For our final year of blogging at Design*Sponge, I wanted to tackle a topic that has been one of the most discussed issues since day one: how to you learn to live (and decorate) together with someone else?
One of the things I’ve been asked the most over the past 15 years is how do you combine styles, compromise on home design, and learn to get used to someone else’s point of view at home? Homes are such a safe and sacred space, and sometimes despite our best efforts, we can all get a little possessive (or defensive) about what we think looks best. And that’s only human. But after listening to thousands of families of all types, one thing has become clear:
No home design trend, style, or decision is as important as the relationship you have with the person you share a space with.
Preserving and respecting that relationship is the most important decision any of us can make that will ensure our long-term happiness in any shared space. So with that in mind, we spoke to 18 people in 9 households about how they keep the peace, learn to compromise, and create spaces that make everyone feel at home. There’s no right or wrong way to live and design together, there’s only what works for you and your housemate. So we hope this wide range of ideas, tips, and tools will help you find a way to talk, negotiate, and enjoy the spaces you share with people in your lives. xo, Grace
You might remember Dom and James from their Before & After story on Design*Sponge back in 2017. We were so enamored of the way they were able to design their Chicago home that we went back to find out how they learned to design (and live) together so well.
Where do you live? Chicago, IL
Who else lives with you? Addie and Fredo, our dogs, Logan, our cat, and 6 chickens.
How many square feet do you share? 2,000 square feet
How long have you lived together? 7 years
Which spaces in your home do you share? Overall, we both use the entire apartment, other than the guest room. James uses the kitchen more, and Dom uses the basement studio more, but both are available for daily use by either of us.
How did you first discuss how you would design or decorate together? On dates or while walking around, we would identify things we liked in spaces visited, or what we liked or wished for from previous apartments and homes, and fortunately finding a broad middle ground.
Is one person’s style more dominant? Dom’s style exploration is pretty dominant in colors and objects, James’ practical sense is dominant in room layout and structure.
Do you remember any discussions about design or decorating that were tough but you learned something important from? We started to apply some rules by asking the following questions: Who cares the hardest? Does Dom want a particular paint color, but James doesn’t like it, or does James hate it? Is it a must-have, or a nice-to-have?
We both live here and want to enjoy the space, if someone doesn’t like it, is it a detrimental experience or something that can be brushed off, and grown to accept?
Have you had to revise or change your design agreements and decisions as time has gone on? I would say our design sense has evolved, since the rehab has gone on for years, our tastes have changed, as well as our priorities for spaces.
How do you handle budgeting for design and what each person wants at home? We shut down emotionally at budgeting disagreements, and go to our quiet place to stew (just kidding!). We try to have a sense of what we want, and understand what the price range is, factoring quality and function with style. IKEA butcher block is an economic choice that yields roughly the same look and feel of a higher quality brand. Whereas when investing in a toilet, it’s worth paying more for functional quality.
What is the piece (or pieces) that you each display that the other one has had to learn to love — and what has it taught you about them? Dom doesn’t love James’ large graphic novel collection (see above), but appreciates that they generally look like books on a shelf, and are easy to ignore. James does not love the green couch (see below), and is still learning why Dom likes it so much. We each see that the respective objects bring a comfort or enjoyment to the other person, and want that to be what they feel in their own home.
What is something you’ve learned from living with your partner that you didn’t expect and are thankful for? While we take great care and responsibility in the rehab and design of our home that we undertake ourselves, we also embrace a philosophy: It was never going to be perfect. It takes the pressure or tension off [of] a project that would have likely impeded its success. Collectively practicing a relaxed approach makes the home an enjoyable place to be, and the project more likely to be done the way it was intended.
What advice do you have for people sharing space with someone they love? On non-urgent decisions, stalemates are probably best, as long as they can be pushed to the background without bitter feelings. It’s easier to compromise on a concept if it’s been incubating for awhile.
Where do you live? North Hills, CA (In the valley in Los Angeles)
Who else lives there? Just our dog, Adi
How many square feet do you share? Around 1,900 square feet
How long have you been living together? Just over 3 years
Which spaces in your home do you share? We’re in all spaces together most of the time, but we have our own bedrooms.
How did you first discuss how you would design or decorate together? We started from the bottom financially, so it started out with just making the best out of what we had and what we could afford. In the beginning we wouldn’t say that our decor matched our personal style. As we were able to afford more, we picked out more pieces together.
Is one person’s style more dominant? Mine is more dominant (Gabby).
