Real Couples Reveal: What Happens When We Disagree on Design

published Mar 8, 2017
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(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)

Things can get awkward quick when your partner — excited to share their plans for a living room redo — shows you a neon purple paint swatch (…or weird shaped chair…or clown painting). What do you if you don’t love their decor choice? How do you tell your partner I REALLY don’t like this, without, you know, saying I REALLY REALLY DON’T LIKE THIS? These couples share how they let their partner down gently. You might see a little of you and your partner in their answers. Or you might have a new phrase to add to your back pocket in case your honey ever comes home with a “Live, Laugh, Love” sign.

Yes, or…

(Image credit: Alexis Buryk)

Deborah and James met in 1991, and made a home together in 1998. Deborah is an artist and works for the Women’s March on Washington-NYC Team. James is a theatrical lighting director who owns a production company. See their house tour.

Jim: I would generally just say, “I don’t like that.” But I almost always like what she does. Our apartment is like strolling through Deborah’s mind, and it is always interesting and surprising. It’s a great mash up of art, exotic plants, original art, books, weird mementos from our travels. What’s not to like?

Deb: He could probably tell you what I do better than I can. I usually just reframe it as a choice, like “Yes ORRRRR we could not buy those big purple velvet blackout curtains and instead save up for dental work.”

Nod and Forget

(Image credit: Liz Calka)

Brittany and Christian met nine years ago and have lived in five different places together over six years. Christian’s job relocated them to Amsterdam, and Brittany’s turned her interior design side hustle into a full-time pursuit. See their house tour.

Brittany: Most of the time I nod in agreement and hope he forgets about it.

Christian: I used to try and hide it a bit more by asking something along the lines of “do you really want that?” but after nearly a decade together I’m a bit more open. These days I will typically just tell her I don’t like it, but I’ve also learned that in the end she can see what the end result will be much better than I, and the best approach is to avoid those types of arguments.

No Beating Around the Bush

(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)

Jill and Warren met eight years ago and have been dating two years. They’ve lived together for six months. They are both chartered accountants, Jill working at a beer company and Warren in banking. See their house tour.

Jill: I think Warren actually has great taste (I mean, he likes me after all, doesn’t he?? Ha!) so this usually isn’t a problem. Normally, I also like the item, but I point out that there is either no space in our place or the item doesn’t fit with our style (and it likely belongs in a hunting lodge up North).

Warren: I don’t beat around the bush. I will let Jill know if I think something is ugly.

Jill: He really does! I’m a lucky gal ;)).

Honesty’s the Best Policy

(Image credit: Adrienne Breaux)

Justin and Danielle have been married 4.5 years and together 13! Danielle owns the furniture store TUFT and does interior design. Justin works for himself in the insurance field. See their house tour.

Danielle: It’s a rare occasion that we aren’t on board with each other’s ideas. But I don’t try to design the backyard and he doesn’t try to design our living spaces! So with that being said, we are very open and honest and don’t mind saying “I hate this” or “definitely not.” We work well together and think a lot alike, so if we don’t like something, it’s truly something we feel we can’t live with.

Justin: I can’t emphasize this enough — you have to learn how to be honest with an interior designer!! I love her eye and passion for design but not everything will work or should be tried in our home!

Is It Worth It?

(Image credit: Submitted by Meghan)

Jesse and Meghan have been together since 2009 and living together for four years. Jesse is a 2nd year PhD student in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures. Meghan is owner of Pomp & Circumstance Haberdashery. See their house tour.

Jesse: Meghan has such good taste (and our styles are so compatible) that this honestly doesn’t come up much…Sometimes she suggests something that I view as impractical or unrealistic — a product of her creative, out-of-the-box thinking and can-do mentality. At these times, I try to explain how I don’t think her suggestion is worth the effort it would take to make it happen.

Meghan: In the past I have tried to find designated spaces for things like that. Usually they are small items, an icon, an ornament; mementos of sentimental value which makes it hard to say no to. But at the same time, they often make our space feel more cluttered. If I really dislike it, I usually don’t have too much trouble saying it, and knowing me well enough, my honesty usually isn’t met with much surprise.

A Game of 20 Questions

(Image credit: Nasozi Kakembo)

Saadiq and Mekiel caught each other’s eye on the West Side Highway seven years ago, and have lived together for five. Mekiel is an HR manager within the retail sector and Saadiq doubles as an actor and retail professional. See their house tour.

Mekiel: We’re both pretty sensitive. We’ve learned this from many heated discussions in Ikea showrooms — so, whenever Saadiq shows me something I dislike, I pause and ask him if he’s sure that this is something he wants. If he said yes, I keep asking questions so that he gets the hint that I’m not fan. If I get the sense that he loves it, I try and find something we can both agree on.

Saadiq: I think that when we first moved in together, we would both take each other’s opinions so personal. I remember having very dramatic arguments in Ikea…multiple times. I also remember having heated conversations about things like paint color. Luckily, we’ve come a long way since then. At this point in our relationship, we don’t really have any issues being honest about what we don’t like. Recently, we’ve been trying to offer each other options instead of just saying “I don’t like that.” For example, if Mekiel shows me a pillow that I do not like, I’d try to pull a few other pillows that might work instead.

Read My Face

(Image credit: Reagen Taylor)

Taylor and Alisha Murphy have lived in Austin since they graduated from the University of Texas. Taylor runs his own design firm. Alisha is a teacher and a marriage and family therapist masters student. See their house tour.

Taylor: I am not the most subtle person in the world and most of the time even if I’m trying to be, my face tells the truth. Alisha and I definitely tell each other like it is and I think it has made our relationship stronger. I think explaining a reason behind your opinion creates a good discussion and ends with both sides feeling like they are a part of the decision. We have absolutely learned (and still are learning) how to respect each other’s opinions and voice our own when necessary. Honestly really is the best policy.

Alisha: Since Taylor and I have been together for almost 15 years, we’ve established some good communication and rarely get our feelings hurt over something like furniture. We are always honest if we don’t like something and will just come out and say “No, definitely not.” Then, true to us, we try to convince the other of our opinion. Usually, I’m the one needing convincing. Taylor typically is the one to find something crazy and want to buy it. I’m more skeptical about whether or not a piece will fit in our home, but I’ve learned to trust his vision. Because we are honest with each other when one person doesn’t like something, we pass on it and most of the time we agree it was a good move.

*These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.