I recently faced a perplexing conundrum; one I had forgotten I would encounter prior to pulling all of the wallpaper off my living room walls. I have a husband who actually has an opinion about the décor of his (our) home. And his opinion—in my opinion—was not entirely welcome!
It was then that I really envied my happily single best girlfriend, who recently bought and decorated a beautiful condo, every room showcasing her personality and tasteful style. Vibrancy abounds from the cool water colors of her bathroom to the sunny yellow guest room to the sensual Moroccan tones in her living room. Oh, to have that kind of freedom!
To clue you in, my Mark is a typical male, eschewing most bright tones, patterns and frills. He was actually pushing for gray on the living room walls! It was killing me! I’m telling you, finding the middle ground was really difficult.
Yes, I have watched HGTV’s “Design for the Sexes,” in which Michael Payne counsels husbands and wives in the fine art of compromise. In a short half hour, we find warring spouses suddenly smiling at each other and holding hands, reconciling in the final dour moments of divorce court, running off together in a flurry of chintz and crimson. But compromise is . . . compromise. No one truly gets what he or she really wants. Can this marriage be saved?!?
1. A settlement of differences in which each side makes concessions. 2. Something combining the qualities of two different things.
What is it about the X and Y chromosomes that makes decorating together so troublesome? From the bassinette and beyond, little girls are surrounded by color, pattern and tchotchkes. Dresses flounce and flair, flowers dot wall coverings and Lipsmackers in every color of the rainbow are tucked into backpacks. Granted, girls do go through phases—my daughter at one morose point wanted to paint her walls black, for example—but when we painted her room last summer, she chose to paint each wall in a different color: lime green, lemon yellow, vibrant blue and pepto pink. You might think, “Ugh,” but I’m telling you—it’s really cool. I asked her what color some of her boy friends were touting. “Boring,” she responded. “White. Navy blue. Brown.
Kind of blah.” I asked what they had on their walls, nodding to her well-covered walls as an example. “Not much,” she replied. “A band poster. Maybe a couple of sports trophies on a shelf.”
One has to wonder when the male need for decorative self-expression surfaces. It certainly isn’t in the college dorm room, where the stench of unwashed clothing coupled with the most recent pin-up poster darling could make any female entrant back out the door in horror. Nor is it in the first apartment, where men typically leave the white walls alone while women paint riotously and then, upon giving notice of vacancy, reluctantly buy a can of white to cover up their mischief.
According to the Robb Report, many men take an interest in decorating when they’ve achieved success in their careers. Says Sue Firestone of SFA Design, Los Angeles, CA, as quoted in the Robb Report, “Most of my male clients are used to making business decisions but they have no creative outlet. Design gives them an outlet.”
So what do men want? According to top designers, they want wood, stone, leather, clean simple lines and neutral palettes. They don’t mind a more complicated bedroom, somewhat fussy, and most do want a soft rug under their feet when they step out of bed. They don’t want flimsy, they don’t want floral and they definitely do not want to muddle over the difference between butter yellow and sunny yellow. And they want technology—a plasma screen in almost every room and automated window treatments.
At dinner last week, Mark asked me what color I wanted in the living room. “Yellow!” I cooed. “Yellow?” he said, wrinkling his nose. “Well, not yellow-yellow,” I pondered. “You know—that kind of late afternoon yellow when the sun is hitting the skyline and . . .” He shook his head and that’s when he let the “gray bomb” fly. I cried into my pasta and poured another glass of wine.
MONEY, COLOR, AESTHETICS
I am aware that some designers, when faced with warring spouses, simply take the easy way out—they go with the desires of the person who is writing the check. But when spouses are equal partners in a marriage, such as Mark and I, things get a little stickier. It isn’t who is writing the check, per se, but how that money is being spent that causes the problem. Mark doesn’t want to spend his time hunting for the best bargain—he wants to find something he likes and pay for it. Done. When he shops, he is mindful of sales, but usually only so he can avoid them. He’d rather pay full price than deal with crowds. This is typical, I understand, of many men. And I admire his attitude, I really do, but I like to explore all options, including bargains. There are also disputes about what to spend the money on. For example, I would rather spend more on the fabric aspects of the room, whereas he is very interested in replacing all of the moldings in the living room. Huh?
