Originally published in STIR®

Every designer has a horror story about the challenges of working with a couple who just can’t agree. Find tips on carving out some common decorating ground.

“In my experience, it is the exception, not the rule, that couples have the same taste in interior design,” says Jayne Pelosi, owner of Boston-based Renaissance Interior Design. “We know that in love, opposites often attract, so it’s not surprising that these opposite couples process information differently. It stands to reason that they will be attracted to different colors, textures and decors.”

Blending two households full of furniture — not to mention various spoken and unspoken feelings about style — into a compatible whole can be done. Just don’t expect it to happen overnight. David Remingnanti, lead design consultant at Furniture.com, recommends couples take their time and use the experience to strengthen the relationship.

“This is an opportunity to learn about each other and share what you love. It’s about the bigger picture — the start of your life together,” he says.

Here are some tips for lowering the stress level, keeping the lines of communications open and carving out some common decorating ground when working with couples.

  • Discover where tastes overlap. To develop a shared style that celebrates both their tastes, couples should review numerous design publications or websites that depict a gamut of styles. Then they should list their loves, their hates and their tolerances. Almost always, from where tolerances overlap, a joint style emerges. From there, they should create a scrapbook in which they keep photos and clippings of rooms and furniture, fabric swatches, flooring samples, color chips.
  • Avoid the quicksand of questioning taste. Taste is a very personal, often idiosyncratic thing. There is no right or wrong about it, nor even explaining it. When one party in a relationship questions or criticizes the other’s sense of style, defensiveness and hurt feelings are the outcome.
  • Compromise on color. It doesn’t have to be a black-and-white world. When it comes to color choices, for everything from walls to window treatments, there are thousands of shades to choose from, and couples can find a middle ground. If one person in the relationship loves rich, vibrant wall colors and the other prefers white, neutrals can be the answer that makes both happy: soft greens, gentle beiges, cool grays, harmonious browns. Then, more intense splashes of color can be incorporated via furniture, rugs and accessories.
  • Purge, then purchase. If either party in the relationship truly hates an item, it should go or be stored. Otherwise, it could become a constant source of irritation and hostility. If the hated item has strong sentimental value and just can’t be parted with, the couple should put it somewhere unobtrusive — say a guest bedroom versus the living room — or give it a makeover — such as recovering the well-worn recliner. Then, the two should go out and buy something new that’s now uniquely theirs.
  • Mix, don’t match. Just because one person in the relationship always paired the leather ottoman with the cherry end table doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. Couples should experiment with combining their collections, displaying things in new ways and trying things in different rooms. Interesting mixes not only serve to make room for each person’s favorite pieces, but it can help showcase things in fresh and intriguing ways.
  • Check the piggy bank. Budgetary issues are often a hot spot in a relationship, and it’s no different when it comes to decorating. Couples should be realistic from the get-go about setting agreed-upon spending limits and then working within them. A budget helps a couple decide what to save up for or what to buy first. Remignati suggests couples ask themselves one question before making that big purchase: Is this going to be our “forever” dining room set or just something to get us through until we’re in a better or larger place? Thinking in terms of “room” versus “piece” can be a practical way to prioritize purchases and stay within budget and style.

As long as both partners are part of the decision-making process, designing as a couple can be an exciting adventure in discovering and developing a shared style all their own.