Home Decorating for Couples 101

I’ve been working with a young couple, Kim and Ryan, who recently bought their first house – so exciting! They couldn’t wait to get started on decorating and transforming the new house into their home. We began with a questionnaire that I had them work on together, it had a lot of the usual design type questions and then some that they really had to think about. For instance, their color tolerance. Color tolerance in terms of home design simply means how much color are you comfortable with in your space. Do you like lots of bright color everywhere or do you prefer neutrals? This can be an eye opening question for couples as it was for my clients. Turns out Ryan has a very low color tolerance and Kim is at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Creating your sanctuary is much like creating a relationship with your significant other – you each come into the relationship with a distinctive personality, likes and dislikes, behavior quirks and beliefs. The challenge is to blend these unique characteristics into a harmonious balance without losing your individuality. Designing your home together is much the same way.

It takes a shared common vision and yes, comprises. I remember years ago when Micheal (my future husband) and I were making the decision to live together I asked my dad, “how do you and mom create a home together?” My home has always been of the utmost importance to me, it’s my nest and my ‘safe place’ when the world gets overwhelming – I was more than a little hesitant about sharing the design decisions with Micheal as our styles and taste didn’t seem compatible. My dad’s words of wisdom were, “I let your mother make all the design decisions.” I had to laugh because I don’t think my mother would see it that way – I can distinctly remember skirmishes over sofa styles and furniture placement more than once while growing up!

So back to my clients. Ryan and Kim agreed upon the overall design they wanted – Modern Tropical. I then created a design board incorporating the elements we had discussed that were important to them with neutral furnishings for Ryan and bright pops of color for Kim creating a harmonious blend of their individual aesthetics.

They both loved the design board and were ready to get started with purchasing furniture and accessories for their new home. The first purchase was a sofa that was comfortable for Ryan to sprawl out on (this seems to be a major factor for men!) and stylish to suit Kim’s taste. Next the area rug was purchased along with brightly colored throw pillows and some fabulous poufs to provide extra seating when entertaining friends. And then came the first hurdle – the chairs.

It’s no surprise that Ryan’s top priority is comfort while Kim is focused on the feel and style of their home. As a side note, I purposely used the word ‘feel’ as this is often how women create – we want our homes to literally feel a certain way when we walk in the door. So I put together another board with a selection of various styles of chairs that would fit well in their Modern Tropical home. After hours of deliberation, Ryan and Kim selected a chair that they both liked – only to find it’s out of stock so back to the drawing board!

Here are some suggestions and practical advice for couples who find themselves in a design dilemma:

Have a Shared Vision

As I mentioned earlier, having a design board – either one you create yourselves or one that is done for you (shameless promotion here – yes, hire me!) – can save you countless hours of frustration and also a lot of money. By having a clear vision of what you want and a budget in mind, you’ll have a good foundation and will stay on track. Each design board that I create also has product links with prices so that clients can get an idea where they want to spend their hard earned money, and they can purchase the pieces directly with no markup.

Decide on Priorities

This is often overlooked and then everything can become a battle. So sit down and figure out what’s really important to each of you. For instance, if you love to cook and your partner hardly ever does, then decide up front that you have final say on the kitchen design. And really get clear on just how important the overall design of your home is to each of you. 

Years ago when Micheal and I were renovating our first house, we had a major knock down drag out at Home Depot – over cabinet hardware. Yup, cabinet knobs and drawer pulls! You’d think that they would be insignificant but you’d be wrong. Basically we ended up with no hardware on our cabinets for months because we each refused to compromise. That’s when we instituted our ‘form and function’ policy. If it has to do with how it looks, I have the final decision – if an item involves function, Micheal chooses. For instance, the color of the walls, the cabinets, the accessories etc. are my domain. Micheal selects all of the ‘equipment’ that goes into renovating ie tankless water heater, HVAC, etc. And yes, there are overlaps – this is when compromising comes into play. It’s also where we long ago determined that how our home looks and feels is of more importance to me. As long as it’s comfortable, Micheal is good with what I choose (for the most part)!

You can divide up the decision making however works best for you and your partner, either by room, by form and function or anything that suits you both. But it’s important to have a system in place so that you don’t split up over kitchen hardware!

Enjoy the Journey

Keep in mind that creating your home – your mutual sanctuary – is a journey, not something to be rushed through in order to reach the finish line. It takes time to select each piece, choosing things that have meaning and bring you joy. Most of all, have fun! Make a date to go furniture shopping – plan to grab a bite to eat first (and maybe a cocktail or two), set the stage for an enjoyable experience. Get up early on a Saturday morning and hit the flea market, searching for treasures – maybe a unique piece of art or a coffee table you can have fun rehabbing together. Don’t be afraid to take a design break. Sometimes you need a little breather to make decisions, sometimes you need to live in your space in order to decide on a wall color – it’s ok, there’s no pressure. Be grateful that you’re on this journey together!

Ryan and Kim are still working on finding just the right chairs. They’re enjoying their design journey – my heart smiles when I get excited texts from Kim after they find a piece they both love! And they’re navigating the unforeseen pitfalls – like agreeing on a light to hang over their kitchen island. I have full confidence that together they’ll create the perfect sanctuary – a place to make memories with friends and family, a place to soothe their souls after a long week, a place to kick back and relax … a place to call home.



Note: After too many years of being out of the design world, I’m jumping back in and will be starting my new business, Soulful Home Design. I’ll also be starting a new lifestyle blog – stay tuned for further details soon!