Homo Reno: 13 Tips for Keeping Your 5 Year Queer Relationship Intact While Renovating the House You Live In

1. Begin, as all couples do, with optimism.

a collage of two photos. on the left sadie and nico make silly faces in a couples' selfie, nico looking anxious and sadie yelling. in the other photo, sadie smiles nervously and giddily in a dining room with bright red curtains, a weird old chandelier and a dining room table.

Actual footage of us freaking out when the deed was done and we arrived to find that wow we got free window treatments thrown in with the deal. Also that chandelier no longer works and I cannot wait for the day I finally pull it out.

How long do you think it will take? It will take years longer.

You have not even begun to plunge the depths of simultaneous strength and despair that lie ahead. I’m not sure if it would have been better to start with more pessimism, but the thing is — it’s actually, factually impossible to start with the correct amount of negativity because the house is going to challenge everything you ever believed about just how wrong something can go.

But sure, buy a house! The mortgage might be cheaper than rent would have been, but you will pay the difference in BLOOD.

a starkly lit image of a red carpet with a piece of vegan pizza on a paper plate on it, in the center. there is a glimpse of lace curtain in the background.

Have some vegan pizza!

2. Accept that Home Depot* is now your PRIMARY RESIDENCE and get really friendly with any local re-use locations.

a photo of sadie at construction junction looking at tile. a photo of our late dog mya smiling brightly at a home depot

Sadie always looks at tile. We have never bought tile.

You could go to Lowe’s. They do have that paint color you want, and it’s not available at Home Depot, but the thing is that when you get there, the cashier with the Hell’s Angels tattoos is going to stare you both down as you wander the aisles, and then leave the only open register when you try to checkout, forcing a very annoyed colleague to come check you out instead. (This is because you are queer, FYI.)

For whatever reason, the local Home Depot employs a lot of older women who are puzzled by you two undertaking projects, but they’re not overtly threatening, similar to the neighbor who stops by once in a while when you’re working outside to exclaim, hands on his hips while his kids run around him, “No man!”

You will not be able to avoid spending money with a company that donated to the Trump campaign. There is no winning when you need drywall. They have a chokehold on building supplies. We should probably think about that.

It helps if you put on your dirty work clothes before going to Home Depot, also — a hot tip from me to you. Also, unofficially, you can bring your dog with you into Home Depot and this will make everyone be nice to you because who doesn’t love dogs? (And they also often have a secret stash of dog treats and will ask if they can give your dog a treat.)*

*This may just be about the dynamic between our local Pittsburgh Lowe’s and local Home Depot…YMMV.

3. Try to scream or yell in surprise at only appropriate times. If you are working on something and you drop something off a ladder and no one is hurt…should you yell in frustration? ONLY IF YOU WANT YOUR PARTNER TO THINK YOU HAVE FALLEN OFF THE LADDER AND IMPALED YOUR LEG ON A PIECE OF LATH.

Discuss this many times. Never manage to get ahold of it. Hurt yourself for real at some point, curl up into a ball on the floor and say nothing about it, even, just for good, contradictory measure.

a close up of sadie, a butch woman wearing an n-95 mask, who has her earring caught on a drop ceiling chain

Looking this hot and butch can be a hazard.

Then, stub your toe, graze yourself with a nail, or just drop something while on a ladder in an annoying but not life-threatening way. Of course NOW you are going to scream your lungs out.

a photo that is mostly of some newly installed drywall on a ceiling with nico, a white genderqueer human partially visible at the bottom, lifting up one dirty hand and giving the horns with it and peering at the camera through glasses. they are wearing an orange trucker hat.

Everything is always fine.

4. Okay, there is at least one ghost, now. You are going to need to reconcile with being haunted. Depending on your existing beliefs, this may range from run-of-the-mill to existential crisis. The creepy shapes painted on the walls won’t help your unease.

Why.

a photo of nico in a flannel and googles crouching in the foreground and giving side eye to a weird black triangle painted upside down and dominating a wall in the background

Is.

a photo of a black upside down triangle painted on a pale blue wall, taking up most of the wall. it has a lot of holes and patches

It.

Nico takes a mirror selfie at the bar in their basement. it is a very old and dingy setup.

Like.

in a half-renovated, darkened hallway, sadie gives a thumbs up at the end

This.

sadie looks around nervously in a dingey limestone basement that is inexplicably painted teal.

5. But what you will be most haunted by is the fact that they decided to wallpaper the bathroom.

the negroni spagliato meme with emma d'arcy saying "wallpaper" in the first panel then "over wood paneling in the bathroom" in the second panel and "and no fan" in the third panel. Their costar replies "oh, stunning"

Reckon with the fact that you are going to have to take down the wallpaper that is actually apparently more like vinyl contact paper on the bathroom ceiling and that you are going to have to go full Spielburg and dress like you’re one of those guys in Hazmat suits handling ET while you annihilate the mold.

nico raises one arm high and puts the other behind their head while wearing a full body plastic suit, gloves, a respirator and standing behind a sheet of plastic that they've used to seal off the bathroom from the rest of the house. the vibe is definitely weird.

