling of my own on this issue and after much discussion with my esteemed peers over many glasses of wine I have come to the conclusion that the problem is not that we are not romantic, it’s just that our notions of romance are perhaps a little different to those celebrated in the US and continental Europe.
Let’s track the trajectory of the average Kiwi relationship: couple introduced by flatmates while squatting in dingy London digs decorated with empty Marmite bottles; bonds in the local pub over big screen rugby and copious quantities of expensive (warm) beer; gradually makes progress from temping and bar-tending to middling banking industry jobs; heads back home a few years later with a wriggling bundle and fantasies of doting grandparents and summers at the bach; eventually escapes the parents’ spare room and invests in derelict villa on city fringe; spends a few miserable winters and glorious summers scraping back sash windows, sanding floorboards, digging up concrete paths and sinking precious pounds into major structural repairs; accidentally creates second offspring; finally gets the new kitchen installed mere days before new baby arrives home from the hospital; then spends next five years poring over lifestyle pages of real estate sites while struggling to cover multiple mortgage top-ups on one income and living in hope that the real estate market will one day recover enough for them to be able to sell up and buy a life.
Oh, alright, that’s the global depression ending to the story. In the good old days the villa reno was followed by investments in a few ex-state rentals or a rundown bach in some undiscovered coastal idyll, and the happy couple treated their offspring to an idyllic tweenhood in a purpose-built dream home on a few acres just out of town.
Either way, our happy couple may not have enjoyed a lot of candlelit dinners, bundles of red roses, or foie gras along the way, but just like the ritual OE that kicks it all off, our shared journeys through home ownership have their own special sort of romance. For starters, there are all those forays to Camden Market in search of  “the right thing”  that will add the perfect touch of well-travelled charm to the painstakingly restored kauri mantelpiece which you can both visualise in the character villa that you’re going to have when you go back home one day.
Then there’s the sweet feeling, after all those miserable months of struggling to make ends meet in Old Blighty, when you see all your hard-earned pounds converted to dollars and experience the momentary dizziness of being rich! And that moment, after months of living out of suitcases in the parents’ spare room, when the world’s most obstinate sellers eventually relinquish their hold on the rundown character that has your shared destiny written all over it.
After that, the romance flows thick and fast: the first fish ’n chips on your own front porch, the triumph of discovering the product that will remove decades of linoleum glue off floorboards, the exhausted late night conversation where you both agree to repaint over the borer and pretend it doesn’t exist. Forget dancing in the moonlight, what can compare to the thrill of caressing oil into your first stripped back window frame? And who needs evenings at the theatre when you can spend evenings grouting tiles, or early morning runs on the beach when you can enjoy entire summers full of hard yakka landscaping the backyard and replacing rotten weatherboards?
There’s no doubt about it, chivalry and courtly love may not be a big part of our heritage but bonding over an honest day’s (and night’s) work most certainly is. While Eastern European feminists were spending the post-war years lobbying to get out of the factories, and the women of the West were burning their bras and fighting to hold onto their jobs, Kiwi couples continued to get up at the crack of dawn to milk the cows together. And these days there’s none of this “Allow me” when it comes to wielding the sledgehammer – or the sewing machine, for that matter. But don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean you blokes get a free pass on the whole romantic thing. After the first few years of starry-eyed DIY, orbital sanders are NOT an acceptable birthday present. All evidence to the contrary, renovation is a temporary state of affairs – but diamonds are forever!

You might be interested in reading: Plan your home renovation and future.

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This article by Kylie Jurgensen featured in the Autumn 2012 Issue of Renovate Magazine. Renovate Magazine is an easy to use resource providing fresh inspiration and motivation at every turn of the page.

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