When you say "I do" does that mean you must agree to his beanbag chair and imported beer can collection too? Find out how to decorate your new home in a way that makes you both happy
BY CHRISTINA MOGK
With many people choosing to get married later in life, it has become commonplace for marriage to symbolize more than uniting your future lives together; it is also typically the literal combination of two households, furniture and all. If you and your future spouse have both been living in your own apartments, the odds are that you also both own furniture. Your existing furnishings may fill a room, an apartment or even a large home. And those furnishings are likely of some monetary or emotional value to you. The problem? Your darling husband-to-be feels the same way about his belongings! You may find yourself in the fortunate state of having the exact same taste and style in your décor preferences. If that is the case, you need only decide which pieces fill the various spaces in your new home. But more likely, things are not quite that easy. You may have some delicate, feminine pieces inherited from a favourite family member and will not part with them. In fact, they must be prominently displayed! He has a huge TV, surround sound system, and well-worn leather sofas that scream “bachelor!” Or there may be a huge library of books or collectables to consider if one of you feels they will only add clutter. How do you combine what you have so that you both feel comfortable and at home in your new shared space without entering a battle zone?
START WITH THE BASICS
Start by readjusting your outlook. Rather than thinking of the merger as a daunting and painful process, regard it as the exciting, fun experience that it should be. Have an open and honest discussion about how you want your new shared space to look and feel. Review and assess what you both have in terms of functionality, comfort, need and scale. Some pieces may be too large or small for the new space. If it won’t fit through the doors, or would look dwarfed or overpowering in the room, why even consider it? Remove it from the list of pieces to move with you. It may be that your partner will surprise you and say one or more of her furniture pieces are beyond their useful life and should not be included in the move. Or that he wants to start fresh and eliminate the mismatched hand-me-downs. Once you have your list of potential items to move, you may both agree that bed #1 will be used in the master bedroom and that sofa #3 is the best choice for the family room. Assess each room in a similar fashion. You may be surprised by how many items stand out as being ideal for one space or another and how quickly you’ll whittle down the list. Edit and eliminate things you will not use and consider donating castaways in decent shape to The Furniture Bank or some other worthy foundation. Giving back to the community will make you feel good and will start your new home off with some great karma.
LEARN TO COMPROMISE
There are times when you must assess what is most important to you and what you can and cannot live with – or without. Your spouse, hopefully, is included on that list. Note that compromise is not telling him he can have a corner of the house to do with as he pleases to create a “man cave.” It is about communicating and working as a team to create your ideal home environment. So let go of any ego and stubbornness and be open to discussion and varying points of view. If your partner will use the office space more than you, is there a need to insist the room be completed your way? Admit it: you love the idea of having a home theatre system! So that huge flat screen is actually perfect. It just isn’t appropriate in the bedroom at the foot of your bed. Perhaps a section of the basement could be transformed into a fabulous media room/home theatre? That would leave the main floor available for a living room that encourages conversation and entertaining. And those chairs might not be the nicest thing to look at, but they are comfortable and possess a certain charm and style about them that is irreplaceable. They would make a statement in that little reading nook ... Consider accent walls or accessories in bolder tones or patterns if one of you favours neutral and/or non-patterned schemes. Play with layering and adding in textures to create more depth. The bottom line? Be realistic. Set your respective priorities in terms of functional spaces, must-haves, and nice-tohaves, and work together to plan and put it all together.
IN FACT, MIXING AND MATCHING STYLES TENDS TO ADD MORE CHARACTER AND PERSONALITY TO SPACES.
WORK WITH WHAT YOU’VE GOT
Embrace the unique pieces that come with your partner and that carry importance to him or her, especially if it is a family heirloom. Be open to exploring how pieces might fit and to recreating or repurposing furnishings so that they become something you both love and cherish. Wood can be re-finished or painted to completely change the look of a piece. Swap the hardware for something new that melds with the rest of your home or your combined style. Remove cabinet doors or turn bookcases on their sides. Consider reupholstering seating to bring it back to life and make it “ours” instead of “yours.” A huge trend right now is taking more traditionally-styled chairs, painting the frame in an unexpected colour or finish, and covering the seat with a modern fabric. The look is stunning! And it easily bridges time periods and helps marry convergent styles. Look at things with fresh eyes and don’t feel you need to place an item in the bedroom just because it is part of your bedroom suite. That dresser might be the perfect statement piece for the front hallway! Let it double as valuable storage for hats, gloves, keys, and other miscellaneous items that will help keep things neatly in place.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO STICK TO ONE DESIGN STYLE
In fact, mixing and matching styles tends to add more character and personality to spaces – your home will be uniquely yours and your partner’s rather than looking like a replica of a retail showroom floor. If you look at many rooms designed by decorators or designers, you’ll notice that most are veering away from matched sets. The nightstands need not match the bed frame. Nightstands might not even be practical pieces for you based on your needs and the size of the space. Who says you can’t combine your leather headboard with mirrored storage cabinets for a look that reflects you both? Remember: functionality is critical if your space is to function well! Pieces that function in harmony will naturally fit together. A stately grandfather clock in the same room as modern seating? Why not? Create unity and visual flow through the use of colour, texture or even repetitive accessories. Take a chance and see how things look when paired together. And remember – if you don’t like it, move it to another space!
ASK FOR HELP
If the process is too overwhelming or is causing strife between you and your beloved, call in a professional. Yes, a decorator or designer comes with a fee and you have wedding expenses, a honeymoon and a new mortgage to think about. But even one consultation can go a long way, especially if it keeps you both happy and on speaking terms! Most design professionals are accustomed to mediating disputes between partners. It is their job to listen to what you both want and to blend the two together to create a fabulous, cohesive space you both love and where you feel at home.
FRESH EYES SEE MORE CLEARLY
See what is available in your area and choose what works best for you. Perhaps the decorator walks you through the process of deciding what to keep and comes up with a floor plan that shows where everything will go before you even move in. All you would need to do is label boxes for each space and the move becomes a breeze. Having someone else look at your combined furnishings can make it easier to see what works for you as a couple. Redesigning a space or moving furniture can change how you use the space more effectively. Sometimes even a simple colour consultation can help find the right backdrop to partner your furniture pieces successfully. You may be able to give your roomful of functional older pieces a renewed, cohesive look by adding accents such as rugs, curtains or artwork. Take the time to sort through the basics and compromise with one another. Combine some great space-planning advice with the right paint colours and accessories, and you’ll find that your dream home was easier to create than you ever imagined!
Christina Mogk is the lead designer for MeCC Interiors Inc., in Toronto, and the current director of marketing and communications for CDEDA™.