Whether a manageable weekend project to a full-on reno, working with a significant other on a shared design project is a tall order. Who does what? Who breaks a tie? How can you keep budget, relationship and sanity in check when the inevitable snags, interruptions and impasses come up? It’s true: these questions can give pause, especially if you’re on the newer side of designing, your relationship—or both!
At the same time, you’re (hopefully) into spending some free time with your S.O. and all this time at home (along with more reasons than ever to make it comfortable and inspiring) has you ready for a new project.
We get it—intimidation and excitement, hand-in-hand. Our take: don’t let these potential pitfalls keep you from an opportunity to get to know yourself, your significant other and your home better through a joint design venture. As veterans of more than our fair share of styling hits and misses and with our own partners (…and exes…?), we’re here to share a few rules of thumb and lessons learned to help you turn your ideas into a finished room that works for and inspires you both.
Ground Rules: Inspiration & Intention
You may be tempted to jumpstart saved images and mood boards to kick off the conversation—take it from us, though: a few moments to set the groundwork and connect over where to go and how to get there will make the browsing and dreaming that much better after. Here’s where we like to start:
- First, start with what you want the space to represent. Aiming for a clutter-free zone with a calming aura? What about a flexible space that can quickly go from lounge to gather? Don’t worry if you’re wanting different things out of the same space—design is all about common ground! At this stage, simply stay close to how you actually live and how your surroundings can support you both as you move throughout your days.
- Then, set your non-negotiables. Need the budget not to push past a certain number? Can’t live without a sectional sofa? Must have that perfect shade you color-matched from last summer’s vacation? Now’s the time to jointly separate the need-to-haves from the nice-to-haves. You might keep these non-negotiables relatively narrow to leave room for flex later on, but do speak up!
- With these boxes ticked, let the inspiration flow—have a look at rooms that you’ve saved and start to hone in on what catches your collective eye. We’re firm believers that everyone has style and space preferences, regardless of design enthusiasm or experience. Yet we see it time and again: one partner is a design-phile with ideas and pins galore while the other is happy to give full rein—that is, until that couch or chair comes through the door. We recommend heading this one off by going beyond simply up/downvoting pin after pin (inspiration overload: it’s a thing!).
Instead, serve up open-ended questions that invite stories, memories and even surprises. Some thought-starters (just add wine!): If you could go anywhere for a weekend, where would you go? What’s your favorite thing about our space right now? If you could move into the home from a show, book or movie you like, which would it be?
While reference images can help point the way, you might find that by taking the focus away from evaluating and deliberating toward curiosity and conversation when you’re trawling online inspiration, the focus becomes building a comfortable space together.
The Momentum Killer: Design by Compromise
You’ve assembled your need-to-haves, a rough budget and a couple of reference points. All on track—but all leading to one of the biggest potential snags we come across when it comes to designing with a partner: Design by Compromise.
Remember those overlapping circle diagrams from middle school? (Yes, teacher’s pets: it’s technically called a Venn Diagram. Everyone else—rest assured, we might have used the search bar, too.) In our view, one of the biggest roadblocks to unlocking your shared design mojo is thinking you have to stay in this (sometimes narrow) overlap—that is, if you’ve got a soft spot for more traditional pieces while your partner leans more modern, designing becomes about assembling a room that somehow checks both boxes, or worse, keeping score of who gets to choose which pieces in “their” style lane. While you both may end up with individual elements that you love, your room as whole runs the risk of feeling disjointed instead of cohesive.
Trust us, we know—this is the trickiest part. After all, how do you dodge over-comprising while still striking that harmonious-but-eclectic vibe you’re both going for? Back to the Venn—except this time, draw a bigger circle around both of your individual inspiration points. A few guideposts:
- Keep in mind that styles and tastes can complement one another in many ways, some of which you won’t be able to see until you try different combinations. Spend time just pairing together items you like, setting aside the “rules”—you might find that breaking them is the only thing that feels right for your space. Mixing metals? Multiple wood tones? Not just permitted, but welcomed when kept within an overarching scene (think warm, muted and rustic as compared with cool, contrasted and modern).
- Decouple your preferences from design eras that as a rule “can’t” go together. If mid-mod and French provincial seem hopelessly irreconcilable to you, zoom out and reframe. What do you love about each? The clean lines and graceful construction of one, and the ornate detailing and historical charm of the other? Then, try to find a third reference point that perhaps neither of you has examined before (psst…Art Deco jumps to the front of our mind here).
- Remember that elements and pieces united through material, texture or tone will naturally give off a layered, collected-over-the-years vibe. For example, braided jutes, nubby wools and unglazed ceramics all play in the same texture sandbox, allowing for contrasts and riffs around style period or color.
Side note—we here at Havenly live for these kinds of conversations and discoveries, and we’d love to play third wheel (but in a good way), passing along unexpected inspiration, serving as a sounding board, even sourcing pieces and keeping the momentum and vision on track. If you’d appreciate a bit of guidance along the way, drop us a line for a consultation!
The Big Reveal: Don't Skip, Don't Skimp!
We love a good TV-worthy reveal moment and wrap-up as much as the next, but in real life, the work goes on after a project’s “finishing touch” – whether that’s a renovation punch list or a final accessory placed just-so on those newly installed open shelves. In fact, around these parts we believe that designing is a lifelong endeavor, a process to be savored as we explore and grow.
That said, it’s helpful when designing with a partner to have an agreed end point: tally the costs (you remembered that budget, right?), jot down sources and references (your friends will ask you about that paint color), and most importantly, pause and reflect on how it all came together and what you learned along the way. After all, emerging from any design undertaking with your relationship and home still intact is cause for some serious celebration—and all the more reason to do it all over again when inspiration strikes next.
With the right priority and a little prep work, we’d be willing to bet that you and your better half can bring out the best both in each other and in your shared space when designed together. We happen to think a capable design companion is where the real magic is (hey, call us biased). However you make it happen, we hope these pointers help you steer clear of some of the most common dilemmas we all encounter when designing with a partner while prompting a more considered, authentic space for you both to call home.
Need an expert tiebreaker to offer inspiration and maybe even a little design therapy? Our clients can attest, Havenly designers help mitigate relational design woes to create a space you both love living in. Take our Havenly style quiz (make it a fun date night!) and get started today.