Do you remember any discussions about design or decorating that were tough but you learned something important from? The most important thing we learned was that there are some things worth spending money on, and some things worth the search to get a bargain. We are on the same page when it comes to balancing design aesthetic and efficiency, because staying within budget but wanting so much is hard.
Have you had to revise or change your design agreements and decisions as time has gone on? The more time that passed, our budget slowly expanded. This left us room to get more decorative with our spaces. You learn a lot about one another when you’re discovering each other’s taste and what “sparks joy.” We’re constantly changing designs in our house little by little. For example, Jeff replaced all of the lightbulbs in the house with Phillip Hue bulbs so everything can be controlled on our phones.
How do you handle budgeting for design and what each person wants at home? Being in sync when it comes to spending habits is huge. We’re very compatible in taste and we only spend when we can. We do like to aspire to different design ideas we’ll find online or discussing things we would like in our future home.
What is the piece (or pieces) that you each display that the other one has had to learn to love — and what has it taught you about them? Jeff’s design ideas are more grand. He really likes to try things that might seem unconventional. For instance, He wanted to buy an 8-foot palm tree (pictured above) for the living room since we have really high ceilings. I thought the idea was a bit much. It turns out that it adds a bit of drama and greenery in the room in the best way.
What is something you’ve learned from living with your partner that you didn’t expect and are thankful for? I never expected for us to love it as much as we do. I also didn’t expect to be able to have our own bedrooms. It’s always a leap of faith to live with someone and we really know naturally when to be apart and when to take time to spend together. We both work from home and ultimately do what makes ourselves happy.
What advice do you have for people sharing space with someone they love? We think it’s important to have your own areas within the shared space. Especially when you’re in your 20s, individuality and having room to grow is important. Why should that take a back seat just because you’re in a relationship? Being able to have your own space makes living together feel less sacrificial.
Where do you live? Eagle Rock in Los Angeles
Who else (including pets) lives there? Just us, Wandie and James.
How big is the space you share? Our apartment is 3 bedrooms, and we use one of those bedrooms as a den/reading room.
How long have you been living together? 5 years!
Which spaces in your home do you share? We share the entire space together. We like to make sure that the entire house feels cozy and welcoming for both of us.
How did you first discuss how you would design or decorate together? I (Wandie) already had a very particular style when James moved into to our first apartment together. When we moved into our next place (which was larger), it was a no-brainer that we should collaborate on how to decorate together. We found a healthy mixture of both of our styles and we would send each other links and I would obsessively create Pinterest boards.
Is one person’s style more dominant? No, honestly, our styles have blended together!
Do you remember any discussions about design or decorating that were tough but you learned something important from? I think the first thing that I thought would be a tough discussion was telling James we had to get rid of some of the posters he had held on to. I had to stress that we wanted to create a home together that didn’t feel like we were still 20 years old. To his credit, he caught on immediately and it also forced me to get rid of some of my most college-aged possessions. It was an early version of “does this spark joy?”
Have you had to revise or change your design agreements and decisions as time has gone on? Sometimes one of us will have [to] make a strong, passionate plea for a certain item. It’s a reminder that we are still two separate people and we won’t always agree. Our trust in each other means that we listen if the other person makes a design suggestion. Almost always, we both end up happy!
How do you handle budgeting for design and what each person wants at home? I’m (Wandie) definitely the one with slightly expensive taste. When I find myself wanting to spend $200 on ceramics, I’ll buy it myself, almost the way I would shop for clothes. Ceramics and textiles are my weakness. If we are traveling together and find something to buy, we’ll buy it together. If I’m up late at night watching Bravo and shopping for overpriced homewares, I’ll consider that something I should handle. For things that really shape our daily usage (like cutlery, plates, glasses, furniture), we’ll split it.
What is the piece (or pieces) that you each display that the other one has had to learn to love — and what has it taught you about them? James loves elephants! I do too, but he has loved them since childhood and they hold special meaning to him. Over the years, he has a collection of elephants from friends and family and from his travels. There are so many that I’ve had to talk to him about how many is reasonable to display. The collection has come to be special to both of us, because it means so much to me. We’ve found creative ways to use them in the house, like little easter eggs.
What is something you’ve learned from living with your partner that you didn’t expect and are thankful for? It can be a fun process, curating design together. I used to love having my own space and decorating it without consulting anyone else. But, I’ve found that having ideas to bounce off of someone that I love has turned the house into a home.
