7 Ways to Survive Decorating Differences With Your Roommate or Spouse

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Couple in pajamas facing opposite directions.
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It’s a dilemma that’s familiar to many of us. Maybe you are married and buying or renting your first home together. One of you is, let’s say, a mid-century modern type. The other loves the chunky, traditional furniture of her childhood. It can be a recipe for conflict. Domestic wars have been fought over less. How do couples manage their opposing tastes in home furnishings?

Roommates face similar problems. All’s well, for instance, until a new member of the household parks a Nintendo Wii in the middle of the shared living room, offending the housemate who lovingly decorated it.

Who wins these smackdowns? No one, to be honest. Or, everyone, if it’s done right. Here are seven strategies, tips and tricks for decorating shared spaces so your place will feel like home for everyone who lives there.

1. Stretch … a lot

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Compromise can be easy enough if one of you is an easygoing type who doesn’t think much about furniture, paint colors and drapes. But for those who care deeply about chrome appliances versus nickel, or a neutral palette versus bright primaries, careful and respectful negotiations are in order.

If you try imposing your will on the other person, you’ll both lose. The goal, instead, is for each to score enough wins to feel happy. No one is saying you must live with furnishing you hate. Rather, when you compromise, you settle for things you can live with, even if you wouldn’t have chosen them.

“The goal is to create a home everyone loves and feels loved and nurtured in,” Sharon Hanby-Robie, author of “Decorating Without Fear: A Step-By-Step Guide to Creating the Home You Love,” tells The Chicago Tribune.

2. Try shopping together

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Not everyone can shop together, but it’s worth giving it a try.

“That way, both of you can have input and no major decisions will be made without the other person’s consideration,” The Chicago Tribune writes, talking with Jonathan Alpert, psychotherapist and author of “Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days.”

3. Appreciate your differences


Focus on the love or the friendship, and not the differences.

Try this homework assignment: Make a list for yourself of reasons you like or love your partner or housemate. Use it to explore and understand your differences and realize that the differences are part of the reason you appreciate the other person.

4. Talk, and listen

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Most often the way through any difficult situation is communication. You say what you need and how you feel, and you also stop talking, stop making points in your head and simply listen to understand what the other person wants and feels.

If you find yourselves arguing, make sure the problem really is about that floral armchair and not at heart about a deeper issue, like whether someone feels disrespected or not valued.

Money issues are a particular source of conflict in decorating projects. You’ll need a shared budget for your project, a clear and agree-upon understanding of the costs before starting and the willingness to speak up if you are feeling stressed or pressured over spending.

Even so, misunderstandings over decor are universal. “Homeowners in every country reported clashing with their significant other while deciding on style, design, products, materials and finishes for their project,” according to the decor website Houzz, in a report on its recent poll of about 5,800 users. Houzz surveyed people in 10 countries — Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom and United States — about their experiences with building, remodeling and decorating a home together.

Houzz also interviewed couples therapist and clinical sexologist Dawn Michael, who has taught classes for couples on surviving remodeling. To find common ground, Michael asks people (this could work for roommates as well as couples) to write out 10 relevant ideas or desires and trade them with the other person. Each circles things they feel similarly about, checks those where compromise is possible and crosses out the ones they completely disagree on.

5. Forge a new identity: “Us”

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Couples (this is harder for roommates) can furnish a home, or parts of it, by making decisions from their shared identity. Here’s what that means: While you may have one style and your spouse may have another, there is a third universe of things or looks that you both appreciate. Couch shopping, for example? Choose a style that, while it may not be the first choice for either of you, represents neutral territory that you both can enjoy.

Laura Gummerman, at Women’sHealth, advises in “How to Compromise on Decor When You Move in With a Guy” to choose:

… simple, neutral colors for large furniture items like your couch, chairs, dining room, and bedroom furniture. It’s much easier to agree on classic shapes in neutral colors than to fight over a trendy object in a loud color.

6. Create a “lookbook” together

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Make a lookbook — a website, page or scrapbook with examples of the colors, styles and details you want to use for your project. The idea is for both of you to collect examples of things you like and share them with the other, talking over the pros, cons and your emotional responses to them.

“Sitting down together as a couple and going through pictures helps each person understand what the other likes and helps them come to clear conclusions on style and design choices that can prevent disagreements later on,” says Houzz.

7. Narrow the selection and then decide

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Another approach is for each person to shop around and come up with a set of choices they could live with. Put your ideas together and make your final decisions together. This is a great tool for roommates as well as for couples.

“With the major remodeling projects, I will do most of the research, narrow choices down to a few selections, then ask his input especially on the big investments and ones that affect value like flooring and countertops,” writes blogger Kate Riley, at Centsational Girl, on what works for her and her mate.

Riley adds a suggestion for those new to redecorating together: Go slow. Take it room by room, concentrating on the shared spaces. It’s much easier, emotionally, to tackle one room than an entire home.

Remodeling can be a test of your relationship. But while melding wildly different decorating styles isn’t easy, people do it every day and remain friends or lovers. Follow the Golden Rule (you know, do to others as you want them to do to you), and you’ll be okay.

Just remember to do your share of the work and then some. “What drives people and couples nuts is when each has 50 percent of the vote and one person does most of the work,” couples counselor Peter Pearson tells Houzz.

What’s your experience remodeling or redecorating with a partner or housemate? Share in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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