Advice for Couples: Mixing Styles

By Kate Riley May 20, 2015

Today, I thought I’d address a common question, how do couples with different styles and separate possessions who get married or decide to live together create a cohesive home that they both can enjoy? I know many couples where the husband has no input because either he doesn’t care or his wife doesn’t care to ask. I know a few couples who shop for absolutely everything together, and I know many couples who fall somewhere in between.

I received this email from newlywed Carrie in Indiana which prompted the topic:

"Hi Kate! We have recently bought our first place (yay!) and we’ve only lived together since November, so I feel that there is a mish-mash of styles at our current place. What’s your best advice for combining styles or decorating a new home? Neither of us have owned before, so it’s all new territory.

With our new house, he says I can do whatever I want (as long as I leave the garage alone, and that’s ok with me!) but I feel guilty either not getting his input, or wanting to get rid of something that’s his.

mixing his hers

The tufted sofa is mine, the dressers are his…The white end tables are hand me downs from my great-grandma. I love a lot of mid century modern style. I think he’s used to having the matching "bedroom suite" and I’m just not that way. I don’t know where to start, it’s a big project…decorating a house, if we’ve never had a house before to furnish."

Great question Carrie, all newly cohabitating couples have been there. I had think back to the beginning when I was first married and what we did to make it work. I remember he had all of his stuff, I had mine, and when we brought it all together at first it was completely hodge podge and none of it worked together. It took many years to create a home with cohesive pieces and furniture we both appreciate, agree on, and enjoy. 

Here’s a little of our story. In the beginning when Matt came home to find me in my decorating mode tearing out pages from a catalog or with a paintbrush in hand, he got very scared. However years later if he is witnessing the same thing, he doesn’t panic because he trusts me. I have made design mistakes along the way, ones he doesn’t hold against me or bring up (good man!) and that’s part of the journey, but we agree on a classic yet casual style having lived together for so long.

navy-and-white-living-room

recent updates to our living room

In our master bedroom, he was the one who bought our dresser and highboy from an antique store ten years ago, but they’re a bit traditional for me. I think it’s really important to pick your battles so rather than fight to replace them, I picked out the club chairs, nightstands, and bedding and in that space we compromised. When we bought our dining room table, we agreed on the style we liked then I did the research and showed him the final candidates before we made the big purchase.

In the family room, we picked out our first set of sofas fifteen years ago, ones he loved far more than me (they were forest green); the second set of blue/gray slipcovered sofas purchased were completely my decision and he’s never liked them as much as I have, so the third time’s a charm as they say, and this summer we’re choosing a sectional for the family room and will make the decision together.

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. He’s a real estate appraiser so not only does he get it, he enjoys being involved in those decisions. That method works best for us but it has taken many years to get there.  

gray kitchen remodel

recent kitchen remodel

When it comes to decorating, he defers to me on the little things from fabrics to home accents, but I ask his input on the investment pieces and many of the paint colors after I’ve narrowed down a few samples. He doesn’t question me when I feel like swapping out the decor or repainting something but we also have an agreement to consult each other on anything that costs more than a certain amount. Several of Matt’s family’s heirlooms are on display in our home because that’s important to him.

My best advice for you Carrie is to take it slow, there’s no rush. Decide which rooms you want to furnish first, ideally the shared spaces like the family room and/or master bedroom are good places to start. If he completely defers to you you’re lucky but don’t ignore his tastes, especially in places where he will spend a lot of time. Furniture like your bed, sofa, dressers, and nightstands will last you for many years, so either keep his dressers and your sofa and make them work for you or invest in pieces down the road that you’ll both love. If you do that, I recommend furniture that leans masculine (clean lines, tailored fabrics, wood trim, especially since you love mid century modern style) so that you can add more shapely feminine accents over the years should you choose do so.

I asked a few of my fellow designer and blogger friends for tips on how they achieved the same goal, how do husbands, wives, and partners decorate a home together over time so that each one’s tastes are satisfied. Here’s what they had to say:

"I tell clients that designing a space together is a little like Dr. Phil, Oprah, and Judge Judy rolled into one. They need to be honest about what is important to each of them in the space independently, then they need to work out what where they are willing to compromise for the other person’s sake because you will not get everything on your list so what are you most prepared to give up?" Courtney Lake, Monogram D├ęcor.

"Listen to his input. My husband trusts my decorating decisions because he knows that I won’t go in a direction he hates. If you decide to pick out things together, make sure it includes elements that you both love!" ~ Chris, Just A Girl

"Go ahead and pick your paint colors but let him have a vote before you begin painting." ~ Brittany, Pretty Handy Girl

"Limit your colors and never go too pastel or too frilly. If he loves industrial and you love coastal, compromise with neutral tones and natural elements." ~ Marianne, Songbird.

