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I am not a cryer. But I was in tears this week because the stress of building a house has finally gotten to me. And to be honest, I was kind of ashamed of myself. As a designer, I thought I had realistic expectations of how difficult building a house is — having helped many clients build homes — but I still caved under the stress of it all.  

I feel silly complaining about the stress of building a house. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity and the means to build a nice home for my family — a luxury so many cannot afford. But I also think it’s important to talk about how hard the process can be. This applies not only to new construction but to remodels, too. 


The first thing I came to realize during all my stress is to hire professionals who will support you. I realized this because since my husband and I are the professionals, we have no one else to lean on but ourselves. I’ve always believed in the value of my industry, but my belief has turned into certainty as I have felt the stress of not having someone else to lean on to help me with what feels like hundreds of decisions. It is so important to have someone who can spend the time drawing cabinets, ordering all the materials, helping with the budget, meeting with subs, and so much more. I obviously do this for a living and love doing this work, but as a working mother, finding the time to work on my own project has been the main source of my stress. Hiring professionals so you can have the time to be present in the other areas of your life while you are building or remodeling is money well spent...actually, it’s priceless.

The second thing my stress reaffirmed to me is that communication is everything. My husband Jon and I — in tandem with another general contractor — are managing our project, which can often feel like there are too many cooks in the kitchen. It has been key to be clear about timelines ad expectations from one another. Jon and I recently started having scheduled weekly meetings so we can sit down and go over everything that is happening with our home build. I highly recommend doing this for all couples. Even though we live together, finding the uninterrupted time to sit down and get on the same page about the many decisions we have to make every week is crucial to helping the project move along, and it wasn’t happening as much as we needed until we scheduled it. 

Overall, keeping a long-term perspective helps immensely. Building or remodeling feels so important because it is a lot of hard-earned money spent and a major event in my life, but it isn’t everything. Remembering that there is no such thing as a “design emergency” is key; no one has ever died because their walls were painted the wrong color on accident or the door hardware was ordered in the wrong finish. All of these things can be worked through. Staying flexible and knowing that even the most careful plans get derailed — even if you have the best home builder, architect, and designer — is the only way to get through this process. 

Finally, as in all areas of life, having gratitude brings happiness. After my breakdown, I remembered how grateful I am for this opportunity and for the chance I have to learn from this experience. I have become a better designer for my clients, a more patient person, and I appreciate my house even more because of the sacrifices I have made for it. 

Final Thoughts

Honestly, building or remodeling a home isn’t for everyone. Before you decide to go forward with a major home project, really think it through. If your family relationships are already strained, if spending a lot of money daily makes you crazy, or if you have strong design opinions that clash with your partner, think twice. Jon and I are both in the industry — he is a real estate investor/project manager. He doesn’t have strong design opinions and has given me free rein. We really like each other, but this is almost doing us in. I even started going back to therapy because I needed support and an objective third party to help me stay grounded. The building has taken longer than expected, it’s more expensive than we anticipated, and it’s harder than I imagined and has exposed the cracks in my life that needed attention. When my clients have joked that designers serve as therapists, I now really believe them. 

Through it all, it’s a dream come true for me and I’m still happy we decided to build a house. It isn’t for the faint of heart however, so make sure you hire the right people for your project because it will make all the difference. 

brecia alston