Whether you’re newlyweds or simply moving in together, setting up home for the first time can be a struggle. You have your mom’s China; he has a ratty old sofa from his bachelor days and neither one of you likes the other’s taste in bedding (flowers make him gag and you hate pinstripes). Between mixing your belongings, deciding on a budget or even just picking out paint colors, the whole process is full of emotion.
“When I’m working with a couple, I usually play the role of mediator in some capacity,” says California-based interior designer Kelli Ellis. “There’s a lot of hand holding! If a couple has a similar look they love or a taste they can agree on, it’s always easier. However, most people aren’t set on or sure about a particular decorating style, or they don’t know how to explain what they like. That’s when opinions start brewing and it can get a little tough.”
Where to start? Find a common ground. “The first thing I do with a couple is find what they have in common. This will tell you what will stay or what has to go,” says Ellis. “Sit down with a stack of decorating magazines, split the pile and start tearing out what you love. Then, swap your pile of tear sheets and weigh in on one another’s choices. You’ll quickly start picking up some commonalities or at the very least find out what you both don’t love!”
While you’re spending this time together, it’s also a good idea to have a dialogue about plans for your home, especially if you’re working with a limited budget. Will you be entertaining a lot? Spend a little more on a great dining and living space. Love to cook? Focus on the kitchen. Or if you both crave a romantic retreat, put your energy into the bedroom. Tackling one room at a time can make the whole process easier.
Once you’ve settled on which room you’ll be decorating first, Ellis suggests thinking about that room’s function. “After figuring out how a room will be used, you’ll be better equipped to find pieces that bridge the needs of you both,” she says. “You’ll be able to agree on needs versus wants and it will go smoother.”
For example, if you decide ahead of time that your bedroom will solely be used for sleeping and relaxing (no TV, no laptops) your focus will be on choosing a bed and storage pieces. Even paint colors will come easier as you’ll most likely be drawn to soothing hues.
Of course, not every room will be easy to pull together, especially when you’re both bringing pieces of yourselves to your new home (trophies from college, a family heirloom or the sofa you loved and your ex didn’t), it’s important to really take stock of what is important to you as an individual.
“My husband and I recently went through this ourselves,” recalls Ellis. “He only kept things that had a strong sentimental value to him, such as family heirlooms. We each made a list of what was important for us to keep and we just took it from there.”
Another great way to make both of you happy? Personalize. Dig through photos from your honeymoon or your first vacation together and use them for inspiration. “I recently worked with a couple that had very different styles. He wanted modern, while she preferred more of a Tuscan look,” says Ellis. “We hung photos in their bedroom from a trip they had taken to Venice. It worked, tied everything together and they loved it because it meant something special to both of them.”
Another idea? Flowers. “Women forget that men love flowers too,” says Ellis. “Ask him what his favorite flower is and place a fresh arrangement on his nightstand. Take it one step further and help him personalize the nightstand even more with a favorite book or accessory. I’m a big believer in always having something individual on the nightstand.”
Finally, don’t forget that putting a home together is not a race. It’s ok to leave some space bare. Think of it as making room for future memories. “It’s important to allow yourself some room for what you might acquire on your next trip. Life is a journey, so leave some room open.”