10 Ways To Decorate A Home With A Significant Other Without Fighting

After designing houses for 26 couples I’ve figured out the keys to combining both masculine and feminine styles to create a house that represents both sexes. It’s possible. There is hope. posted on

Wildly different styles can look good together if you follows these steps. Trust me, I’ve done it.

Gender equality. Not the first two words that come to mind when you’re thinking about home decor. Even though he likes lazy-boys and you like vintage florals there there is hope — you can find furniture and home decorations that represent both of your styles and look great with minimal pointless bickering.

Obviously I’m generalizing a bit here — not all men love leather couches and not all women love pink drapes, but I have noticed a few things that make building a home with a significant other of competing tastes less painful. (And for more real-life examples of how my husband Brian and I redecorated our place whilst remaining married, check out my blog.

3. 1. Choose a color palette TOGETHER.

You need 3 to 5 colors, both warm and cool tones for balance. Warm and cool tones, you ask?

The color wheel is divided with cold tones on the left and warm tones on the right. (Even if you’re not moving in with a significant other a room should always be balanced with both tones.) A lot of men I’ve worked for have gravitated toward colder, darker tones — blacks, greys and blues. But hold on, Zorro, because if your space is only these colors then it will feel very cold. Warmer colors (reds, oranges, yellows, pinks, browns, etc.) make a room feel cozy and inviting and less like a cave. And remember: leather, wood and brass/gold can act as your brown and instantly bring in a ton of warmth. You don’t attain balance by having hot pink everywhere.

4. 2. Keep your walls more neutral, cool and masculine in your shared living spaces.

Get crazy in the powder room (who even has a powder room?), do hot pink in your hallways, or lavender in your bathroom, but in the main living spaces — living room, family room, master bedroom — stick to a neutral grey, taupe, grey-blue or navy. It’s just so much easier to layer color on neutral than neutral on color.

The above photo shows how having a neutral/cool-toned background allows for you to add shocks of warm colors, like this red poster without it feeling overwhelmingly girly. Instead, it comes off as balanced and tasteful. You barely even notice that French chair or the feminine coffee table.

For my exposé on the best gray wall colors (featuring strange comparisons to Ryan Gosling) click here.

Yes, this is dark, but the masculine background lets the feminine accents pop, while at the same time not overwhelming the space. The pink Persian rug contrasts with the dark masculine blues balance the space.

This may seem obvious, but it’s truly the best way to see your favorite rooms together and see how they look. Troll the internet for inspiration. Tip: instead of just Googling “blue living room,” Google “blue living room elle decor” or “blue living room vogue.” It’s easy to turn up a lot of crap blue living rooms but if you put a good magazine afterwards then you’ll get WAY better and more inspirational photos of houses you might actually like to live in.

Check out my ‘Dude Design’ board on my Pinterest to see what I mean (and follow me while you’re at it!).

10. 4. Buy simple, modern foundational pieces.

The easiest way to make disparate styles look good together is with major pieces that are modern or classic. Major pieces are things like sofas, club chairs, or rugs. Think of it like this: you can wear a simple blazer with a crazy blouse underneath and parachute pants, but you need something tailored and sophisticated to make the two styles work together. In home decor, the blazer is like your couch. Keep one classic and simple.

I’m not saying it has to be mid-century and armless, but trying to balance out a large french settee with masculine accessories is way more difficult then layering feminine colors on top of a simple, classic, modern sofa.

12. 5. Go crazy with accessories.

As long as you stick with your chosen color palette, you can each go a little nuts with your favorite art, lighting, vases, books, etc.

Above, the sofa has clean lines, the walls are neutral and then— WHAM! — you have pops of color and femininity everywhere, but in a way that feels totally balanced.

This is me in my gender-balanced living room. While you can’t see a husband in there (he’s in the back room, probably doing something “masculine,” like fishing) he’s there in spirit in the decor. This room might read a little more “me” than “him” but one reason it works: the color palette of blue and white combined with gold and caramel leather is consistent throughout.

Despite the simple furniture, the added huge pops of feminine color and crazy accessories makes this room interesting.

A lot of dudes love leather, and that is not a bad thing. Besides leather being man’s best friend in home decor, a well-known aphrodisiac, and bachelor pad staple, it also balances femininity and can softens an entire room. I recommend going for a warm, worn brown leather, instead of a new black leather sofa.

Why, you ask? Click here for my irrefutable guide to choosing the perfect leather sofa for your living room.

21. 7. If the shape of the furniture is feminine then try and get it in a more masculine finish or fabric.

For instance a French Berger chair is already really ornate and curvaceous, so if you get it in a hot pink, it will just look even more feminine. Someone turned off by this piece already is only going to be turned off by it more if it’s in an uber feminine shade.

But! Having the same style chair in a grey color and simple pattern makes it way less overtly feminine. So you get the same chair in the same shape, but in a “finish” that is gender-neutral.

24. 8. Stick to classic or feminine patterns in more masculine colors.

Men distance themselves from patterns in general, generally opting for logos over paisleys on t-shirts. But a room without pattern can feel boring, so bring in stripes and plaids instead of florals and damasks. Or if you are do want to get a floral, do it in the form of a throw pillow, not a sofa.

26. 9. Splurge on some good art together.

Even the most boring furniture looks interesting if it’s near good art. And while good original art can be intimidating, a lot of online resources make it easy to find inexpensive, limited-edition prints. And there are a TON to choose from.

If you can’t make the splurge right now, find a bunch of current affordable art to buy online on my blog.

FYI20×200 is one of the best online art resources. It can be hipster and arty and yes, the larger prints are expensive, but you are actually helping artists, you are getting a product that is limited-edition, and you have framing options online that give you one less thing to do once you get it in the mail (which also equals one less thing to argue about).

10. Be prepared to shop.

What does that mean? File photos of your house, inspiration pictures, your color palettes, measurements, etc. in a binder. Reference them constantly.

Try to be prepared for what things cost. In my experience, most of the time men are more adverse to spending money on decorative things than women. In general, they have way less of a problem buying the new flat screen TV, even though it will be outdated in 5 years, than buying a sofa that will last 10 to 15. Avoid the sticker-shock-fight by having them look at catalogues and talk about priorities beforehand. And find some compromise by going cheaper with accessories. For lighting, artwork, side tables, go to Ikea, West Elm and CB2.

HAPPY SHOPPING, COUPLES!!!

Emily Henderson is the 2010 Design Star winner; the host and designer of Secrets from a Stylist on HGTV, and founding editor of her own daily style blog. She also has inappropriately intense feelings for Ryan Gosling and believes that a kitten can never be too small. For more of Emily’s favorite home things (and generally awesome photos), follow her on Pinterest.

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