Kristin Armstrong’s Column

kristin armstrong heather sundquist architecture

A Romance Remodel


by Kristin Armstrong
Illustration by Heather Sundquist

I have remodeled enough houses to know that it’s far wiser and more comfortable to relocate to a temporary residence while most of the messy, noisy work is being done.

However, when we go through more personal types of remodels—inner “remodels” related to identity or relationships—we simply do not have the luxury of moving out. But damn, I wish I could. Instead I have to sit with myself in the midst of this demolition and dust. What I’m presently referring to is a relationship remodel—my beloved boyfriend of almost two and a half years and I are “taking a break to figure things out.” I am not sure what this means exactly. The older I get the less I find I have figured anything out, but I do know this—I love this man more than I’ve ever loved any man and I want to live life and grow old together. This time apart is moving heavy and slow, pressing down on me like I’m strapped in a wrecked car, flipped upside down. Love gone awry is like being caught in a wave, when you can’t tell which way is up for air, the tide churning and grinding you helplessly into the sand, then tugging you back out to sea.

By scraping a previous dwelling, you can make certain that the foundation is level and solid and the architectural plans reflect the new growth and direction.
You can tear down old walls and low ceilings and design bright, open spaces for everyone to enjoy.

My brother, Jon, who has served as my unpaid therapist since we were kids and now is actually a real therapist, keeps telling me to hang in there. He tells me that every great love story has to have this part, the part where the couple has to pause and decide. In a romance novel, it’s called the conflict. It’s where the reader agonizes over the misunderstandings and misperceptions that are frustratingly easy to see with an omniscient viewpoint. The reader burns through the pages, staying up late to finally get to the part where the lovers are back in each other’s arms and the world is set right once again. In a rom-com movie it’s the montage scene, where the girl does yoga and cries to her girlfriends and the guy stays in his dark apartment accumulating empty beer bottles and pizza boxes. Everyone is miserable but tries to hold it together, until they realize that they can’t hold it together apart any more. The scene that follows is why we watch these movies in the first place. Because it’s a fact of being human that a life story without a love story isn’t much of a story at all.

Jon also tells me that while remodels are hard, they also create the place you really want to live. He says things have to get messier before they transform. By scraping a previous dwelling, you can make certain that the foundation is level and solid and the architectural plans reflect the new growth and direction. You can tear down old walls and low ceilings and design bright, open spaces for everyone to enjoy. You can clear out old junk you’ve been holding onto and create room for new memories. You can add more doors and windows, inviting the natural light, exposing the beautiful view, and allowing for more freedom to come and go. The best thing about a remodel, he says, is that you end up with a home you design together, a fresh start from a place of shared vision.I hope my true love realizes that he can’t hold it together apart any more. Or if he can, it isn’t nearly as much fun as holding it together together.

I hope we get the chance to work on a remodel, to scrape what doesn’t suit us anymore and build the relationship of our dreams. I hope we can be stronger, more authentic, more compassionate, more accepting, more devoted, and more courageous than we ever imagined. I hope we get a second chance to put each other first, and maybe one day show our precious brood of six what it feels like to live in the house that Love built.


Read more from the Architecture Issue | October 2017


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