Empty Nest Syndrome and Completed Projects

For me, completing a project feels a bit like previewing empty nest syndrome (my boys are still teenagers). Now, my Daddy always taught me never to love anything that can’t love you back. He meant cars, money, shoes, etc.

Good advice, for sure, but he didn’t know I was going to be an architect. I do love my projects. In fact I’m sitting here getting a little sentimental about a favorite project of mine that we closed out.  Wow, after 24 months!

I get to know my clients better than probably any other profession. I learn their habits, their tastes, even some of their private moments regarding showers and intimacy. The couples have arguments in front of me and I learn of their hopes for their children. Sometimes, we have a few drinks together to celebrate milestones.

But those are people and it makes sense to connect with people. As an architect, I fall in love with the house.

Empty nest syndrome isn't a clinical diagnosis. Instead empty nest syndrome is a phenomenon in which parents experience feelings of sadness and loss when the last child leaves home. - Mayo Clinic

Before you roll your eyes and think I am being overly dramatic, I wanted to compare completing a project to giving a baby up for adoption -- I know, over the top.

Although as parents we actively encourage our children to become independent, the experience of letting go can be painful. I know that my job as an architect is to create this house for my client. I conceive it for them, make design decisions, budget considerations and create living conditions all to support my clients' lives. I have always been very good at that and my clients appreciate that I leave my ego out of the process.

But something happens during construction. I take ownership. I start saying things like "I don't want my limestone pavers to get dirty every time it rains." Or, "I can't live with being able to see that rope light reflection in the cabinet." These statements are always quickly followed with laughter and the recognition that the house is not mine and I am not going to be living in it. It's actually pretty funny and by the time it happens, we have a good enough relationship that the clients understand and laugh with me.

As your nest empties, you might find it difficult to suddenly have no children at home who need your care. You might miss being a part of your children's daily lives. My projects do become part of my daily life with frequent site visits and regular updates.

Then, suddenly, the lock box is gone and I don't have a key anymore. All of the decisions are made and my clients are moving into a beautiful home they love. I helped make all those decisions, advocated for my client when the going got tough. I dreamed up this structure. Now, the home's entire life is in front of it and I'm not going to be part of it.

You might also worry intensely about your children's safety and whether they will be able to take care of themselves on their own. - Mayo Clinic

Okay, this is really my sticking point. How do I know they are going to take care of this house? What paintings are they going to put up in the foyer? And the furniture, oh my God they could really screw things up with the furniture! She might put some stupid throw rug in the kitchen. He might forget to stain that gorgeous deck every year. Will they bleed the hose bib lines? Remember the chemicals in the water feature? Hand polish the glass tiles?

I will truthfully say that at some point at the end of every project, these thoughts and more pass through my head. I think it is part of what makes me good at what I do. Deep down, I love my job and I love creating special things for my clients. I know all along that I am making this the best project for this client and I never lose track that it is their hard-earned money paying for all of this.

The up side to all of this is wrapping up a big project does open up new opportunities. I'll have time to concentrate on the next big project that will steal my heart. And just like with letting teenagers go, there is some feeling of relief. It is a huge responsibility to bring a project to completion, but so worth it in the end.

But I'll still be driving by to check on that deck.

- Sheri


As Founder and Principal Architect of Springhouse Architects, Sheri’s mission is to lead Clients through the building process with the Clients in control and Springhouse as their guide, advocate and ally.  With over twenty years experience in Residential Architecture, Sheri brings knowledge and confidence to your custom home project.

Lisa Saldivar