6 min

Harmony at home

Finding styles you are comfortable with

Credit: Shawn Scallen

You and your partner have been dating for just over a year now and have decided to stop living out of each other’s dressers. You’ve elected to find a place where you can both put your toothbrushes and pay rent together rather than separately.

However, you and your partner have totally different tastes and styles when it comes to décor. Perhaps you have antiques and contemporary-style furniture with a wide variety of fabrics and patterns and contrasting abstract art hanging on the walls. Your partner, on the other hand, has a combination of modern and mission-style furniture, leather sofas, a harvest dining room table with leather parson chairs, fabrics that are plain and subtle, and art that’s scenic, bright and bold.

What stays and what goes? Is there a lamp your partner loves that you would really like to sell at the garage sale before the big moving day? Or are you willing to give up the chair you bought from a thrift store during your first year at university? You know, that really comfortable one with all of those great memories attached to it. The chair your partner thinks is ugly as sin and wishes the movers would leave on the curb for the thrift store to come pick back up.

You both want moving in together to work; this means you have to find “your” style and a design concept that works for both of you and your budget.



It’s more than making rooms look good or translating someone’s idea of style. Good design enhances the quality of your life. It uses a range of design details – line and balance, colour and texture, lighting and architectural elements – to please your sense of touch and space while transforming rooms into special places.

“Rather than looking at the differences,” says Melanie Martin, a local interior designer from Distinctive Designs, “couples must first find similarities.

“For example, some of the furniture they have may be different in style, but have similar colour or wood finishes. These can be combined quite successfully. It is also very possible to combine the contemporary style furniture with the modern, because they are from similar time periods.

“I would not suggest they try to mix things that are too dissimilar, though. The abstract and scenic art should not be placed in the same room. These two should probably consider putting the abstract art in one room and the scenic art in another.”

Good design must satisfy threecriteria: function, quality materials and expression.

A space must function well to serve the needs and requirements of its users. In other words, the size and shape of the space must be well suited to its purpose. Placement and choice of furniture and fixtures support its use. Space circulations are well-planned and convenient (no one likes stubbing their toe on a coffee table). And finally, the space needs appropriate lighting.

Next, one must choose quality and appropriate materials for the space. It is important to ensure the workmanship of the materials used is of good quality, and that the cost of the construction is appropriate for the project. In other words, shop around.

Make sure the materials you use offer adequate durability and ease of maintenance. For example, the surfaces in your bath endure more heat, cold and moisture changes than most rooms in your home. So one should choose tile over hardwood for the floor of a bathroom, because hardwood floors do not fare well against temperature and moisture changes.

Finally, your design should be visually expressive. Design intentions should be clear, even if you are mixing and matching pieces from different time periods and styles.

Finding the style that you are comfortable with is the next important step. Style is defined in two ways:

The first is the identifying characteristics of a particular era, country, historic period or designer or design school. These types of styles are most often interpreted through varying forms, motifs and colours.

The second definition of style is your personal preference for choosing colours, shapes, objects and textures and pulling them all together. You may have a favourite decorating style that is already evident elsewhere in your home. Perhaps in an heirloom Victorian dining table, a collection of colourful majolica or Early American folk art wood carvings.

Take a look at your lifestyle. Is it formal or informal? Check out books on specific styles at the library or a local bookstore. Make a list of the styles that appeal to you. Review photos of favourite interiors, paying particular attention to shapes, motifs and styles. See what works with the overall architecture of your house. All of these exercises will help you to identify your particular style.

“You really need to be sure what you want to use the space for. If you like to entertain, then you should consider how often and how many people you are going to have over,” says Martin. “Also, are your guests going to be staying over?

“If you do not entertain often, then it would really be a waste of time and resources to design a space for that occasional passer-by.”

Martin also says that compromise is key to designing a room that two people will like. “If you have a good quality piece of furniture that will work in the room, but find that the colour is all wrong, then consider refinishing or reupholstering it. Maybe even choose a neutral colour to upholster the piece and then each choose a few accent pillows to fit your personal taste. If the accent pillows do not go together, then consider rotating them to give your room a different look from time to time.” The same compromise can be made for almost all accent pieces in the room.

Just like there are no rules for finding someone to fall in love with, there are also no rules for designing the perfect space for two people. It takes time, it takes energy, it takes compromise and, most of all, it takes knowing who you really are as a couple.

If you are moving in with someone for the first time, or if your place just really needs a face-lift, then find the time to examine what you really want from the space and then work towards it. It may take some time to achieve the perfect place, but in the end, you will be happy you made the effort.



Doctors Monique Andrews and Tamara MacIntyre are no strangers to the question of design and making spaces fit. They have been together for a little over nine years now, and have moved and redecorated six places.

They met and fell in love at Carleton U and moved in together after a few months of dating. And with them came the myriad of mismatched student furnishings, hand-me-downs and knickknacks with which they decorated their first love shack.

“Monique came to our first apartment with way too much stuff,” Tamara says with a smile. Monique agrees and jeers, “Tamara came with her mother’s bed.”

As time passed, their separate tastes changed and grew together. With each move they shed things that no longer fit with their style and personality. They made the places they occupied their own. “Our new rule became, if you can move it, it is a knickknack and just one more thing to dust.”

“We have moved three times in the last three years, and each place was totally different. It was like we needed to find our style each time we moved,” says Monique. “There was the modern loft-style apartment, where none of our old stuff fit, so we had to get all new modern furnishings. Then there was the old Glebe house where none of the modern things fit, so we had to put most of it in storage.”

Recently the couple hired an interior decorator to help them design their new office space. This was the first time that the ladies really had to think about what “their” style was.

“I never thought that hiring a decorator would have been such a good idea,” says Monique. “Our decorator kept us focused, saved us time and also saved us money. She started by sitting down with us and asked us a lot of questions; from there, our ideas started to take shape.

“I am a water sign and she is a fire sign. It was important to us that both of our personalities and uniqueness was present in our common space.”

Tamara thought that they might have less control over their vision with a decorator. “But in retrospect, it actually gave us more control. Now I couldn’t even imagine doing this without a designer. She opened our eyes to choices we didn’t even know existed.”

Monique nods and adds, “In fact, she became almost like a project manager. Designers know how long things take to get done by contractors, they understand the process, and know how to get you the best deals for the things you want.”