Decorating & Relationships

Picture this (not so) hypothetical scenario:

You’ve been living with your significant other for a while – their stuff has migrated into your flat, or vice versa. Unless you’re freakishly aligned, you don’t have the same taste in all things (like your opinion on the colour grey, or how you fold your socks). Then there’s the practical stuff – one of you may need somewhere to store your coffee-making paraphernalia in the kitchen (this is not me but I gather there are packets and peculators, and all sorts of machinery). Whatever form your differences take, you are forced to carve your routines against each other’s. There are battles, some playful and some more pointed, that determine whose needs are prioritised where.

This all applies beyond romantic relationships, of course. But let’s focus on couples for now: that living together experience which, for many, informs whether they can make  the marriage commitment.

How does your living environment act as a casual, day-to-day test of whether this partnership can stand the course? How do you create and decorate a ‘home’ that equally belongs to both of you but also expresses your individual styles?

Obviously, I don’t have a definite answer to the relationship questions posed above. All I can do for now is share some of my experiences.

When my partner and I bought our flat in summer 2018, and decided to renovate it into the 21st century, I didn’t anticipate much of a change in how we operate. We’d lived together for 3 years; we run a theatre company together; we are very different people whilst generally knowing what the other one is thinking. But renovating our flat (we’re sort of half way through now) has proved to be our biggest creative and relationship test.

As mentioned in a previous post, it’s forced us to work out how best to approach the renovation workload as a team. Like most couples, we’ve had to negotiate incorporating items from our separate lives, alongside those we’ve accumulated together. We both work in the creative industries, and we want our home to positively reflect on our vocations.

But here’s what I’ve realised: our home will never be my idea of perfect. When I imagine my dream home, I see subtle neutrals that shift tone to determine different spaces. I love the idea of creating a flexible and timeless backdrop. I’m inspired by the way Chrissie Rucker (founder of the White Company) has decorated her homes – see here for an example. It’s calming and cohesive, but still warm. It’s also so detailed in uniting tones and textures.

However, my partner responds to colour. I tried to interest him in looking at 10 different shades of white… and his brain nearly melted. It didn’t take much effort to talk me into using colour (though I drew the line at having a bright orange feature wall in the study). After all, this is our space – not just mine. I also saw it as an enjoyable creative challenge. We settled on a colour palate of creams and blue, accentuated by a pop of teal or mustard. I spent ages with the colour chart, planning how the shifts would work. It’s provided the opportunity to create a braver, more expressive space than I would have imagined alone.

I also love doing a chunk of research and brainstorming – cutting out images from magazines, curating room ideas (see living room ideas above!), scrolling through variations of the same thing to find the perfect item, and remembering what I’ve seen where. As a theatre director, my partner is best at thinking spatially: how a room will be used and where things would be useful, and the practicalities of what will fit where. So far, so companionable.

But then we get to the furniture issue. We’ve inherited a fair amount. Predominantly, this has been mid to late 20th century items from my partner’s grandparents on both sides –  such as a bookcase, coffee table, mirror and bureau. We also have a few paintings created by his great grandfather, and some glass art belonging to my grandfather. Decorating this flat from scratch has provided an opportunity to showcase pieces that represent loved ones – those who are no longer here to experience this new life stage with us. Their purchases have also given both of us a greater appreciation of 20th century design, which has influenced furniture we’ve bought for ourselves. However, we’ve also had to tread carefully around the associated memories. Some items won’t fit, or just aren’t liked by the other half. It’s been a careful negotiation – keeping what is valued whilst making decisions that suit our joint needs.

At the start of the process, I felt certain that I could create a magazine-worthy home that was artistically expressive and budget savvy. Maybe that will happen… but I doubt it. Real life is so much messier – a jumble of ideas, influences and items! So I’ll settle instead for an imperfect but truthful home. One that expresses me, expresses him, and welcomes other people into how we live together.

This is all a work in progress, of course…

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