DECORATING WITH YOUR PARTNER

The saying goes, “opposites attract.”  

Attract, yes, but do sharp differences dovetail into one another, eventually harmonizing, or do they present perpetual thorns in both parties’ sides? Here is the (perhaps dispiriting) conclusion of a recent Huffington Post article which recited, in italics, both recent research and received wisdom: “You are much more likely to have a satisfying marriage for a lifetime when you and your mate are fundamentally similar.”  “Fundamentally similar” was taken to mean “shared core values,” and similar economic background and educational level apparently didn’t hurt either.  

Does decorating pose an exception to this rule?

Often, a couple who sets up housekeeping together will find that their knowledge of one another runs only skin deep when it comes to visual ideals for their home. Perhaps each partner was already aware of the other’s taste in furnishings, but was blind to its flaws during the early period of dating and falling in love. 

When Ulrike, an architect from Berlin, now thirty, married Jay, a Brooklyn hip-hop musician, she had unusually distinctive and definite ideas about how, architecturally speaking, she wanted to live. When they began to share a large apartment she found in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, she discovered that their tastes and priorities in setting up house were radically different.  

Talking to Ulrike convinced me that differences between partners may catalyze deeper love and acceptance, not to mention create a household livelier--both spiritually and visually-- than one composed of people with identical tastes.  

Here is Ulrike’s account of her and her husband’s decorating dilemmas, often humorous--even extreme--yet happily resolved. 

“I’m not a decorator, I’m an architect. I believe in white boxes, relatively empty of furniture, because they calm me down.  I need white walls because they provide the maximum light possible. White walls, for me, signify serenity. My favorite architect-designers are Mies van der Rohe and Eileen Gray, but I like designing my own furniture, often built-ins of good quality material. Hardwoods, especially oak, which is very hard, appeals to me. But it depends on the design. I’m not a big fan of mixing materials. I love Japanese architecture: one reason is that the Japanese focus intently on one thing while designing and forget everything else. The Curtain House by Shigeru Ban was the building in my first architecture lecture ever that really got to me. Ban’s huge curtain is so massive, demonstrating in a fascinating way how to extend space beyond the confines of the building. I also love Ban's Centre-Pompidou in Metz, France, a fantastically curvaceous museum."

 

"I grew up with Thonet bentwood chairs and I love them. They were amazing, because the makers figured out how to bend wood into various shapes through steaming."  

 

“For my husband, the biggest and most important element of our home is the TV, which he watches with his friends and often falls asleep in front of. It has to be state-of-the-art and expensive. A comfortable couch--super thick, super soft-- is also a priority for him, whereas for me, its comfort is less crucial than its beauty and functionality. In my opinion, we needed a convertible bed. The one we bought, from Lazzoni, has beautiful hydraulics and the whole thing flips into a huge queen bed." 

Do you collaborate? 

 “Yes, and Jay’s surrendered a little bit, recently. He wants dark browns and grays, which I find horrible. I don’t want a brown couch, comforters, and pillows. I like those colors for clothes but not for furniture unless it’s real leather. Jay has a brown and black table from Pier One, a desk which he loves. I managed to have him store it until we get a bigger apartment!"  

"I like old rugs pieced together which look like they were washed. Really expensive ‘patchwork’ rugs using fragments of very old, beautiful carpets. I don’t mind deep sapphire, dark green. But it depends on the room. I get stuck with grays or whites. I don’t like black furniture unless its real leather. I love chrome, metal and glass. I have the Eileen Gray table.  I also love Mies van der Rohe, the couches, really classic stuff. Eames chairs--all wire with black leather seat." 

"What is special about men? They focus on gear, function and style. Jay puts up military coins and diplomas, signs of achievement.  He once had a huge number of skateboards, painted beautifully. He also has a sneaker collection of 300 pairs of shoes, mostly Jordans he’s collected since the early 1990s. We have created a special space for them. He needs a big closet because he likes to dress well."  

"Growing up I loved lofts. But Jay grew up wanting a house or townhouse. What will we eventually get? I would go towards  something loft-ish, one huge room. He would prefer a house with a garden, with rooms and stories, all functions separate. Whereas I don’t mind having everything in one room."

"He likes very heavy furniture, huge tables. I like furniture to be very light. One point of disagreement is his Papasan chair, which he has owned a long time! I think it would be a great dog bed."  

"What is important for him is bringing friends over, to entertain in a living room. I would prefer to focus on a dining table. I built a dining table, but would like to afford a really nice piece." 

"What we do share is cooking for each other and it is very important to us, a positive force in our relationship. My parents always cooked from scratch and so did Jay’s. It’s such a fashion not to have a kitchen. In some cities they now rent apartments with no kitchen, not even a sink! We have a huge American two-door fridge and freezer, and a six-burner gas stove in stainless steels, Jay’s idea. He also has fancy knives, pots and pans worth thousands. They are a special type of metal. It’s all about the gear! We have marble counter-tops--very American!--which he likes, whereas I would use European wooden counter-tops." 

"Jay cooks Asian and Jamaican food, meat  and shrimp and fish and of course, jerk chicken. He is an excellent cook. I cook vegetarian, a little bit more lean. My favorite cuisine is Italian, good prosciutto, bread and mozzarella." 

"All in all, our kitchen is a place of agreement and harmony between us, the part of the apartment where our tastes mesh. It's a lucky thing we both like to cook, and to cook together."  

"In the end, visual stuff is not nearly as important as our shared experiences and enthusiasm for living life's adventures—together."   

Artfully mixed and matched, Indigo2ash’s wide selection of rugs, drapes and pillows are available in thirty subtle shades and myriad textures and patterns. At Indigo2ash, home is not only a place, but an experience, the setting most central to our families, friendships and visual adventures. Sign up to receive our newsletter with special offers!