It’s a question we get all the time, on nearly every single project we take on…
“My design style is X, but my husband’s style is Y. We’ve tried to mix them over the years but it just winds up looking like a hodge-podge mess. HELP!”
Mixing styles can be tricky. The line between “artfully collected” and “yard sale” is a fine one! There are a few key tricks that designers use to mix styles well that you can employ at home. But before we lay out the tips, we need to establish something important.
It’s critical that both people feel represented at home. If your house only reflects your style and not your spouse’s, they aren’t going to feel as satisfied or at ease in the space. We’ve heard spouses (typically husbands) over the years claim “Happy Wife, Happy Life! Whatever she wants is fine with me!”
To be frank - this is a load of bull.
In every one of these situations, the un-represented spouse who previously had no opinions gets frustrated and becomes visibly dissatisfied. Often something minor will set off a reaction – typically it’s budget related – but it really doesn’t have anything to do with the cost itself. It has everything to do with the fact that shared money is getting spent on a single person’s vision. So the Unrepresented Spouse throws down the hammer and makes a sweeping declaration on some sticking point to get their way, and we’re so far down the process that whatever that THING is, it sticks out like a sore thumb because it wasn’t thoughtfully considered from the get-go.
When creating a space that is shared you NEED A SHARED VISION. That means you need clarity. Clarity on your preferred aesthetic and priorities, and your spouse needs clarity as well. As much as you can, you need to figure out what is truly important to you.
To illustrate how to do this, I’m going to walk you through a fictional couple who are 100% based on conglomerations of our past clients, because in all my years of doing this, we’ve never met a couple perfectly aligned on design.
Let’s meet Brian and Jennifer. Brian LOVES modern design – the clean lines, the un-fussyness, the simplicity – but also insists that everything be comfortable. Jennifer is a bit softer – she likes a little bit of traditional elements thrown in, details that aren’t strictly necessary but makes things prettier just for the sake of beauty. She doesn’t think every piece actually needs to be comfortable, just the pieces that are going to be the most heavily used every day.
STEP ONE: CREATE A SHARED VISION
Each of you need to get super clear on what you want as individuals. Your preferences are going to fall into two categories. Aesthetic preferences (modern, clean lines, soft colors) and functional preferences (comfort, brightness, durability). Y’all who have been around here know what I’m going to say – you need to Mood Board this out. Create a visual representation of what it is that you like. Most of us lack the vocabulary to express how we want something to look in a way that someone else can understand. Hop over here for our how-to guide on creating a Mood Board along with a free template.
Here are our fictitious couple’s Mood Boards.
Brian wants a modern, midcentury influenced space that’s masculine and neutral.
Jennifer wants a soft contemporary space that feels airy, softly colorful, and feminine.
Now we’re going to merge them to create a shared vision. I know those 2 boards might not look like they have much overlap, but they do. Let’s find common ground here. Maybe both of you want a comfortable, casual space to enjoy. Or you both want the space to feel put together so that you can entertain friends and family. Or you agree that durability is king because of the age of your kids. Start with the common ground and work your way out.
You’ll need to listen to understand what’s really important to them under the surface. This is not a negotiation or jockeying for what you want at the expense of your spouse. There will inevitably be places where you don’t align. In those instances, seek out the underlying need that is hanging out below what they’re saying.
Example 1 – he may say “I must have a recliner with a cupholder in front of the TV.” That is a solution, not a need. The NEED is for a comfortable place to put my feet up at the end of the day, with a convenient spot for a beverage, with a good viewing angle to the TV. Now we can open our eyes past a Barcalounger and find a whole host of furniture pieces that will solve for the need, but might look a little different than what he’s pictured. In this example the Mid Century lounge chair that shows up in Brian’s mood board would totally fit his need AND align with his aesthetic preferences.
Example 2 – she may say “I’m obsessed with pink” and have 4 rooms with pink walls on her mood board. Brian might fear that he’s doomed to live inside a cotton candy hell, but what may actually fit the bill could be soft feminine colors in pillows, artwork or an accent chair so she feels surrounded with (but not engulfed by) her favorite color.
Take what you’ve learned and create a shared mood board that has elements that both you and your spouse are drawn to. Here we’ve pulled on the common threads of classic pieces (be they modern or more traditional), mostly neutral colors but with interesting patterns and accents of more feminine tones, and comfortable upholstered pieces. Both Brian and Jennifer would feel represented in a space like this.
STEP 2: SELECT YOUR FOUNDATIONAL PIECES
For your major investment pieces, everyone is going to be happier in the end if you can find alignment. Note, alignment doesn’t mean every piece is your favorite piece, but that you don’t loathe it every time you look at it! A couple of strategies here:
Make your foundational pieces more transitional in style. Not overly modern or traditional (or masculine or feminine, insert your opposing adjectives here), but somewhere in the middle. Basically, picking things that aren’t offensive. A solid strategy, but rather than everyone being “meh” about a piece, we greatly prefer to….
Blend pieces of different styles. Every room is going to have a few major pieces of furniture. In a living room, it’s sofas and chairs. In a dining room, it’s a table and chairs. In a bedroom, it’s a bed and nightstands + dresser. Lean into the fact that you each prefer different styles, and divvy those pieces up. Modern pieces can really accent more traditional pieces and make them pop, using the same logic as how colorful artwork pops on a white background. Each can enhance the other (much like you and your spouse do!).
Here are a few of our favorite parings for fictional Brian and Jennifer. Bonus points - some of the pieces even mix their design styles WITHIN the same piece, like the more mid-mod brass feet on the decorative curvy dining chair.
STEP 3: HAVE A LOT OF FUN WITH THE ACCENTS
Once you’ve settled on your foundational pieces, let loose and have more freedom in accent pieces. More affordable and easily changeable pieces like art, throws, pillows, side tables, and lamps allow you each to express your style in a less long-term-commitment way.
Bonus – these items also tend to be returnable, so if you don’t get it right on the first try, you can try again!
Here at first glance you can see what pieces are more “his” and which are more “hers” but if you look closely, they start to overlap. His modern art gets Her color palette. Her colorful candelabra gets his modern shape.
Lamps | Side table | Candle | Plate | Whiskey glasses | Art large | Art small | Art pink | Solid contrast edge pillow Insect pillow | Colorblock pillow | Room scent | Bath hardware | Mirror | Wallpaper
We hope this gives you the confidence to get really intentional about making a space that you and your spouse can both enjoy! Go home and shake things up!