Living with someone else (or multiple someone elses) has its fair share of challenges. For most people, decorating the space you share is on that list – and perhaps even at the top of it. Whether you share a home with a significant other, roommates, or family members, you know that a lot of compromises are required to keep things running smoothly.
However, coming to a conclusion on everyday conflicts may seem like a breeze when you compare it to the war zone that is created when you try to pick out colors, furniture, or any other kind of decor for the common areas of the home.
Even people with the strongest communication skills can struggle in this area because mixing styles is a pretty tricky task to undertake. Thankfully, though, it’s not impossible! The key to blending styles all comes down to knowing the right way to plan it out. Simply trying to throw everything together and call it “eclectic” isn’t necessarily going to work. It’s important to have a design plan before you start, or else it’s likely to come out looking like a hot mess.
To mix decorating styles requires a harmonious balance of colors, furniture, fabric, texture, and finishes. This may sound a little complicated, but it’s a lot easier once you understand how all of these things work together. When you know the basics, you’ll be able to start spotting what elements contrast in a complementary way and what simply clash. Even if you live alone and you’re trying to blend your own contrasting tastes, the tips in this post will help you.
Here’s how to make it work:
How to Mix Decorating Styles
As I mentioned, the first step to mix decorating styles is to get a plan together.
1 Determine what elements can’t be changed in the space. If you’re renting, this could mean no painting the walls or kitchen cabinets, changing the flooring, etc. You may have similar restrictions in the house you own depending on budget restrictions. No compromise will be needed on these and they will affect your other choices down the road, so keep them in mind.
2 Simplify and relate. Take inventory of all the furniture and decorative items between you. Not only will this give you a visual idea of what your individual styles are, but you’ll also start to find common elements between them. You may be surprised to see some things you both like in each other’s styles. For example: Are you both drawn to the color red? Do you share a love for the beach, even though one of you prefers a rustic edge while the other prefers a more modern flair? Do you both like to travel and save mementos from every trip?
3 Edit your belongings. Once you’ve taken stock of everything you have, it’s time to edit down what will be used. Keep only what you love and eliminate the rest. What pieces would inspire you the most to see every day? Pick a few items you can’t live without and let go of the rest (or at least put it into storage). Make sure you both do this. If you’re asking them to part with some things, you have to be willing to do the same.
4 Determine what things are important and what you’re both willing to compromise on. Each of you take a piece of paper (or a computer document) and create two columns. On one side, list all of the things that are most important to you to have in your home. In the second column, list what you want but would be willing to compromise on. Be very honest with yourself. As you think on it, things you initially thought were deal breakers may actually end up being something you can let go of or keep strictly to your private area of the house. (You can also use the worksheet I’ve included at the end of this post.)
For example: Perhaps he loves wine but you wouldn’t know a Pinot Grigio from a Moscato. However, you’re obsessed with appliances. A good compromise in this scenario may be that he gets to pick the wine that goes on display while you pick out the wine fridge.
5 Decide what items you both have to agree on before they are purchased. When you’re out shopping, something may catch your eye when your partner or roommate isn’t with you. Having fallen in love with it, you decide to buy it and figure out where it will go later. This is okay on smaller decorative pieces, but there are certain things that both parties need to agree on before making any purchases. Usually, they are big ticket items such as a sofa, dining room table, major appliances, or an entertainment center. To make sure there are no mishaps, decide on what items you have to choose together before you do any shopping separately.
Now, onto the fun part! (If you haven’t killed each other yet.)
1 Unify everything with a consistent color palette. The most effective way to unify design is by choosing a common color. This can make disparate pieces work together, including furniture, fabric, and artwork. Color is your most powerful design element to work with. Once you decide on this, everything else will start falling into place much easier.
I hear you, though ─ But what if we have completely different tastes in color?! What if they love bold colors and I love soft neutrals?!
This is where some compromise comes in. A solution to vibrant color vs soft neutrals could be choosing a light, neutral palette for the base (walls, flooring, large pieces of furniture) and introducing the bolder pops of color in through smaller accents, such as pillows, artwork, an armchair, bar stools, etc. This will give you the best of both worlds.
2 Balance disparate elements. Like with the color palette, you can balance strong elements with softer ones. Masculine elements can be accented with feminine ones and darker pieces can be lightened up with airier ones. Here are some examples:
- Masculine & Feminine: Heavy or austere elements can be mixed with softer, more glamorous details, such as a dark gray, mid-century modern sofa with faux fur pillows and a gold coffee table.
- Light & Dark: Cool tones like gray or ice blue can be balanced with natural woods, warm metals, and warm leathers.
- Soft & Strong: Strong elements like brick and darker colors can be softened with pillows, faux fur throws, and flowers.
3 Be fearless in your decorating. While there are guidelines to help you create more professional-looking rooms, rules are made to be broken. Don’t be afraid to mix styles from completely different periods and styles that you don’t usually see together.
For example: Counterpoise traditional or classic style furniture by adding abstract artwork to the walls. For an even more playful look, toss in a pillow or chair covered in animal print. Have fun with it!
4 Embrace what you love. Your differences will be what gives the place character and makes it unique. It’s where the magic is. Instead of worrying about how different the things you love are, get excited over the opportunity you have to do something totally creative, special, and new.
5 Take your time. There is no rush to get your home decorated. In fact, always thinking of it as a work in progress will help keep things fresh and allow your environment to evolve with you. You don’t have to do it all at one time – get a feel for the place and plan out as much as you can, and then let the rest naturally fall into place.
6 Give each person a room of their own to decorate as they please. If you have the space, it’s a lot easier to compromise on design of the common areas when you each have a place of your own (such as a home office or “man cave”) to fully personalize without restrictions. If this can’t be the case, then consider giving each other your own projects. One of you could decorate the powder room off the kitchen while the other takes the lead on the patio.
Download your Mixing Decorating Styles worksheet to help you decide what you absolutely must have and what you can compromise on. Feel free to print one up for each person in the house.
I hope these tips for decorating with couples and roommates help you find that mixing styles can actually be a fun and inspiring experience. Having an open mind is half the battle. Best of luck!