What advice do you have for people sharing space with someone they love?
Have fun with it! There will always be arguments and annoyances, of course. But, ultimately, you can create a home that brings you joy and comfort.
I love entertaining in our home because I love that it’s a house that was built out of collaboration.
Where do you live? Bronx, NY
Who else (including pets) lives there? Just us (for now) and Eric’s growing Funko figure collection
How many square feet do you live in together? Approximately 600 square feet
How long have you been living together? 9 years
Which spaces in your home do you share? We really have to share it all (there’s only so much space!).
Are there spaces that are just either of yours? If anything, Caroline has a small desk area parallel to the kitchen space; Eric takes a part of the living room space and coffee table.
How did you first discuss how you would design or decorate together? We’ve moved so many times in the last few years, so we knew that we wanted to maximize space but keep it simple to save up and move to more permanent digs. A lot of the artwork and photos we’d normally have on the walls are in storage, but we made sure that the living spaces felt cozy and the kitchen would be an intimate place to prep and cook. We decided on no curtains or blinds for the windows because we live on a bottom floor apartment facing a giant concrete wall, so the more light that can come in, the better! It gets hard to sometimes deal with lack of natural light, but in winter time when it’s cold or snowing it definitely feels like we’re in a warm winter hideout with hot food and TV.
Is one person’s style more dominant? Not so much in this apartment. But we compromised on different places [where] the toy and figure collection can live peacefully. Eric’s clothes actually take up more of the closet space and drawers. We both equally have a lot of books, but have agreed to keep the ones we constantly refer to displayed within reach to our workspaces.
Do you remember any discussions about design or decorating that were tough but you learned something important from? Maximizing space but keeping things as accessible and looking clear as possible. Since we downsized moving into this place, we knew that we’d have to dig into being more innovative with furniture. Our kitchen space is a big example of this: taking an IKEA bookshelf and turning it on its side so it could play the role of both storage space and more surface area to prep on, getting a proper kitchen rack with a cutting board so it could serve all-purposes, overhead pot rack (reachable height, please!), magnet strip on the wall for knives, and going on a wild goose chase to find a stainless steel gas stove small enough to fit into such NYC-apartment fun-size space!
How do you handle budgeting for design and what each person wants at home? Though there are some arguments, eventually logical decisions are made together. Getting further into their 30s, Caroline insisted an upgrade in furniture was needed that would last longer. After a somewhat reluctant purge of some pieces was done, a big purchase that was slowly but surely agreed upon was a new bed: sturdy frame and a long search for a new mattress, though new matching sheets are still in negotiations.
What is the piece (or pieces) that you each display that the other one has had to learn to love — and what has it taught you about them? Although Caroline does keep some cooking and art supplies wherever they can be stored, Eric’s cool Funko figures, electronics, and collectibles definitely take over certain areas. Caroline thinks he might have a bit of an addiction, but she still supports the habit since they’ve never been exclusively all his!
What is something you’ve learned from living with your partner that you didn’t expect and are thankful for? Eric will sometimes bring the big surprise of cleaning and organizing the entire apartment while Caroline is out (the latest was re-folding his clothes using the KonMari method). The surprise of coming home to great home cooking smells or seeing that garbage and recycling has already been taken out. Both of us are thankful we’ve managed to create a home we both want to be in, no matter how big or small.
What advice do you have for people sharing space with someone they love? It’s a shared space, so embrace what each other has to bring to it. Say when something works, and definitely acknowledge when it doesn’t work! After all, the goal in the end is for both of you to enjoy being home whenever you’re in it!
Where do you live? Nashville, TN
Who else (including pets) lives there? Our 3-year-old daughter, two cats, and two fish
How many square feet do you live in together? 3,000 square feet
How long have you been living together? Six years
Which spaces in your home do you share? Our current home is really big. Like, too big for our own comforts. For the first year we lived here, we found that having a lot of extra space actually segregated our family (example: Teri got the downstairs while Christine and our daughter reigned upstairs). Two years in, we’re planning to downsize into a smaller home. To prepare, we’ve made a point of incorporating each other into every space. So even though we may use every space differently and at individual times, we’ve taken care to create cozy for the entire family in every room.
How did you first discuss how you would design or decorate together? At first, I (Teri) took the lead in making decorating decisions. My previous partners and roommates had been omitted from the process and I attempted to do the same with Christine. This tactic failed to bring us together as a unit and led to some really difficult disagreements in our early relationship. It took me a few years to realize how much more smoothly our home life was when I simply involved Christine in the process.