The Last of Us really hits home when you’ve had to kill bathroom mushrooms.

6. Have an ice cold beverage waiting for you upon completion of a She-Hulk-Level task.

There will be so many devastatingly onerous items on your to-do list ahead.

It helps to pretend like you will be able to partake of a reward…two hours from now…okay…six hours from now. Okay, listen, if you don’t finish it’s not like this is a job you can leave at the end of the day you will have to stare at the unfinished project for weeks because you only have THIS SUNDAY and then you are booked for like fourteen days so just GET IT DONE.

a stone block sits in a pile of dirt and gravel with a crowbar and a shovel next to it in a photo on the left. on the right, the completed wall with two cups on it that have faces on them and a bottle of sparkling wine.

Rebuilding this wall in 2019 took a whole day — and a full hour was spent DISLODGING the one very stuck stone block. It was also 40 degrees F and rainy.

7. Sometimes you are going to have to undertake a project during which it will be inevitable that you will scream at each other. My advice is to just kind of pretend it didn’t happen.

The only thing you can do is prepare for this and engage in after-care. You both might have to hold a heavy object above your heads while standing on ladders for an extended period of time. This could be a ceiling fan. You might have to haul a 200lb insulation machine from the sidewalk up 27 concrete stairs to your back patio, certain that if you let go of it, you will die. You will scream, you will cry, you will fight about how to survive whatever you’ve gotten yourself into today. This is your fate.

Sadie and Nico are wearing work clothes and glasses in front of a patched up wall. Sadie kisses Nico on the cheek.

The men at the Home Depot rentals department will be mean to you two when you pick up the insulation machine but will be able to SAY NOTHING when you return it, obviously used.

8. Never give up hope…that you’ll find secret money!

On the left is a photo where Sadie, in a hoodie and safety goggles, inspects a safe that has been put into the closet's framing, the back of it balanced on the mantle of the fireplace that was behind a false wall. On the right is a photo of the uncovered antique fireplace.

Fireplace is a big fan of amontillado.

Things we’ve found include: a fireplace hidden behind wood panelling that gave me major House of Leaves vibes at first. We couldn’t see the fireplace. It looked like there was a closet. I kept walking from the hallway into the bedroom and back, measuring with my arms. The measurements didn’t make sense. We started tearing.

Other things we’ve found in no particular order include bonus closets, the tops of windows, a popcorn maker, a box of matchbooks collected over decades, an entire drawer of odds and ends and tools, a knife engraved with “Old Timer,” a bowling ball, a cigarette beneath a floorboard (as well as a removable floor board), a 1965 poster of the Pittsburgh Steelers, a refrigeration well in the basement, and a card table I currently use to pack A+ perks on.

We prize each of our finds, and though the attic was ALSO seriously lacking in cash, we’re still holding a candle for a coin collection or something.

Nico's head and shoulders are peeking up through a hole into the space between a drop ceiling and the real ceiling, up among wood framing, wearing an N95, goggles and a headlamp.

No money up here.

Sadie balances on a joist in the attic while wearing a headlamp. The attic is dark and wooden.

None up here either. (Upside: there were no bodies in the completely sealed-off attic. A real concern we had.)

9. Take pictures and videos of each other during silly moments because, eventually, this is what you will remember most.

Look at those cute butch lesbian legs!

I have no excuse except delirium.

Are you ever just…tired?

Nico is wearing a little black dress and heeled boots but is using a carpenter's axe to board a door shut

Go ahead. Guess.

Choices have been made in this house.

a photo of sadie in work clothes, lying on a half-finished floor, curled up in a ball, exhausted

The theme is “tired.”

10. Get away.

Camp, visit friends, get the fuck away from the devil on your back that is your home reno project. Your relationship will thank you. I swear the only time I am ever actually relaxed is in the woods. (Except for that one time I left the tent at night to pee and a bear growled at me. That was stressful.)

Nico stands in a jacket and jeans and hiking boots at the edge of a forest, holding a bundle of sticks and smiling.

Ah yes one of my favorite hobbies: stick collection.

11. Have at least one room that is a sanctuary as soon as you can.

a photo of a ceiling that has been repaired extensively with drywall. there are still chains hanging from it that had previously been used to secure a drop ceiling.

Mmmmm sanctuary.

We did not do this and wound up living in “The Creepy Room” for two years, including the start of the pandemic.

12. Remember that you’re a team but also that your girlfriend is very special because she is doing most of the work while you work tons and tons of hours for Autostraddle. Hug her even when she’s covered in dust. DO IT.

Nico and Sadie smile for a selfie while at the dump. they're both wearing glasses and jackets

We’re at the dump! I take her to all the best places, I swear.

Especially if your butch girlfriend has experience working in home reno and the repair of Victorian homes and horeshair plaster…she will be taking the lead here.

