It is that time of year again, and many couples are just about to say “I do”. But getting married can also mean trying to merge a collection of sports memorabilia with a canopy bed upholstered in bright pink silk. Sound scary? For many people who are about to start decorating their first place together, it just might be.
Let’s call this the Panic Phase.
What stays and what has to go? Who gets to keep what? What if one person likes contemporary and the other prefers traditional? Both of you have their own unique backgrounds, tastes and traditions. You may be coming from two separate homes or apartments, each filled with possessions. How do two different styles come together in a way that works for both individuals – and with minimal stress?
Read on for some survival tips!
Combining households isn’t simply about “stuff”. The things we own bring back memories, sometimes from long ago, like that armoire Grandma Anne gave your parents on their wedding day, or from the not-so-distant past, like that huge, yellow corduroy bean-bag that you won in a college poker game while “studying” for a math exam. How do you deal with pieces that do not fit the other person’s vision for the new home? How do you build a shared vision – the foundation of shared memories?
First, each of you has some homework to do. This is the Inventory Phase. Start by making a list of everything you own. Evaluate each piece. Be brutal with yourself. Ask, do I really need this? Is it an heirloom? Is it something that really matters, or am I just hanging on to it? If the item is relatively new it should be in good shape with the potential to last. Let quality be your guide. You may not be wild about the fabric on a particular sofa, but if it’s a solid piece it can be reupholstered and serve you much longer than a trendy new item from Ikeas.
Both of you should finish this phase by deciding exactly what to keep, and what can go. Now you are ready to start working together – and to begin to compare notes.
This phase is called Dialogue and Compromise. And it is the hardest part.
The idea is to have an open discussion about what matters most to each of you. Acknowledge that it is not easy for the untrained eye to mix styles. In terms of process, neither should be totally in charge, but it is fine to recognize that each of you has particular strengths. Perhaps one takes the lead with interiors and the other focuses on landscaping, or vice versa. Whatever works for you!
What happens if the discussion doesn’t go easily? OK…it hardly ever does. Perhaps the conversation degenerates, and you end up sitting there thinking, “I just can’t believe the man I married actually expects me to put that in MY house! Who could imagine he would care so much about how the house looks? It certainly wasn’t obvious from looking at this bachelor pad!”
Let’s take a look at some common issues and solutions.
Collections and Designated Rooms
That’s a tough one. People have a natural desire to collect things. Some collections are easier to swallow for a new spouse than others. While most men can live with a china collection in a dining room hutch, I could not imagine looking at model cars, sports posters or “original GI Joes” collections in my family room. Call me old-fashioned! There is a place for those kinds of beloved displays – a place where time had stopped. Try to find a room that would be just for him. It may be his home office or a little workshop in the finished part of the basement – a place where he can do whatever he wants when it comes to décor. You do not have to see it. Just keep the door closed.
Speaking of collections, sometimes they are hand-me-downs, which brings us to another difficult topic: heirlooms. If your wife is not in love with that table your grandmother gave you, it does not mean she rejects your grandmother – to her it is just a piece of furniture that does not fit her vision for the new dining room. Try to compromise. Let her keep a piece that is important to her – assuming she lets you keep your table.
What to do with pieces that you let go? Sell them. There are consignment stores that accept furniture of different provenance and value (not necessarily traditional or antique) that may come and pick up your stuff. Selling a couple of pieces you do not want may help you to buy a piece that you truly need. Oh, I forgot… you were trying to pare down your furniture. OK, how about putting the money into a weekend getaway, or a nice dinner out? After all this stress, you will need a break. When the time comes to blend houses, let’s hope you are not looking at two moving trucks filled with enough stuff to fill two or more houses. In that case, go back to the Dialogue and Compromise Phase. Two of everything is for arks, not households. But if your possessions are nicely condensed, you might find yourself in the position of actually needing to buy things. Congratulations! Life is about to get a whole lot easier, especially if you can make the next decisions together.
You are now in the Ours Phase. Here’s what to do next:
-Make an inventory of all that you’ve decided to keep, noting what is useful as-is versus what needs refinishing or reupholstering.
-Make a list of what you need to add.
-Prepare a budget – it will help you stay focused.
-Buy the main pieces first (like a bed for a bedroom) but be flexible – if you see an absolutely gorgeous rug but buying it now would mean having no desk for a while – go for it. It is much better to collect pieces that you love over time than to rush out and buy a complete set of so-so furniture.
-Look for versatile pieces that could “travel” from room to room and ultimately from house to house.
-Make your place unique by bringing in accessories that mean something to you – travel mementos, flea market finds and interesting art. It won’t feel like home until it is really yours. To couples everywhere, just starting out – good luck, and have fun!