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My husband, the Architect

Great moments in building history: If you're living with an architect, there are some things you will never see again

When I first started seeing the architect I later married, I was in decorating-dating heaven. Here, finally, was a man who didn’t furnish his living room with Chicago Bears posters or his dining room with a Budweiser clock. Here, finally, was a man who owned artistically framed photographs, pristine maple furniture and a collection of tiny glass candleholders designed to light romantic dinners for two.

Before long, this paragon of good taste had moved in lock, stock and candleholders, and I was set to live happily ever after in Pottery Barn perfection.

In fact, it wasn’t until he had banished my trusty, crusty toaster oven from the kitchen—on the grounds of aesthetic repellence—that I realized all was not going to be serene. I had chosen to marry not just a man but a live-in design czar.

Toastergate, of course, was only the first of many such acts of architectural imperialism. My husband, Rob, barely had his bags in the door when he moved my kitchen table. “It wants to be in front of the window,” he proclaimed, as if the table had somehow begun confiding in him (I could only hope the other furniture would be more discreet).

Soon, most of my paintings and posters had been moved to the house’s less public areas—like the laundry room—while his clearly superior artwork took pride of place over the couch. Baskets, he informed me, looking pained, were items he couldn’t abide. So were clay pots, an aversion I chalked up to a childhood spent among ceramics-crazed faculty wives.

Briefly, I wondered whether this was my own private purgatory; was I the only woman around who’d shamefacedly banished 12 place settings of expensive ’70s-era stoneware to Goodwill? It wasn’t long, however, before I learned over whispered cocktail-party conversations that there were plenty of others like me. In fact, there’s an entire subculture of us: women married to architects, women whose homes are not our own. You’ll see us lurking around housewares departments, looking longingly at lamps. We may look, but we rarely buy. We have to ask permission first.

Many architects today are female, of course, but for their mates, this problem seems less pressing. Call me sexist, but it’s usually women who grow up assuming they’ll be in charge of a home’s interior design. And who knows—those married to actuaries may be.

If, on the other hand, you find yourself living with an architect, here’s a handy list of things you’ll never have again:

Wallpaper: Give up any and all dreams of waking up surrounded by cabbage roses. Wallpaper is as loathsome to most architects as a room filled with Precious Moments statues.

Window treatments: If you’re modest, get over it. Window treatments of any kind are highly suspect. I know plenty of women married to architects who’ve spent their entire marriages undressing for the neighborhood. This is because light über alles. In fact, I once inherited an apartment from an architect who bragged of searching for months for its rare and coveted southeast exposure. Apparently, it hadn’t bothered him that the shower stopped working abruptly every morning at 7. As long as they have good light, most architects won’t care that the plumbing is unreliable.

Fully realized remodeling: Accept that only a fraction of his remodeling ideas for your house will ever be realized in your lifetime. This design-dreamer routine, also known as floating trial Met Home balloons, can be more frustrating than the design-czar shtick. He’s going to have lots of wonderful concepts, but most of them are just so many Martha Stewart pipe dreams.

Wash-and-wear: You probably won’t have to do his laundry; he won’t let you. The ironing board was strictly a place to stack boxes before Rob entered my life. Although not all male architects resemble Richard Gere in Intersection, they are, to a man, well-pressed. Unless you, too, are an architect, get used to being the more rumpled person at dinner.

A messy house: Architects are fastidious and precise. This is a good quality when they are designing your cantilevered deck, but a rather less attractive attribute if you don’t like to make the bed.
Each architect, by the way, seems to have a pet adjective for an ideal building or room. The highest praise Rob can give a space is to call it intimate; my friend Peg’s husband favors charming. “My husband is always talking about charming environments,” Peg says. “I like charming environments, too. I used to think I created them.”

And therein lies the rub. Most people like to think they have good taste, and some of them actually do. But those of us married to architects must resign ourselves to never again getting credit for making as much as a pleasing placemat purchase. In the eyes of the world, our husbands are talented, creative and possessed of superb design sense. We, on the other hand, are just the lucky co-tenants of architectural genius.

Unfair, maybe, but it sure beats living with a Budweiser clock.

—Lynette Lamb, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Drawing by: Jim Meehan
From Fine Homebuilding123 , pp. 150