Is one person’s style more dominant? Because I’m (Teri) drawn to bold colors and antiques, my style can dominate Christine’s modern aesthetic very quickly.
To ensure our spaces are reflective of both of us, we employ two tactics: Before we bring anything new into the home, we must both be emphatically onboard with the decision.
Secondly, for every space we’re redecorating, I create a design concept that acts as a visual for Christine to sign off on. By treating her as a client, I ensure every space is going to reflect her personality and style as much as it does my own.
Do you remember any discussions about design or decorating that were tough but you learned something important from? We installed marble countertops in our last home’s kitchen. Two weeks later, we hosted a cocktail party and one of our guests chipped the edge with a glass. After the party, I was so upset that our new kitchen had been “ruined” that I decreed “No more parties.” Christine pushed back. She told me that her lifelong dream was to have a beautiful home that she could share with her friends and family. That conversation taught me that having a beautiful home wasn’t the goal for her. Her real joy comes from having a home that acts as a vehicle for gatherings of those she loves. After that, I began to see our spaces in a new light. I learned that a picture-perfect home is irrelevant if the walls have no stories to tell. I never stopped trying to buff out that chip in the marble but I also never stopped hosting out of fear of more chips.
Have you had to revise or change your design agreements and decisions as time has gone on? YES! Christine has asked me to omit two things from each of our homes — brass and chinoiserie. For a while, I completely agreed and never pushed back. A few years ago, I found pieces of Blue Willow during an antique shopping trip with her mother (one of my favorite pastimes). I absolutely loved the character and depth in the veins of glazing and I literally begged to bring the pieces home. She knew I loved them and obliged. That’s when we stumbled upon the “emphatic yes” guideline to replace our once blanket “none of this please” guidelines. I still don’t push too hard with brass or chinoiserie, but I appreciate the flexibility of determining our decor on a case-by-case basis instead of a rules system.
How do you handle budgeting for design and what each person wants at home? We truly never have arguments about financing our projects because we determine a set budget for every space before we even discuss the concepts. The only disagreement we ever have over money is about rugs. I love rugs. She hates rugs. We have two cats who destroy rugs. So once a rug is thread-barren, I want to replace it while she would rather omit having a rug altogether. As a result, we have a few spaces that lack rugs but our bedroom and living room will always have a rug. That’s our compromise.
What is the piece (or pieces) that you each display that the other one has had to learn to love — and what has it taught you about them? Christine says: Teri creates a lot of art and home decor. Some of it, like a console table she covered in wallpaper, wouldn’t be something I’d buy, but it means so much to me that she takes the time to make something unique for our home. My appreciation for her willingness to do that always trumps any feelings I would have had about the pieces if they’d been store-bought.
Teri says: The thought of displaying concert memorabilia and posters in my home would have made me shudder before I met Christine. But we do have them! Lots of them! And displaying those memories for her, and recognizing the meaning behind every one, makes me happy to see them.
What is something you’ve learned from living with your partner that you didn’t expect and are thankful for? Teri says: A decade ago, I decorated spaces that looked like a home people would be envious of, but my actual life didn’t reflect that beauty. Through living with Christine, I’ve learned how to make a beautiful home from the life we have together. Choosing to prioritize the life within the walls versus the wall color has made me a better decorator and partner.
Christine says: Living with Teri has taught me that there’s so much virtue in the seemingly vain. Decorating a home isn’t about just making things look pretty. Decorating your home is about the comfort of everyone within that home — residents and guests alike. She’s a good host and I think that’s because she’s taken the time to consider every potential guest’s needs before they even arrive and incorporated them into the decor.
What advice do you have for people sharing space with someone they love? For shared spaces, start with a plan that conveys each of you loudly into the space. Don’t worry that design styles won’t match or get too caught up in the word “compromise.”
Building a home with someone you love is a privilege and not a battle. You’re both on the same team.
Where do you live? Des Moines, Iowa
Who else (including pets) lives there? Our cat, Julio
How many square feet do you live in together? 1,400 square feet
How long have you been living together? We’ve been together 6 years, but 4 years in this house
Which spaces in your home do you share? Are there spaces that are just either of yours? We share all parts of our home, but it wasn’t always that way. When we first moved into the house, Joseph took the front bonus room as an office, but Nick wanted his desk to be in the guest room. Nick decorated the space how he wanted and it was kind of his little oasis where he could express his style. After a couple years though, Nick got a new CB2 “Go-Cart” rolling desk, and then Joseph decided to get the same one, with the goal of having one cohesive office space, instead of having two separate ones.