13. If you can’t fix it right now, make it fun.

I just gave up on our bathroom so hard I bought a clown print, framed it and hung it up because we lean into vibes around here okay? We do not look away. That’s just where we’re at, energy-wise, time-wise, money-wise, penny-wise.

a print of a clown pulling a rabbit out of a hat is set in a stark, bleak bathroom with peeling paint. there is a window being held open with a board, blackness beyond it. the clown is ominously reflected in the mirror.

Also when my Sadie told me she always wanted to collect clown art, I knew I’d made the irrefutably best choice in life partner.

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Nico

Nico Hall is Autostraddle's A+ and Fundraising Director, and has been fundraising and working in the arts and nonprofit sector for over a decade. They write nonfiction and personal essays and are currently at work on a queer fiction novel and podcasts. They live in Pittsburgh. Nico is also haunted. You can find them on Twitter and Instagram as @nknhall.

Nico has written 221 articles for us.

27 Comments

  1. 1. this was amazing

    2. not only did my childhood home have wallpaper in literally every room (sometimes two types of wallpaper in the same room because 80s? and some lovely moldy wallpaper in the bathrooms but with the dot patterns you could pretend it’s part of the ~design~), but when we removed the wallpaper from my bedroom there was a horrifying message of “karl was here” in crayon. so yeah. potential ghosts here too.

    3. in my town lowes > > home depot; at lowes, the cashiers judge me only for buying too many plants – at home depot, i get lots of weird looks when i carry a gay tote. so my mileage did indeed vary.

    3a. i feel like every town should have a listed ranking of hardware stores from most to least judgy of queer folks

    • I feel like yes every locality should rank hardware (maybe most?) stores from least to most queerphobic. That would honestly be fantastic and so helpful!

      AND LOL “KARL WAS HERE” That’s like when we found the scrawlings of “Dirk the Polish Prick” who apparently installed the wood panelling in one room. Except, Gina, the crayon makes it way creepier.

      Also, yeah, wallpaper in a bathroom is really not the best idea.

  2. excuse me your house has a secret staircase AND a secret fireplace??? thrilling

    i personally have never forgiven lowes for pulling their advertising when there was a big racist stink around the mere existence of the show All-American Muslim. home depot is a problem for reasons you have mentioned. i try to do what i can at ace hardware but assume that is problematic in ways i just do not know about. luckily never in my life will i undertake a project of this magnitude; i am utterly lacking in the patience/fortitude/ambition necessary for it even if i did possess the skill. very impressive, please take us on the big reveal finished house tour one day, p.s. put bill to work!

  3. My mom also thought there might be dead bodies in the mostly sealed attic of my house. The only way to access it was a second story exterior door that was just hanging out. And my mom thinks the dump is fun.

    Best wishes with the projects!

  4. Loved this sooo much! Can’t wait to hear more of the reno saga. Re: the hardware/home goods stores I’m lucky to live in San Diego where we have a large soft butch population and both my Home Depot and Lowe’s are chill!

  5. Loved this!!! My other (incredibly boring) piece of advice is check your local asbestos regulations/check the age of the property and get anything suspicious tested because while 60s/70s houses might be affordable they’re unfortunately still asbestos-y! I am still to this day stressed whenever I see an aspiring DIY influencer has redone their own insulation to save money and has not bothered getting those weird fibres on the old insulation checked out, or has had their ceilings skimmed for the aesthetic with no reference to testing, etc

  6. “creepy clown bathroom” is actually a design choice that at least one other queer homeowner has made, as i discovered at a cast party! one bathroom had prints of marilyn monroe and other gay icons, the other bathroom had like. burlesque? clowns? doing various semi-sensual activities? it was exactly the kind of bathroom you would expect a middle aged gay theater guy to have

  7. I wanted to thank you for writing this essay/diy expose. You have done the impossible – explain the horror/comedy and small reward in fixing up a property with a beloved. As someone who worked full time and fixed up my first home in my first year of my first queer relationship – I can relate. I am still “into it” fifteen years later with a new partner and different house. I am still not handy.

    I love that you included the ghosts – they always have opinions upon house disturbance. I wonder if these projects may even haunt us into the afterlife. I really hope I am able to let it go upon my transition to the great beyond.

    In an unexpected twist, your article made me feel a little nostalgic about home renovation. What is this magic article? Thank you so much, I sincerely enjoyed it.

  8. Thank you thank you thank you for putting into words exactly what my partner and I are also experiencing.

    Have there been meltdowns that its been 3 years and we still havent paint every square inch of wall throughout the house, yes.

    Do i have a bit of a scope creep issue, also yes. Has my closet reno turned into replacing the wall insulation in 3 different rooms? Absolutley.

  9. I also shop at Home Depot. I know they’re terrible as a corporation, but the actual staff are a lot less condescending and irksome then my local hardware store chain, McLendon’s, who I hate with a fiery passion. My wife points out that they should not behave this way towards anyone and she is right, but I find it especially galling because I am a construction worker. Anyway, I absolutely refuse to shop there anymore so Home Depot it is. This is a delightful article! Thanks!

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