Money Pit Musings

By: Annie L. Johnson, ASID, RID

It’s been a long time since I watched “The Money Pit,” a 1986 comedy film about a young couple’s home renovation and the ensuing stressors and pitfalls. I was not an interior designer the first time I saw it, so now with years of experience in home design and renovation, the movie rings differently. I laughed out loud at moments of comedic truth, but other exaggerations left me grateful not to have experienced such depths of disaster (and hopefully never will).

The story begins when Walter (played by Tom Hanks) happens upon “a steal” of a fixer-upper and convinces his girlfriend (played by Shelley Long) to purchase it together with high hopes and dreams for their future. They start by making calls to get quotes and immediately have trouble getting anyone to come out. My first chuckle here…I guess it’s not a post-2020 phenomenon. It seems that homeowners nationwide are destined to have trouble finding good people without referrals and connections. The thought occurs to me that this movie serves as a point-by-point marketing tool for interior designers, the first being that our relationships with the trades greatly benefits our clients.

Demo day kicks things off when the “crew” shows up for the first time. Arriving in caravan style with great fanfare, it appears that the circus has come to set up camp. I cannot help but laugh at the thought that this is how homeowners experience having strangers traipsing through their homes during various phases of work, be it framing, sheetrock, tiling, painting, electrical, plumbing, etc. It probably does feel like a three-ring circus! And this brave movie-couple actually chooses to remain in the home during construction, causing strife in their routines, sleep, privacy, communication and, ultimately, their relationship. In real life we professionals know that it’s best if alternate plans can be arranged…a short-term rental or even a vacation during the most disruptive phase of work.

One day the inspector arrives but the homeowner forgets the appointment, so the project stalls for weeks as he tries desperately to reschedule with one failure after another. The running joke is that the answer is always “two weeks” anytime the homeowner asks, “how long,” while things drag on for months. In this case, the renovation project estimated to take only two weeks ends up taking many months. Delays like this due to miscommunication can be avoided with a good project manager and/or interior designer. Managing and setting realistic expectations is top of list for how designers can help homeowners.

To be fair, unexpected things do come up which are beyond anyone’s knowledge or control. And things always get worse before they get better during renovation. In our story, hilarity (and horror) ensues throughout the course of the movie as the staircase collapses, the plumbing is clogged, the electrical system catches fire, the bathtub crashes through the floor, the chimney collapses, and there is a raccoon in the dumbwaiter.

In the end, the couple calls it quits before the house is completed. However, when they see the house beautifully finished they both reconsider. They clarify some misunderstandings and decide to stay together in their beautiful new home. To me this is a story of what good designers can do – we transform spaces and improve lives in the process. It is not a profession for the faint of heart, despite what many may naively think. There is no gain without pain, and we are the ones who help our clients create the vision and see it come to life, navigating through the good, the bad and the ugly. Instead of the money pit, good designers protect their investment and steer homeowners through the pitfalls of home improvement.

If you haven’t seen this movie (or not in a while), check it out and enjoy the fact that it’s not a project you’re working on!