Final nail in a relationship: why home décor disaster can spell divorce

23 March 2016

  • Nationwide research shows one in seven suffered emotional damage from dodgy DIY
  • Nearly a quarter said they would sacrifice having a child to improve their home
  • Fantasy home improvement for women is a large kitchen, while men opt for a Man Cave
  • Overwhelming vote for the 1970s as the worst design decade

Botched home improvements are wreaking havoc in Britain’s homes, and not just with punctured pipes and hideous paintwork, according to research1 from Nationwide Credit Cards.

One in seven (15%) of those surveyed reported that ham-fisted handiwork around the home had affected their relationship, with two per cent saying it had helped to end the relationship entirely. However, almost a quarter (23%) said that it had instead become the subject of laughter rather than emotional disaster.

According to the research, almost a quarter (23%) said they would sacrifice having a baby or more children to put their house in order. However, there was a clear gender divide on what else men and women might forgo to achieve major home improvements – with men far less likely than women to give up the latest home technology (47% against 27% of women) or a new car (28% of men versus 20% of women).

The top-rated fantasy home improvement overall was a large, open-plan kitchen-diner, with nearly a fifth (17%) saying it would be their dream project, followed by a loft conversion (16%) and separate garden room or studio (14%). There were big differences, however, between the sexes. One in five (21%) of men’s favourite fantasy home improvement a ‘Man Cave’ or super-sized shed with extras such as a gym against only six per cent of women, while women opted overwhelmingly for the big kitchen-diner (21%) against 12 per cent of men.

There was also a significant age divide, with those aged 18-24 (24%) and 25-34 (20%) dreaming of a Man Cave, while a fifth of the 35-44 age group, perhaps thinking of growing families, would choose a loft conversion (21%). Those aged 45-54 (18%) and 55+ (20%) prefer the expanded, open-plan kitchen.

And despite all the focus on London as the home of so-called iceberg basement developments, the region where it was most popular as a dream project was the South East, with almost one in ten (9%) putting it top of their wish list, against six per cent in London.

When asked what the worst decade for décor was, the overwhelming winner was the 1970s, the era of avocado bathrooms, tartan furniture and woodchip walls, with 43 per cent. Trailing with 16 per cent in second place was the 1980s, with its festoon blinds, yellows and pinks and Artex ceilings, while the big patterns and wipe-clean fitted kitchens of the swinging sixties came in third with 12 per cent.

According to spending figures from Nationwide Credit Cards, from January to December 2015 Nationwide lent a total of £627million across 6.5 million credit card transactions, averaging £100 per home improvement spend.

TThis is in line with the research findings, as those surveyed said the average level of spending on their last home improvement job was £114.

Most popular fantasy home improvement by region:

Region Dream Project
East Anglia Open-plan kitchen-diner (18%)
East Midlands
En-suite bathroom (18%)/loft conversion (18%)
London Separate outside studio or garden room (18%)
North East Open-plan kitchen-diner (23%)
North West Open-plan kitchen-diner (20%)
Northern Ireland Loft conversion (20%)
Scotland Open-plan kitchen-diner (16%)
South East
Open-plan kitchen-diner (15%)
South West Loft conversion (16%)/open-plan kitchen-diner (16%)
Wales Man Cave or supersized shed (21%)
West Midlands Open-plan kitchen-diner (20%)
Yorkshire Loft conversion (16%)/open-plan kitchen-diner (16%)

Andrew Baddeley-Chappell, Nationwide’s Head of Policy for Mortgages and Savings, said: “This is a peak time of the year for people to spend money on their homes. This could be either investing in a large-scale project to increase floor space and add value to their homes, which may mean additional borrowing. Or, they may make relatively cosmetic changes, making sure they are on top of maintenance and updating their homes with lower levels of spending.

“Our data suggests that people aspire to large-scale projects, such as large kitchens or loft conversion, which we know can add significant value. According to recent Nationwide’s figures, a ten per cent increase in floor area brings an average five per cent increase in property value, the equivalent of £10,000 for the average property. However, people also feel it is important to regularly refresh the appearance of their homes to make it their own – or to reflect their changing needs.”

More than a third (37%) said they would give most basic home improvement jobs a go, while seven per cent said they would attempt all kinds of DIY job, including building work. Again, though, there was a gender divide, with one in ten men (11%) saying they would attempt anything, big or small, as against three per cent of women, while 45 per cent of men would happily embark on non-building jobs, as opposed to only 29 per cent of women.

Home interiors expert Julia Kendell, the designer on television’s DIY SOS and 60 Minute Makeover and who also runs her own interior design company, said: “We have a strong emotional connection to our homes and it is no wonder that we are prepared to invest significant sums into creating a space that provides for our wellbeing and everyday enjoyment. We also have strong opinions about our DIY and decoration likes and dislikes and will spend much time and energy planning layouts, design schemes and accessorising.

“It’s perhaps not surprising that if a much anticipated home improvement doesn’t go according to plan, or achieve the desired end result, it can lead to domestic disharmony and a huge sense of disappointment. It’s good to note, however, that research suggests we tend to laugh off and learn from DIY disasters rather than take them to heart.”

Notes to Editors

Julia Kendell’s top tips for home improvement projects:

My number one top tip is to Always Plan Ahead
Before embarking on any home improvement project, it is a great idea to put a mood board together for the room scheme you are proposing. This will ensure that everything works really beautifully together and is well balanced before you commit to any expenditure. Once you are happy with the look and effect you have pulled together on the mood board, you can proceed with confidence you will have a scheme you will love.

It never hurts to Shop Around
Some home improvement projects are fine to take on yourself, but some jobs may be far too big for you to handle. If this is the case, make sure you get several quotes in from locally recommended tradespeople to get the very best possible price. This is the same for all other materials and furnishings you need to buy – taking the time to shop around will ensure you are not spending unnecessary money.

Struggling to Find Inspiration?
For anyone who is daunted by the prospect of starting a home improvement project, looking for inspiration from successful design schemes is a great start. Online sites and social media, especially Pinterest, are great resources for finding some really inspiring ideas for any style and project you are considering.

Lastly, have the Right Tools to Hand
If you are ‘DIYing’ your project then ensure you have all the tools and all the right products you are going to need to finish the job. It is better to be over-prepared than under-prepared, as there’s nothing worse than starting a job and not having what you need to hand.

1 The research was conducted on behalf of Nationwide by Vital Statistics sampled 2,000 UK adults. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+). The survey ran from March 17 2016 – March 21 2016.

Statistics on the average added value for home improvements are from the Nationwide House Price Index Special Report March 2016. More information at

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