How did you first discuss how you would design or decorate together? When we first moved into our house together, we both brought very different styles with us, based on apartments we had previously lived in. Joseph had lived in an industrial-looking loft, and had some more rustic, industrial pieces, while Nick came with a lot of mid-century furniture that had originally belonged to his grandparents. Nick also had a lot of bright pops of color in his décor that contrasted against Joseph’s more subdued palette. There was never really a discussion of how we would decorate together, it kind of just happened over time. We slowly started weeding out certain items that didn’t seem to fit in our new space. We would sometimes look at an item and say “hmm, that’s the next thing that we need to replace” because it didn’t make sense as our styles evolved and merged together.
Is one person’s style more dominant? Because we moved into a mid-century ranch, we started skewing toward mid-century design, which was more Nick’s style to begin with. But we still have some industrial touches like our dining table, coffee table, and desks. So not really one person’s over the other, we have just kind of merged styles to fit the current space we are in.
Do you remember any discussions about design or decorating that were tough but you learned something important from? I think the biggest thing we don’t agree on when it comes to decorating is how quickly or slowly we do it. Joseph gets inspired by a new trend and wants it now, while Nick wants to wait because it’s not as big of a financial priority. So we sometimes clash when it comes to that, but in the end, if either of us wants something badly enough, we talk about how it’s something we feel strongly about and then the other one usually submits. So I guess the lesson would be that in the end, if you want something bad enough, you just have to have a line of clear communication…or just go out and buy it yourself and say you can’t return it :-)
Have you had to revise or change your design agreements and decisions as time has gone on? Again, I think it’s more of a process. We originally started further apart design-wise, but the longer we’ve been together, our styles have just naturally merged.
How do you handle budgeting for design and what each person wants at home? For larger items, we kind of both know what needs to be replaced. We slowly tackle them one at a time so that it isn’t a big financial burden. It’s all about prioritizing. For us, we knew our first big purchase needed to be a new bed, and our next will eventually be a new sofa and rug for our living space. It’s definitely all about being on the same page, knowing how much money you’ll need to get what you want, and then budgeting accordingly. We disagree more when it comes to small décor items. If one of us wants something the other doesn’t agree with, like I said before, we either talk about it or just go for it and buy it. It does help that we are pretty in sync when it comes to our overall style nowadays.
What is the piece (or pieces) that you each display that the other one has had to learn to love — and what has it taught you about them? Nick: We both love plants, but Joseph has an obsession. When we were first together, he would bring home any plant, even if it was on the verge of death, and display it on our house. It would drive me crazy! I wanted to have a more curated approach and pick and choose the plants that looked nice in our space, or that had more visual impact, rather than just accepting every plant that made itself available. Over time, I began to accept and appreciate all the plants, and learned that he really enjoys taking care of them as living things, not just using them as décor or a way to express our personal style.
Joseph: It’s not so much specific pieces of Nick’s that I’ve had to learn to love, it’s more how he constantly moves them around. Once I find a good place for an item, it can stay there for a long time as far as I’m concerned. Nick, on the other hand, moves things around and finds new spots for them. It always throws me off when I find something out of place, but I’ve learned to love it because it always keeps our house looking fresh and new!
What is something you’ve learned from living with your partner that you didn’t expect and are thankful for? Joseph: I think one thing I’ve learned from Nick is to try and collect décor items more slowly, over time. Rather than buying a lot of items from one trendy style, find pieces that speak to you and have meaning, otherwise in a year they will look dated and cheap.
Nick: I’d say we balance each other out—and I’m very thankful for that. I think Joseph provides the push I need to pursue a big home purchase or update. I almost always agree with the what needs to be done, but Joseph is the person to say “Okay well, let’s do it this weekend!”
What advice do you have for people sharing space with someone they love? Leave room for the other person to explore their personal style. The longer you are together, you’ll most likely meet in the middle. Give some things time. You might [not] like something right away, but in time as it becomes part of your daily life, you can get used to it, or even grow to like it!
+ (partners of seven years)
Where do you live? Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
How many square feet do you live in together? 800-ish square feet. It’s a South Philly row home, we have two floors, an unfinished basement, and a small back patio.
