“I painted the flat while he was out”: couples with clashing interior tastes on how to make it work
Written by Megan Murray
Megan Murray is a freelance lifestyle journalist and former writer at stylist.co.uk. She particularly enjoys writing about homeware, travel, women’s issues and her recent move to Hamburg.
Different taste in homewares may not seem like a relationship dealbreaker, but it can cause serious friction. Megan Murray hears from couples who’ve mastered the art of compromise.
You don’t need to subscribe to Architectural Digest to know that many of us are deeply affected by the look and feel of our homes. It’s about more than aesthetics; home is a sanctuary, and we all need different things from this safe space. Some of us seek to self-express through our walls, while others crave a blank canvas of calm. But how do you balance these very personal needs when sharing your home with a partner who has totally contrasting tastes?
“My job is 50% interior designer and 50% relationship therapist,” says interior designer Jessica Sims-Wilson, who has worked with homeware brands including Soho Home and Neptune.
Individuals in couples will often have “contrasting views” on how to decorate a home because “we don’t have the same daily experiences, so we don’t want the same thing from our downtime,” Sims-Wilson explains.
Couples make up over 16 million households in the UK, and many of us are engaged in this intricate dance. When I moved in with my partner Jonathan, I immediately suggested painting the living room pink. He’s into minimal furniture, natural materials and light colours, but agreed because he wanted me to feel like the place was my own.
“You soon found a pink sofa to replace my cream one, a set of pink drawers to position your trinkets on and a picture wall of pink-themed art,” Jonathan recalls. “I crave calmness and feel agitated by clutter, but I didn’t have the heart to tell you I didn’t want this; you seemed so excited.”
With the lounge redecorated, I felt the door was open to keep experimenting – including hand-printing hundreds of tulips across the living room walls. (Unsure whether Jonathan would be on board, I waited until he was working and did it without telling him, roping in my friends to get it done faster.)
“It looked lovely but as someone who needs stability, your obsession with changing the decor every weekend got under my skin,” Jonathan says now.
We’ve since moved out of that rented flat and laugh about our colourful home, but Jonathan is adamant that my maximalist tastes and delight in trying new trends won’t dominate our interior choices again.
“I understand it was fun for you, but it was a lot to reverse when moving out,” he says. “When we buy we can invest in design we both love, but for now, I’m not going through all that again.”
Even if you and your partner have different tastes in interiors, Sims-Wilson says it’s important that everyone has a little piece of the home for themselves (it’s possible this is where I went wrong).
“I let each person choose an area to ‘own’ based on what’s most important to them,” she says. “Maybe one relaxes with a long bath, while the other loves to read – we can create individual nooks to facilitate both.”
Below, Stylist hears from three couples with clashing opinions on interiors about how they’ve created a home that both people can live with – literally.
“Consistent compromise strengthened our trust in each other”
Fleur, 25, a charity programmes coordinator, and Leila, 27, a pole studio manager, performer and founder-director of Blackstage Pole LTD, have been together for seven years. They’ve lived together in southeast London for three and a half years.
Before moving into their rented flat together, Fleur and Leila were careful to put their contrasting interior tastes on the table. Minimalist Leila’s biggest concern is “nifty, invisible storage solutions and space-maximising hacks”. On the other end of the spectrum, Fleur says she’s “attracted to bright colours and wiggly lines; almost like kid’s furniture, but for adults”.
“I care how the space looks and [Leila’s] all about function, so we have to meet in the middle,” Fleur continues.
The couple has tried to be “intentional about compromise from the beginning,” Leila agrees. She found herself getting frustrated when Fleur “[introduced] new trinkets without thinking about where they would go, leaving the space cramped and messy”. So when Fleur positioned vases and candles around the room, Leila suggested presenting them on an open shelving unit, instead of in-use areas like the coffee table.
They’re also willing to give each other’s homewares a chance, even if they’re not to their taste. When Fleur brought home a big mid-century side table, Leila worried it would crowd the room. “But I trusted her judgment and actually, it upgraded the space,” she says. Equally, Fleur wasn’t convinced when Leila picked out a storage-friendly wardrobe for the bedroom, but now says she appreciates its practicality.
Of course, this harmonious ideal doesn’t always work out. “Fleur loves upcycling furniture and refurbished two dining chairs with the promise she would sell them,” says Leila, wryly. “Of course, she fell in love with them. We have no space for a dining area so while I agreed she could keep them, it would have to be in her parent’s garage – where they still are.”
“I carry the emotional burden of making our home feel like us”
Interiors enthusiast and marketing manager Luena, 27, and Jason, 30, a procurement officer, have been together for seven years. They moved in together in Brighton in April.
Jason and Luena moved out of London into their first shared home this spring, and Luena initially found it difficult to navigate Jason’s total lack of interest in interiors. Having grown up in a strict environment, she’s passionate about harnessing design and colour to express herself – but she also felt “incredibly uncomfortable about taking control and overpowering [Jason]” when it came to decorating decisions.
“Our home needs to reflect us both,” she says.
Luena didn’t expect Jason “to ponder the difference between moss versus sage green”, but says she needed to know he was committed to the space. Working together, they found a way for Jason to put his own stamp on their home. “His grandfather passed away recently, so he created an art piece which nods to him,” Luena says. “It still reflects Jason’s minimalist style and works within our home, but means something to both of us.”
Now, they’re a solid team on the interiors front. “I did the typical ‘man thing’ and just nodded my head to everything, only later realising it didn’t actually help the process of creating something that was ‘ours’,” says Jason. “Now, I enjoy sketching out furniture placement and since I work in procurement I have a knack for finding Facebook Marketplace gems.”
Luena agrees. “We have been living in chaos because I have been waiting for us to get on the same page, but I think we are there now,” she says. “He’s the Excel spreadsheet to my Microsoft Paint – we are different but we’re also so in sync, and I need our place to show that.”
“Slowly but surely, I got him on board with bolder ideas”
Clare, 35, founder of POP Bakery, and Michael, 40, a documentary film editor, have been together for five years and lived together in northwest London for three years.
“I’m influenced by designers such as Beata Heuman, Luke Edward Hall and Matilda Goad, all of whom share a knack for layering clashing colours and patterns,” says Clare of her interior style, which is much bolder than that of her partner, Michael.
When the couple bought their first-floor flat together, it was Clare’s first experience of decorating a whole property and she was excited to make it her own. Michael, however, felt differently and a gentle pull-and-push between differing mindsets started.
“The couple before us had spent a lot of time renovating and I liked what they had done with it. I didn’t think there was much to change, but Clare was raring to go,” says Michael.
From the beginning Clare took the reins, quickly collecting treasures for the space including decorative ornaments and a £200 striped sofa, which she is particularly proud of.
“Michael came into the room one day and said, ‘This feels like a museum.’ He wasn’t convinced by the green walls and mismatched red sofas, either,” Clare remembers.
The solution? Pretend to agree and carry on anyway, laughs Clare. “At the beginning, I would just sneak stuff back in that he didn’t like, but as time went on I started to appreciate where he was coming from more,” she says.
“For example, I used to collect vintage plates to display across our large kitchen dresser, but Michael felt it encumbered the space. Now, we use it to actually store food and kitchen equipment and it’s much easier… I still make it look pretty, though.”
Images: courtesy of Megan Murray and interviewees
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