By Marni Jameson
“Finding the right house might be more of a challenge than finding the right man!” I am on the phone with my friend, interior designer Elaine Griffin, who is cracking me up, as usual. We are commiserating about how hard it is to make two homes one, forget making two hearts one. That’s the easy part.
I have been there. She is there.
Happily engaged, Griffin, who splits her time between New York and Georgia, is unhappily house hunting. “Though I’ve found the man of my dreams, finding the house of our dreams is proving, uhh, interesting,” she adds. “It really is easier to merge souls than households.”
Knowing laughter all around.
“Single people are used to being the commanders of their space,” says Griffin. They’re in charge of what happens where. It’s one thing to invite someone to visit your kingdom, but quite another when one person moves in, or you get a place together. Then … welcome to mayhem.”
She’s just confirmed my belief that cohabitating tests the best relationships.
“No kidding,” I say. “When DC and I merged household two years ago, it was like cramming two wet cats in a box.”
“The older you get, the harder it gets,” she says.
Griffin lives in a large rambling home in Coastal Georgia, which was also her childhood home. “Living here would feel creepy to him,” she says. Her fiancé, a divorced dad of four boys, lives in a two-bedroom-plus-a-loft condo. “There’s no room for me there.”
She wants big. He wants practical. She likes uptown. He’s more downtown. Yet they are both bent on finding a place they love. “It has to happen!” she says. “We can’t set wedding date until we’ve found the house.”
“How does your furniture get along?” I dare ask.
“Oh, my Lord!” She cries, then does a charade of their conversation: “Your soul, darling, is easy to love. Your sofa on the other hand….!”
More hysterical laughter.
Turns out, he has an enormous leather sectional with cup holders (!). She has a Louis Seize settee.
“Opposites attract,” I say.
“The only way to get what you want is to stay single,” says Griffin. “Once you say I do, or make a commitment, it’s compromise city.”
Yep. Here’s what she and I suggest couples do once they decide to merge heart, house and home.
- Define home. Establish a point of solidarity to use as a foundation by agreeing on what home means to both of you. What are your goals for your house together? Is it a private refuge, a place to entertain, or a spread for family gatherings?
- Find your combined style. Couples need to do their homework. Create Pinterest boards, and research styles to find look that speaks to both. “It may not be your favorite style, but it’s happy enough,” said Griffin. “Couples where one partner is super modern and the other super traditional can find a meeting ground in contemporary.”
- Avoid pureness of style. Relax the borders. If you are a serious minimalist, and your partner is all about embellished traditional, you can mix modern and traditional, but have fewer items overall.
- Choose five items it would break your heart to leave. I learned this tip when downsizing my parents’ home, and tried to pick the five things to best remember them by, and let the rest go. When forging furnishings, have each partner select five or so of their belongings that are non-negotiable keepers, and build on those. Keep what speaks to your heart. Then approach everything else neutrally.
- Shop your own stuff. Once you have your non-negotiables set aside, let the house decided the rest. Architecture, room size and function will tell you if his sectional works better than your sofa set. If it’s not ideal, agree to eventually replace it. “In the interest of sportsmanship, I’m prepared to live with his leather sectional for six months — but not seven,” Griffin jokes.
- Make big pieces align. Mix up the little ones. Rooms need a single style statement so they flow and have a look, so make sure big pieces relate. However, accessories can and should be an eclectic mix of you both. “Incongruous pieces are your statement of unity.”
- Declare your space. “I’m a big fan of the private space, whether a she cave or a he cave,” says Griffin. “That space should be all holds barred one person’s. Griffin needs her office to be her private domain. Her fiancé collects sports memorabilia, which she can’t live with all over the house. “If you hate that leather chair of his that looks like baseball glove, it goes in his cave.” Good fences make good couples.