And then there is color. It has been noted that men are partial to blue, green, black and brown. Women are more likely to experiment with color, splashing red across a living room or painting their bathrooms purple. Yes, some people, some women, are afraid of too much color and of taking decorating chances. I grew up in a beige and blue house, for example, decorated entirely by my dear mother, who still prefers to gift me with something beige to wear at every holiday season. But I also remember her sighing, frustrated at her inability to take a color chance, after viewing her neighbor’s kicky new entryway.
Finally, there are aesthetics to contend with. Men typically prefer clean lines, comfortable upholstery and case goods and cabinets that work flawlessly. Women, with built in nesting instincts, tend toward knickknacks, china for china cabinets, pillows, ball and fringe detailing, and blankets hung off the side of a sofa at the ready for cuddling.
Honestly, I’m not saying that one is better than the other, just different, and this is what makes compromise so difficult.
But when it all comes down to it, if the room is going to be decorated, compromise and working toward a common goal is the only option. Do I want to wait for the one I love most to buckle? To say, “Do what you want dear, I support you?” (Well, yes, but . . ) So, it’s compromise.
The end result of this near-fiasco was to sit down with my loved one and talk about our vision and to listen with an open mind. I admit I’m stubborn, and certainly, being my profession goes hand and hand with decorating, I feel as if I am better informed, despite his degree in environmental design. But he most certainly had his opinion for a very good reason, one that made sense to me once I listened.
THE NEW LOOK
His interest in gray for the walls, for example, was primarily because we had very busy wall paper for many years and instead of showcasing our art, it provided somewhat of a distraction. His goal for the walls then was to allow them to recede so that the art, a new series of black and white abstract sketches he had done, would pop. We have decided on blue/gray for the walls, then. I still don’t particularly like the color, but I think once the art is up, I won’t even notice the walls, which was his point.
As for the windows, my beautiful deep burgundy velvet panels trimmed in amber beads and silk are history. They’d been up for more years than they should have and the sun had taken its toll, especially on the silk. They had also made the room seem heavy, small and warm. The hardware, beautiful pieces from Amoré, came down as well, packaged carefully for their next reincarnation somewhere else in my home. My goal, this time, was a more light and airy feel to the room so that it seemed more wide open and inviting. I have decided on roller shades for privacy coupled with grommet-top silk panels to soften the edges with sleek gunmetal tone, modern hardware. While I haven’t decided on a color for the treatments yet, Mark told me that being windows were my domain, he’d trust me on that decision. This pleases me. For the time being, I have RediShades in place. The treatments will be the last component up.
Splashes of color will also move the eye around the room—I found two red glass lamps at Saks off Fifth (my bargain shopping does pay off, which gives me great satisfaction), and other smaller fabric items, such as an upholstered loveseat in a nook area with matching pillows, have played into my love of color. Quite honestly, I can hardly wait to put this room together.
Mark is happy because his artist ego has been massaged by showcasing his drawings; my demeanor is perky due to the color splashes throughout the room. Oh, and I also found a really trippy rug on Overstock.com—another bargain. With blue/gray, black and tan swirls reminiscent of something you’d see in a Tim Burton movie accenting a nice deep red background, this rug will be the underfoot art. Calm has settled over our Minneapolis household once more.
Kathleen Stoehr is president of Chemistry Creative, based in Minneapolis, MN. She is a former editor-in-chief of Window Fashions magazine and is the author Dream Floors, Hundreds of Ideas for Every Type of Floor, and Dream Windows: Historical Perspectives, Classic Designs, Contemporary Creations. Stoehr can be contacted for comments, queries and trend information at email@example.com.