"My husband loves to be part of the decorating around here. I’ve learned to bounce ideas off him and keep all communication lines open about color choices…etc. It always cracks me up when he has an idea about something we have already talked about. His ideas are always the best ones. :) " ~ Brooke, All Things Thrifty

"I feel if I share enough inspiration, before I know it, it’s HIS idea. *wink* just kidding! But I do find if I share visuals (inspiration, sketches, swatches, etc.), then I’m able to incorporate his preferences and he’s able to understand my vision for a space." Roeshel, DIY Show Off

"My husband doesn’t have a huge say in decorating. 99.9% of the time he doesn’t care. But for that other .01% I always go with what he wants so he feels like our home is his haven too." Beckie, Infarrantly Creative

I give my husband plenty of time to get used to an idea, especially big ones. As ideas come to me I’ll get his input, and over time we figure out the details. That way he’s not completely blindsided when I want to make a big change." ~ Sarah, Thrifty Decor Chick

"My husband is pretty easy going about the home decor…I usually pick everything out, price it, do all of the legwork and then present it to him. Usually he likes it, but if he speaks up about something I know he feels strongly about it and we go back to the drawing board."  Melissa, 320 Sycamore  

I know so many of you have dealt with this issue, so share your thoughts. How have you made it work with your mate? How do you make decorating or remodeling decisions together, or do you?

18 comments

  1. Kate – this showed up in my inbox at the perfect time! I am struggling with this issue right now. To make matters worse I am working with a home I moved into after my husbands wife of thirty years passed away. We have been married 4 years and the house still remains the same as the way she decorated it. Same furniture, same colors. It is not my style at all. I sold all of my belongings when I moved in (a big mistake) so nothing is my style and he doesn’t want to change a thing. I am really struggling to fit in here! Any suggestions for this problem would be appreciated.

  2. Oh man, I’ve had to deal with this throughout my marriage. We’re now in a good place, where I’m the one in charge of making things pretty, and he’s the one who actually makes them work from a structural standpoint. It seems to be working for us!

  3. Oh boy, I SO wish my hubs didn’t care! We have been married almost 40 years, and he still wants to dictate what we do in decor. Overall, we compromise, but many times I would have gone in a different direction. We have mostly classic furniture in masculine fabrics. But I brought in my style with decorative items. Paint colors are earthy and light in the common areas, but the master is a sea green, with the bath in a coordinating color called “rain “. I fought for that, because I had bargain custom drapes in those shades with a bit of tan and cream in them. I got them from my job, rejects from a customer, for $50!! Sometimes I feel like I’m not included in the decor expressions, that it’s boring, but I know I like to change things up often, so I do that with the smaller things. We’ve been in this house 7 years now with the same things, and I’m ready to start over with new flooring and redoing the kitchen and master bath! Got to get rid of the builder grade stuff! ;-)

  4. There are a lot of decorating decisions my husband doesn’t care about, but since his opinions are so random to me I tend to run all major changes past him. Sometimes he’ll ask me why I’m asking him, but my answer is “you might care, and if you do I want to know!” But overall he trusts me and my design instincts, and I do my best to make sure his tastes and interests are represented in the house as well as my own.

  5. Great article, Kate. I have a question off topic. I have almost the same fireplace and recently painted my walls light gray. I want to change the tan tile surrounding the fireplace and was thinking black tile. I think black tile would add drama in a good way. But, I don’t like the idea of black tile on the floor in front of the fireplace as it would show dust and cat hair. Any suggestions?

  6. Oh man, this has been on my mind so much lately! My situation is really tough too since my husband bought the house we live in several years before we even met, so he bought furniture and did some decorating according to his tastes. Thankfully it hasn’t caused much conflict, but it still makes me feel a little bad to rearrange anything or put something up when I know it’s my style, and not his. Marriage is all about compromise though, right? And even though not everything in our house is what I would have picked, I kind of like seeing our tastes mesh (or clash… haha).

  7. The poster’s two dresser don’t necessarily need to go in the BR. One could make a lovely chest in a LR or DR. I would look great painted in a livelier colour with a faux bamboo styling or even a burnt bamboo finish. these are perfect pieces for that treatment and can co either mid-century or more earthy.

