Keep the Peace: 5 Tips for Making Design Decisions With Roommates

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Oh roommates, they're best friends, occasionally strangers from the internet, acquaintances, and even sometimes siblings, but they're always the person you have to get along with, and yes, most importantly live with. Living with roommates presents all kinds of challenges regarding schedules, chores, and design. It's unusual for two people to agree completely on every design decision, but with respect and understanding two design viewpoints can come together to create a beautiful and mutually pleasing space. Now, the trick is to avoid fighting and hard feelings on the road to that well-designed combined space.

Here are a few tips to help you achieve roommate design harmony.

  1. Talk it out. Sit down with your roommate(s) to discuss your design styles and priorities, as well as what furnishing you will be bringing into you shared home and what furnishings you're willing to part with. It's especially helpful if you have the measurements of the new apartment and measurements of your major furniture pieces. It doesn't matter how much you love your Milo Baughman sectional, or how much your roommate hates it, if its 118-inch width is too large for your space you cannot have it in your new home. If you can avoid having three sofas (one of which is way too big anyway), two coffee tables, and an overabundance of side tables and televisions to sort through after move-in it'll make for a lower-stress adjustment period.
  2. Be flexible. Compromise is your best friend when decorating with roommates. Perhaps you don't love your roommate's need for a large television in the living room, but if she's willing to live with your grandmother's old kitchen table (which really doesn't suit her style) maybe you can consider it a fair trade. Or, in the event that you both have coffee tables, but neither of you particularly likes the other's table or feels an attachment to your own table, it might be time to go shopping for a table you will both like. It's important to be flexible both with your roommates and with yourself, don't hang on to something simply because it's yours if you don't love it.
  3. Google it. Whenever I'm stumped about how to incorporate a particular item into my decor I sit around searching Google Images for similar style pairings. Searches like "modern country decor" or "mid-century traditional" pull up lots of inspiring images to help bring together disparate styles. It might seem impossible to combine your Barcelona chairs with your roommate's English cottage style sofa, but it can be done, and somewhere out there someone has taken a photo of a similar situation that might give you a little guidance when combining these styles.
  4. Use the "breadbox" rule. Like when playing twenty questions, ask yourself, "Is it bigger than a breadbox?" when purchasing an item for a shared space. If the answer is yes, then that item should be discussed with your roommates before you buy it and bring it into your shared home. Smaller items like a lamp or a throw aren't a huge commitment, and can easily be moved into your bedroom if they meet with objection. So, if you find a rug that would be perfect for your dining room and is a bargain, snap a quick picture and send it to your roommates before pulling out your wallet.
  5. Flip a coin. If you really cannot come to an agreement on which coffee table to use (and you both love your coffee tables), then you can turn to the last ditch tie breaker of the coin toss. Set up rules, this is only something you would use if you absolutely cannot decide another way, and the loser of the coin toss gets priority when the next decision needs to be made.

(Image credits: Chris Perez)