Moving in with someone means making sacrifices. Couples have to adjust to each other’s schedules, surrender some privacy and come up with a fair system to decide who will take out the trash.
But maybe the most unanticipated hurdle of mixing homes is agreeing on how the place will be decorated. His tufted leather sofa won’t exactly complement your white leather sectional. Your framed Edgar Degas prints alongside his mounted taxidermy? Uh, no.
A recent survey commissioned by online art store UGallery found that nearly 60 percent of women respondents thought “managing different home decor styles” was one of the biggest move-in challenges for couples. This includes coming to a consensus on colors and furniture, how to decorate walls and — the most cited in the survey — how to incorporate existing household items with your partner’s.
“The goal is to create a home everyone loves and feels loved and nurtured in,” said Sharon Hanby-Robie, interior designer and author of Decorating Without Fear: A Step-By-Step Guide to Creating the Home You Love (Thomas Nelson). For that to happen, compromise is a must.
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Without it, you’ll both be living in a home that one — or both — of you dislike. That can lead to resentment, and worse. For some couples, redecorating can be so divisive that it threatens the relationship.
A 2013 survey by Houzz, a website for home remodeling and design, found that 12 percent of respondents considered separating or divorcing amid a home remodel.
“One of the things I recommend to my clients is that they shop together,” said Jonathan Alpert, psychotherapist and author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days (Center Street). That way, both of you can have input and no major decisions will be made without the other person’s consideration.
If the dispute is about whether to keep or discard items you both already own, be empathetic, Alpert advised. Try to understand why your significant other is adamant about keeping something. People’s identities are often formed by material items, so whether it’s furniture, collections or artwork, things can be very near and dear to someone, he said.
On the flip side of that, things are only things. Don’t let someone’s belongings dictate how you feel about them.
“If you fell in love with this person, then certainly you can live with the furniture they might like,” Alpert said.
Keep in mind, though, that if an ugly (to you) couch or R.E.M. poster is driving a wedge in your relationship, it may be indicative of more severe underlying problems. These feelings can manifest through arguments over which wallpaper to put in the dining room or whether to throw out an ottoman.
“It’s not always about what we see on the surface,” Alpert said. “Sometimes a couch is a lot more than a couch.”
Rachel Waldron, an interior designer who lives near Seattle, said that most of the time there’s one partner who’s dictating the design decisions. She said she prefers when both partners attend meetings to discuss design plans, even if it might lead to bickering.
“As a designer, you tend to play marriage counselor sometimes,” she joked. But conflict has its rewards. “I think the most beautiful designs come from opposition,” she said.
Julie Davis Canter of Redding, Connecticut, understands not seeing eye to eye with your significant other on design. She said she and her husband recently bought a set of chairs to go with their dining table — after a year of searching.
“(My husband) thought my choice looked like 18th-century France, and I thought his looked like contemporary Scandinavian,” she said.
Canter said they eventually agreed on a set she particularly liked from Restoration Hardware. She thinks the fact that they shopped for them on her birthday gave her an edge.
“He’s 85 percent ‘it’s got to be utilitarian’ and I’m pretty much ‘it’s got to look great,’” Canter said.
There’s also an emotional payoff when less demonstrative partners are invited to share their perspectives on design, Waldron said. When he or she speaks up — and is listened to — it yields a design that’s illustrative of the couple, not just one person. It also makes both people feel validated.
To foster an atmosphere of cooperation, Hanby-Robie said that when she’s consulting with couples she asks each person to bring in up to 15 pictures of rooms they like and to imagine their ideal space.
“All of us have a place we’ve been that we just love and in the perfect world would have that room as our own,” she said. Maybe it’s a cafe, a library or a room from your childhood home.
After understanding what each person visualizes, Hanby-Robie blends the concepts to create a scheme that fits the personalities and lifestyles of the couple.
Hanby-Robie told a story about one of her clients, a married couple who recently redecorated their master bedroom. The man was intent on having a spacious leather chair in the room, but it clashed with his wife’s more feminine approach for the room’s design.
“He got his leather chair,” Hanby-Robie said. “But it came in a pastel color.”
Fortunately, he was OK with that.
If you and your partner can’t agree on an overall design scheme for your home, decorating room by room might be the solution. Hanby-Robie’s philosophy to this approach is that the person for whom the room is most important is the one who should call the shots. This approach can also be applied to where you display the Lladro collection, baseball paraphernalia, etc.
What’s key for a couple to remember in home decor is that the space should ultimately be a welcoming environment for both of you, and anyone else who lives in the home.
While you may have spent the last 10 years envisioning your dream dining room or bedroom, remember, it’s someone else’s home, too. Someone, don’t forget, you happen to love.
Reframing the conflict
Emotions can run amok amid the stress that comes with decorating issues, whether you’re moving in together or redoing an existing home. Jonathan Alpert, a psychotherapist with experience in advising couples, offers these tips to help you and your partner avoid unnecessary conflict during the process.
Shop as a team. Couples who need to make major purchases like new furniture, wallpaper or paint should go together to pick these items out. This lets both partners voice their thoughts before buying and doesn’t leave anyone feeling snubbed or surprised.
Start fresh. Those moving in together for the first time should try to find a new place of their own whenever possible, instead of one person moving into the other person’s place. The first one to live there might become territorial and falsely believe he or she has a greater say in decorating. That doesn’t bode well for a strong partnership.
Look at the big picture. You might care immensely about your home’s appearance, but is it worth jeopardizing your relationship for? Look at the cost of putting up a fight over certain items and ask yourself if it really matters that much to you. If it does, make sure your partner knows how much you care and why. If not, let it go.