  8. Kate,
    You sound like me! I am happy to say that my husband now has faith in my design abilities to allow me to make design decisions in our home. I do like to include him, though, and will run paint samples by him – but instead of overwhelming him with the 15 different gray samples I was pondering over, I will just show him two or possibly three. Sometimes I do make purchases of paint and decor items without fully involving him. However, he knows how thrifty I am with my purchases (yard sales and Goodwill for me) that he doesn’t get upset. I also have been doing nearly all of the painting since we moved into our house a few months ago, so he has decided to not say too much ;)
    I do admit that my husband and I have similar tastes in style. We prefer a transitional look and appreciate similar colors.
    Right now I am in the midst of selecting windows for our house. It’s been exciting for me to research windows, and meet with contractors then report back to my husband. It is a huge, and expensive, decision, though, and in this case I do wish my husband was more involved!

  9. There are several couples I know for whom this is a huge issue. And nothing much happens as far as decorating is concerned, because they cannot meet in the middle. I consider myself lucky, because my husband will go with pretty much all of my decorating decisions. Like some of the other ladies above, I will run paint colors, fabrics etc. by him and for the most part he agrees with my choices, because we like a lot of the same colors and my style is more practical and sensible. He would likely balk at frilly and flowery, but then again, so would I! Pretty much anything that is bought that runs more than $ 100 is discussed beforehand, because we are both frugal. It’s worked for us for 27 years:)

  10. Most of the time my husband is on board with what I’d like to do, but sometimes he fights really hard for little things–things like a giant poster of a shark with its mouth open. He compromised by putting it behind his closet door (I think he realizes that it’s ridiculous)–now he laughs every time he gets ready in the morning (and so do I when I put away his clothes). We always discuss major purchases to find something that works for both of us. He was dead set on a wood bed when we were looking for new bedroom furniture, but I was thinking about an upholstered one. We ended up agreeing to spend a little more when we found a wood bed that we were both in love with!

  11. Great post and great advise to take it slow, and respect each other’s taste. Marriage or cohabitation is all about compromise and if not, there are bigger, underlying issues that you should take heed to. I once moved into my husbands place, and I never felt comfortable decorating it and always felt like I was living in someone else’s house, as we had opposite styles.

  12. Sometimes when you don’t see eye to eye it’s an opportunity to be even more creative and come up with a solution that is even better than the original two differing ideas. I think in business they call it synergy. I just wrote a post on how to create a stylish man cave and boy did it give my husband and I practice in this area!:-)

  13. If my husband and I weren’t married, my house would probably look like an English country cottage, and his would look like the bridge of the Enterprise in Star Trek. So we have a lot of compromises.

    What works for us is that my husband has decided I’m in charge of esthetics and he’s in charge of function. We each concentrate on the area we care about and he feels like he’s an equal partner. We each have “veto power” on the rare occasions we have opinions in the other person’s area. This has meant I’ve had to give up built-ins for electronics or a wall tv over the fireplace, because “not enough air circulation, too much heat”. Also had to give up the lighting fixture I wanted because he didn’t like the way we would have had to drill through beams to run the wiring. On the other hand, I chose a bathroom floor tile he thought was ugly and I told him “If you don’t like it, it will bug you for the two days you’re looking at it while you install it, and then you’ll never think about it again. If I don’t like it, it will bug me every single day for as long as we live here.” He agreed and installed it without complaint.
    I try to choose neutral colors and heavier pieces that don’t feel overly feminine, and the half dozen large oil paintings painted by his grandmother from the 50’s that he WOULD NOT let go of…well, I never thought I’d say it, but over the years they’ve actually grown on me. So it’s all good!

  14. Surprisingly, when I moved into my now husband’s house everything we had went together. We just had too much of everything, moving a fully furnished 3 bedroom house into a fully furnished 4 bedroom house. So we gave away a lot of my stuff that I wasn’t committed to. And made his previous wife take as much stuff as possible! We kept the things I really cared about. I mostly leave decorating decisions up to my husband since he’s the artistic one but I do a lot of research and make sure he knows my preferences.

  15. I just started using Olioboard to creat mood/inspiration boards for how I want to decorate our new house. I can show them to my husband and it’s easy for us to talk about what elements he likes, doesn’t like, etc and swap out different options. You can even take pictures of your own furniture and import them into the tool. It does take time but I’ve been having fun with it.

  16. Starship Enterprise Susan ha loved that! Thank you all for sharing your wisdom and advice!

  17. Do you remember giving me great advice when I started my blog DIY Design Mom almost a year ago? Well, I am back to say I still admire you and your great work. Your blog is so fabulous that I nominated you for the One Lovely Blog Award which you can view here. http://www.diydesignmom.com/onelovelyblogaward/
    PS my husband and I fight all the time over decorating and once he sees the end result he changes his tune…this was a great article. Talk to you soon!
    Jackie

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