How long have you been living together? Since December 2015
Which spaces in your home do you share? Are there spaces that are just either of yours? Alisha: We share a master bedroom as well as the other staples like the kitchen, bathroom, living room. Each of us have our own separate rooms for creative and heads-down work: he has a small (insulated) studio space for practicing and recording music; I have a medium-sized office space for writing that also serves as a guest room. It’s nice to have that separation where we can focus on our own things, decorate the way we want, and just chill out.
How did you first discuss how you would design or decorate together? Alisha: I moved to Philadelphia six months before he and I got our row home. We spent time prior to my move seeking out pieces we’d like to own, knowing we’d be living together in a few months. We’d walk around Brooklyn window shopping and figuring out what our joint aesthetic would be; no surprise it was mostly “wood” fixings like wooden furniture. We differ in color styles though; he prefers neutrals or black and brown palettes, while I love and am drawn to bright colors like orange and reds and purples. Philippe: We’ve both been drawn to simple and functional aesthetics. Along with window shopping, we’d say what we liked about Airbnb host’s places, or friends’ houses.
Is one person’s style more dominant? Alisha: I’d say mine is — anything that pops with color you see in our home was probably something I chose. I work in high-stress environments so I want color to bring me back to life, to inspire me, to reset my batteries, if you will. Plus, when we found out the walls would be repainted all white, we knew we’d want to get art that would be a vibrant addition to our home. Philippe: I’d say the placement and purchasing of items we always do together. I had a lot more stuff when moving in, but I think Alisha’s minimalist nature had a huge effect on me and what I consider important, so it helped trim down on all the useless knick-knacks I owned. I tend to prefer muted colors, so while I may have more things, they are generally more of a background palette that fills out the space between her more expressive accents.
Do you remember any discussions about design or decorating that were tough but you learned something important from? Alisha: For me, our toughest discussions at the beginning were about keeping or discarding inherited pieces from family, or hand-me-downs. In all my years living in New York, moving from apartment to apartment too many times I want to remember, resulted in minimalist living. I moved to Philly with one car and set up my former sublet in a day — I owned nothing large or worth much value besides my mattress, a dresser, and my laptop. I wanted to keep that minimalism in our new rowhome and avoid at all costs, being those people with a basement full of stuff. I also wanted this rowhome to be ours, filled with as many new items that we both selected and purchased together. I wanted this first-time co-living to be the opportunity to start a brand new life together, so I had the mindset of discarding anything that didn’t fit into that vision. He also owned a lot more things (whether larger in size or in volume) than me so when it came down to Marie Kondo-ing our items, I had a much harder time understanding why he’d want to keep things that he rarely or never made use of. Ultimately, we worked together to showcase certain sentimental pieces around the house.
Philippe: You can’t just throw everything you have into a space and expect it to work. Also, hand-me-down’s, while great for when you just move out, make for a hodgepodge later on in life. Realizing I don’t need to keep everything from my childhood can be tough, but it helps to think about it from the “fresh start” perspective, where we’re trying to build a life together that we can call our own. Finding the balance of my things and her things in a way that showcases both of our personalities and history, while still trying to maintain a cohesive theme, can be tough. In the end, we both want to be comfortable in our home.
Have you had to revise or change your design agreements and decisions as time has gone on? Alisha: Yeah, especially on my side. I have to learn to stay out of his way, let him do things his own way, or be more empathetic when it comes to his decision to organize or decorate. We still go through this downsizing process probably once or twice a year, and I think we’ve been better at being understanding and coming to a compromise.
Philippe: Her love of bold colors is the complete opposite of my personal taste, but it’s more important to me that the furniture and art we have represents both of our styles.
Huge turning point: she wants a bright orange sofa and I actually thought it would be cool!
How do you handle budgeting for design and what each person wants at home? Alisha: We are really nerdy and overly transparent when it comes to budgeting. We share a budget tracker Excel spreadsheet, we have a joint checking account, we identify shared goals for the rowhome, and use Evernote to bookmark items we love or want to buy. We luckily don’t crave big-ticket items, mostly we’re always on the lookout for cool art or designs, frames or ways to integrate our favorite travel souvenirs throughout our home. This year we’re trying to upgrade select pieces like a new fold-out couch and dresser for me, so those we like to have a savings plan mapped out.
Philippe: We chat about what we think the house needs and keep our notes in Evernote. From there, we price out what these things will cost and lay out a general timeline which allows us to save up for them. We’re sure to keep it flexible, as plans always change. Like, earlier this year our big-ticket item was going to be an upgraded couch that fits more than two people, but our TV started freaking out so that got higher priority.
