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Stylishly Ever After: Decorating Tips for Couples

Whether you’ve just moved in with your special someone or have been married or living together for years, you may come across a problem they don’t talk always about in couples therapy: decorating. Because if you and your partner have different tastes in décor, there could be a few clashes.  

Now, I’m not going to talk in terms of gender stereotypes, e.g., women liking pastels and florals or men preferring dark colors and leather. Individual tastes are certainly more nuanced than that. So as a designer who also has a degree in psychology, let me offer a few suggestions for making the decorating process a harmonious one. These tips apply to all couples living together, including same sex couples and even platonic roommates. 

Set expectations ahead of time

It’s a good idea to start with a roadmap of what you’re both looking for in terms of your home environment. Besides assessing your individual tastes and styles, discuss your expectations for how your home will be used. One person may see the home as a place where friends can gather for parties, while the other may envision it as a retreat to relax and recharge. Also, you’ll want to decide on the scope of your decorating project. Are you just sprucing up the place with some accent pieces, or do you need a whole makeover with new furniture and even some construction? Get on the same page now before you start spending money and time.

Make individual inspiration files

For a beneficial exercise, have each of you assemble a file folder of magazine and catalog clippings of rooms and furniture that you like. Compare the two files, and discuss what each of you likes and dislikes. Then get a bulletin board and pin all the photos you both like. It’s fun — and reassuring — to see where you have common ground. 

Decide together what stays or goes

When you’re merging two households, arguments can break out over what gets to stay and what gets sent to the thrift store. Remember this is not a competition about who gets to keep the most stuff. There needs to be some compromise here. If one person has to give something up, the other person should, too. Have an “unsure” pile that you can revisit later if some items are hotly disputed. During the heat of negotiations, ordinary items can become sentimental treasures, but giving them a little time in the “unsure” pile can help us think more rationally.

Shop together

So that both parties feel like they have a say in the decorating decisions, go shopping together whenever you can, especially for big ticket items like electronics, appliances and furniture. Mutually agree that if something is going to cost more than “X dollars,” then both must approve the purchase. For incidental items like accessories, tableware and linens, shopping together is a great way to bond and spend time together. But if one of you really doesn’t care or hates to shop, then by all means delegate.

It’s actually empowering in a relationship for both parties to feel like they are the “smart one” when it comes to one aspect of the home. 

Divide and conquer

Speaking of delegating, there are actually times when it’s better to not shop together. If one of you is the “expert” at something, e.g., you know all about bookcases and storage, then you should be in charge of that department. Or if your passion is entertaining, then you can be the one purchasing tableware. It’s actually empowering in a relationship for both parties to feel like they are the “smart one” when it comes to one aspect of the home. But remember, both of you have to be the expert at something; there cannot be just one smart person.

Mix your styles

While your tastes may be different, mixing them can be design alchemy. After all, a home can be boring when everything in it is of one style. Keeping both of your design sensibilities in view might seem like a compromise, but it’s actually a celebration of what makes each of you unique. And that uniqueness is what drew you to each other in the first place. n

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