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Decorating for Two: The Challenge of Uniting Styles

unhappy-coupleI was recently contacted by a couple that had just moved in together and was having a difficult time incorporating their different design styles in the new home. This is a common issue for couples who begin the exciting adventure of cohabitating.

We all know that a big part of relationships is learning to compromise. And it’s no different when decorating your home. This couple, Charlotte and Ben, had to learn a fast lesson in concession.

Charlotte’s style is mid-century modern, with lots of accent pieces and light, airy colors. While her tastes are feminine, they aren’t frilly. Ben likes masculine Mission furniture, a bit darker and heavier in feel, and doesn’t like a lot of clutter and decoration; to this end, Charlotte likes to joke that he embraces more of a Quaker sensibility.

I made a visit to their new home, a beautiful cottage that could accommodate any type of style, be it modern or traditional. But it would still be a challenge to mix together two disparate design styles.

I asked them to pick out pieces they just couldn’t part with, be it for sentimental reasons, or because they simply loved the lines of it. This is the first step in compromising.

Ben instantly pointed to his wing back chair. An avid reader, this was Ben’s favorite place to delve into his latest novel.
Charlotte wanted to keep her sofa, a mid-century modern sectional covered with a neutral, but very chic and contemporary microsuede. How, they wondered, do they blend her sofa with his very traditional wing back chair?

The solution was to update the chair and recover it in a fabric that was slightly more modern, but appealed to Ben’s tastes. We selected a linen (a traditional material) from Manual Canovas, a fabric company that offers a fresh take on conventional patterns using bold colors and large motifs. We also added nailheads to the bottom of the chair, bringing in that traditional touch, but in a polished nickel finish that was bright and contemporary.

For a coffee table, and to bridge the two styles, we selected a piece that was simple and clean, echoing contemporary lines. But the piece was also traditional in design, reminiscent of an English-style table, with shelves at the bottom to hold magazines and remotes. With this piece, we would tie together the rest of the furniture in the room.

Compromising on art was a little more difficult. Charlotte loves abstract pieces. Ben, a film major, has a collection of old movie posters he wanted to hang. They both worried how this would all come together in a cohesive way.

We mounted Ben’s posters on thick canvas from an art supply store; this would give them the feel of an unframed painting. We hung them together in pairs throughout the home to give them their own importance, while treating them as a collection.
We then hung Charlotte’s abstract paintings and mixed them with the posters. The artwork came together in a cohesive way and we united them further by hanging pieces with similar colors on each wall.

Because Ben doesn’t like a lot of decoration, we had to be careful about which accessories of Charlotte’s to display. For the fireplace mantle, we needed some ornamentation, but also wanted to keep it simple for Ben’s Quaker-style simplicity. We placed white vases of different shapes and sizes in a group. They had uncomplicated but graceful shapes to add subtle interest to the mantle, without seeming cluttered.

We further edited Charlotte’s accessories and displayed only the things with which she wanted to surround herself. We placed them on side tables sparingly, such as a beautiful wood box underneath a lamp, with a ceramic jar on the corner. On another table, we clustered some pieces on a beautiful tray – this way, the accessories were on display, but were contained, and therefore more orderly and subtle.

Ben was pleased because it was decorative, but not superfluous. He could still enjoy the emptiness of the tabletop.
We then translated this simple philosophy of compromise and careful mixing throughout the rest of the home. We brought together different design styles and tastes by updating certain pieces, finding a common thread and mixing and matching in a way that was eclectic yet cohesive. The home certainly reflected their different styles, united.

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Posted by on October 8, 2009. Filed under Real Estate/Home & Garden. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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