What is the piece (or pieces) that you each display that the other one has had to learn to love — and what has it taught you about them? Alisha: For me, I’d say it’s the organ in our living room. I was really against bringing such a huge piece, mostly because I was convinced it wouldn’t even fit through the front door! But even though it’s not in the best shape, it’s really cool to show off and our friends love to ask about it when they’re over. Plus, it’s his grandfather’s and we’ve styled it to display his accompanying music sheets and family photos.
Philippe: I’d say her (loads of) stationery in the guest bedroom.
What is something you’ve learned from living with your partner that you didn’t expect and are thankful for? Alisha: How domestic he likes to be! There were a few months where he was unemployed and I wasn’t, so we had to figure out how to balance work, life and house duties among other priorities. I always joke that those four months were the best because I’d come home to a clean house, dinner on the stove (and maybe even cookies) [and] laundry done. Plus, he loved doing all of it! We’ve never had a weird gender role debate, we’re on the same page about how to contribute fairly to “adulting” duties, but I just loved a stay-at-home-partner!
Philippe: She’s extremely clean and very adamant that it stay that way. I was always more of a “do a task, then clean up (maybe)” kind of person, but she does the cleaning as she goes. At first I didn’t understand why, but it’s been rubbing off on me and I feel it lessens my anxiety while working on something. I wouldn’t say I’m at the same level as her with it, but I think it’s a great habit to pick up and wouldn’t go back. Also, I never thought about putting travel pictures up, but she has this poster of all the countries she’s been to and it made me realize that since we love traveling together, it should be a very visible thing in our home. Since then, we’ve added pictures, postcards and maps from abroad to flesh out the guest room and it’s one of my favorite places in the house now.
What advice do you have for people sharing space with someone they love? Alisha: Communication and transparency are key, especially financially. Be open about your ideas or your vision, but also work on managing expectations around your budgets, whether that’s individually or shared.
Philippe: Be transparent and flexible. You have to trust that your partner has good reasons for their opinions and understand that these opinions have been built up from their experiences.
(photographer) + (author, speaker and women-focused community builder)
Where do you live? Brooklyn Heights, New York
Who else (including pets) lives there? Husband and wife, Ira and Cyndie + Ralph and Jake. Ralph is our sweet 18-year-old orange tabby and Jake is our feisty 12-year-old Maine Coon.
How many square feet do you live in together? Our apartment is approximately 600 square feet, maybe even smaller. Our landlord refused to disclose because the layout “was really spacious.” That’s New York for you!
How long have you been living together? 4 ½ years
Which spaces in your home do you share? Are there spaces that are just either of yours? We WISH there were spaces that were just ours but sadly, no. We share all of our space including closets. Our living room is also our office and yoga studio. We each have half-ish of our shared desk and the same goes for our file cabinets. We share all of our spaces because there is too little space not to. But we’ve managed to do so fairly seamlessly. (Possibly because Ira has given in to me taking over most of the entire apartment since I spend more time working from home.)
How did you first discuss how you would design or decorate together? We still haven’t discussed it. We merged all of things and decided as we went along. With that said, Ira has much fancier (read: expensive) taste than I do so I got rid of some of my furniture to make room for his.
Is one person’s style more dominant? In this smaller apartment, my style might seem more dominant because much of the decorations and color choices, like plants and a bright yellow wall are a lot more bohemian but the furniture and key pieces are Ira’s mid-century modern and industrial aesthetic, like our limited edition purple wool Eames chair or our custom fabricated living room bookcase.
Do you remember any discussions about design or decorating that were tough but you learned something important from? Ira really wanted to get rid of his Saarinen style marble side table, which didn’t fit easily into our space. I loved the table and in the end, we turned it into a more functional bar for our whiskey collection and then a window table for our plants and gemstones. This taught us that aesthetically, we can make [what may seem] like very different styles meld together seamlessly with a bit of patience, trust and a whole lot of love. We really do love one another’s personal style and trust each other immensely. It also taught us to think differently about impractical objects especially in a smaller space. Most of our furniture has to serve more than one purpose, which allows us to find a better use of pieces, too. Neither of us are too precious and so we choose to use everything regardless of how expensive or inexpensive something might be.
I’m also generally more sentimental and Ira is a lot more practical about aesthetic decisions. So while I’m of the mindset of “Put it into storage and we’ll decide later,” Ira is always the one that says “Nope, let’s just donate it. It doesn’t fit where we are in our life right now and if we ever need it again, another one will show up.” He’s right.
Have you had to revise or change your design agreements and decisions as time has gone on? When moving from a larger loft apartment to a smaller apartment in Brooklyn Heights, we had to let go of the open space and more minimal parts of our home to accommodate things I wasn’t willing to part with (like a 100-pound gemstone and my hot pink file cabinet) but we never had to change agreements. We both respect one another deeply and it’s important that we both feel at home in our space so we’re receptive to compromising and considering one another’s ideas. With that said, we did mutually institute a rule that I can’t buy any more gemstones until we have a larger space.
How do you handle budgeting for design and what each person wants at home? Ira is a master at tracking down expensive furniture at affordable prices and reads design sites like most of us read the news (not me, though, I don’t read the news.) And if we really want to invest in something larger, we talk about it and decide when we’re willing to invest.
What is the piece (or pieces) that you each display that the other one has had to learn to love — and what has it taught you about them? I bought an oversized bird and floral-printed storage poof in the bedroom that holds all of our winter accessories. Ira doesn’t like it, it’s simply not his taste. Ira has a large ELFA modular desk and its large size is overwhelming to me, I am not into it. But because of the functionality of these pieces, we’ve both learned that sometimes practicality wins over personal aesthetics especially in smaller spaces. And neither of us needs to be “right” when it comes to what we keep or get rid of, it always comes back to what makes the most sense in the space we have today.
What is something you’ve learned from living with your partner that you didn’t expect and are thankful for? We’ve learned that when you really respect the person you share a home with, that supersedes minor details of everyday aesthetics. We care more about each other than we do a piece of furniture. It really is that simple.
What advice do you have for people sharing space with someone they love?
Make space emotionally and physically to truly live alongside and with your partner, which is very different than forcing one person’s stuff to fit into the space of another. Sharing a space, especially a home, is very intimate so you have to respect the intricacies of that before you attempt to share a physical space.
Maria + John (For those of you who follow me on Instagram — Maria is our dear late friend Georgine’s wonderful daughter)
Where do you live? We Live in Lake Katrine, NY
Who do you share your home with? We share our home with 2 dogs: Gibbs, a Rottweiler, and Gunther, a rescue who is part Rat Terrier, Feist Terrior, Dachshund and Lab! Quite a combo! We also share our home with a Parrotlet (that was my daughter’s until she got married and … you know the rest!) and a Parakeet that just flew into the yard last May. She was never claimed, so here she is. We also have a house chicken named Blinky. She is mostly blind and can’t be with the rest of the flock, so in the winter she comes into the warm house. We also have 2 fish tanks!
How big is your home? Our home is about 1,800 square feet. We moved in together when we were married. We have been in the same house together 38 years. We started in a 14 x 64-foot mobile home and as our family grew, we built our house around it.
Which parts of your home do you share and are there parts that are just one or the other’s? We have 4 bedrooms. We share one and John has taken one as his toy shop. He collects and builds models and has a bedroom that is neatly stuffed! I guess the kitchen is my domain.
How did you first discuss how you would design or decorate together? My husband designed the layout of our home. He has a better sense of style than I do. Sometimes he has way-out ideas that I poo-poo. I am much more basic and don’t care for big change. A lot of things we have as far as furniture are used. At one point we had 6 dogs in our home and they used couches as chew toys!
Do you remember any discussions about design or decorating that were tough but you learned something important from? I guess I would have to say that his collection of model cars is something I have had to accept. I don’t hate them, I just don’t feel the same excitement for them he does. I, on the other hand, have multiple chicken-themed things through out the house — including a live one! He doesn’t say anything, but I am sure he would prefer to put his cars out!
John is a very sensitive person, we express that in very different ways. With every animal we have had and lost, he cries just like I do. I think it is a blessing that we feel the same way about losing something that we both love. He still hasn’t come to terms with my mother’s passing. She was a pain in his butt but we all miss her very much. I mourn differently, seeing her struggle prepared me more for the end, it still isn’t easy, but it is a part of life we all face.
A few years ago, my daughter and her fiance asked if they could move in with us for a few months. We were soon to find out she was expecting. She blessed us with our first grandchild. A few months turned into 2 1/2 years. It was a rough time for all on occasion, but I don’t regret a minute of it. I was blessed to have her and the baby with us for that time. BUT, I will say there were some difficult times when you just overlooked things to keep peace. Four grown adults and a baby in one house can be a challenge.
Maria and John on their wedding day