Whether you’re moving in with your partner or redecorating your shared home, we know there are all sorts of roadblocks when it comes to cohabitating with your other half. With that in mind (and in the spirit of love and Valentine’s Day!), we turned to a few of our favorite design-expert couples to give us the lowdown on how to decorate with your significant other.
Our sources of wisdom are Megan and John Kaplar, who share design and reno details of their Virginia house on Arched Manor, along with Tessa and Guy Kirby, who restore and decorate client homes (and showcase their own!) on Kindred Homestead. We love the way each of these couples has been able to merge each partner’s styles and preferences to create a home everyone can enjoy.
Take it away, Kaplars and Kirbys!
Hear each other out.
Megan Kaplar: Be patient and listen to one another! Design needs to cater to both you and your partner. If it sways too much in one direction, the other person will not feel at home or may hold resentment, which can build and escalate quickly. Find the balance between you two and understand that it may take several years, and may change along the way.
Listen to all ideas.
Guy Kirby: For those of you like myself that might not have as much interest or input into the design, be active in the planning phase. Share thoughts even if they are small ideas. For us, it brings us together to see how we can mesh our ideas, and many times we are able to create something completely different that neither of us would have imagined on our own.
On Combining All Your Things:
Learn to let (at least a few things) go.
John Kaplar: For the guys out there, just go into this endeavor knowing that you will probably only keep about 15% of your stuff. Before I met Megan I had a very modern, bachelor-esque style that I loved, but over the years, all of those items have been replaced. And that’s ok—I can’t imagine having a low platform bed now that we have kids. Those sharp edges and corners would be a nightmare! But man, that bed was cool…
Decide what matters.
Megan Kaplar: I would first look to see if any of the items have sentimental value. From there I would try to prioritize what to keep by the quality of the items, cost, and then style.
On Meshing Decor Styles:
Make an inspiration board—together!
Megan Kaplar: There is so much access to content these days on Instagram, Pinterest, and other platforms. I would try to source example images of similar styles to your own blended together, and use those as inspiration on how you want to design your spaces moving forward!
Don’t be afraid to test a few things out.
Tessa Kirby: Have fun experimenting. Try out styles until you find one that you feel really speaks to both of you. And don’t be afraid to blur the lines between styles. More than ever before, we have so many design-related resources and content available to us that we really don’t need to stay within the confines of one look. We have the unique luxury of creating our own styles from things we love.
On that One Piece You Love and Your Partner… Doesn’t:
Let each person carve out their own space.
John Kaplar: Having spaces that are dedicated to each partner can be helpful in these situations, where each can have their own style and decor and have more freedom to do what they please decor-wise. For the more public spaces in the house, it has to be a blend, and that may lean more towards one partner’s style over the other. Compromise is key, and rock-paper-scissors can be a great tool to settle design arguments!
Or, place the disputed piece in a less-used area.
Tessa Kirby: Find a room that’s not in the main living space to accommodate that piece so that whoever doesn’t find it particularly attractive doesn’t have to stare at it every day—whether that’s in a guest room, hallway, or powder room.
On Working as a Team:
Play to each of your strengths.
John Kaplar: Each of us brings something different to the table. Megan has a better handle on selecting the decor and furnishings, and I like to think I bring my knowledge of functionality, construction, and simplicity to the table. It’s a mix that has worked great so far, and overall, we balance each other out. Finding that balance is hard to do, but with time and good communication, it can be achieved.
Talk throughout the entire process.
John Kaplar: If there are any construction skills required in the space, I will let her know what we can and can’t do, or the level of effort of a task. For example, she once talked about having drawers for our shoes when we were designing the mudroom. I said yes, we can do that, but having drawers custom-made to that size will add an additional ‘x’ amount to the project. Is it worth it? Then we will decide if the juice is worth the squeeze. We both do a good job of running everything past one another for approval before we execute anything.
On that Whole Money Thing:
Set a budget, and stick to it.
Guy Kirby: It all goes back to the game plan! Setting a budget for a project before it starts is always smart. We typically will know in the near future we want to start a certain project. When we decide on that, we start saving and allocating funds toward that project so it won’t to impact other things we want to do. Money can be a huge roadblock in relationships that can be avoided with a little planning ahead.
Get a little thrifty.
Guy Kirby: Outside of planning, we have been able to save on projects by checking out local consignment shops and Facebook Marketplace. Some pieces will need to be refinished, but if we see the potential and it fits the design, we jump on it!
On Shopping Together:
Plan out your day.
Megan Kaplar: If you plan on going out to shop for decor or furniture, make a game plan! Agree on the stores you will be going to and create a list of all the items you are hoping to get. Usually John has a short attention span when we go shopping for decor, and can get easily overwhelmed and frustrated (I might as well have brought one of our toddlers). But we have found going in with a strategy helps!
Take time to think about the purchase.
John Kaplar: It’s easy to spend a fortune when you are in the moment. When Studio McGee drops a line at Target, Megan will load up the shopping cart within a matter of minutes. But as we go through the rest of the store, she thinks about the items and always seems to say, “You know what, we don’t really need this,” and we put several items back.
Always ask about the return policy.
John Kaplar: I like to buy things for a specific purpose or place, whereas Megan will buy things just because she likes them and finds a place for them later. That’s where our shopping styles differ, and I’m sure that’s the case for many couples out there. If I could give advice, it would be to make sure the store where you are shopping has a good return policy. If you buy something and end up not liking it or realize you don’t really need it, you can simply return it!
When browsing online, give your partner just a few options.
Megan Kaplar: If you are shopping online, make sure you narrow down your selection of products to no more than 3 possible items to choose from, with explanations on why you like them. If you don’t go into the decision with confidence, your partner will also find it difficult to solidify a decision.
On Staying Patient with the Process (and Each Other!):
Don’t be in a rush.
Megan Kaplar: When we bought our first apartment together, we felt the need to furnish the entire thing at once with cheap furniture before giving ourselves time to figure out how we actually wanted to use the space. I would recommend taking the time to furnish and also save and invest in more quality pieces.
Tessa Kirby: I think people often jump head first into whatever trend is “trending” at that time and end up changing it a year later (or even before then). I think it’s important to take time to find what styles you’re really attracted to, as well as understanding the style of your home, then finding the common denominator and investing in those projects or styles.
Know that things can change over time.
John Kaplar: It may take many years for you two to define your style, so know that the process takes time, your style may change, and the stage of life you are in (or plan to be in soon) can alter your design decisions. For example, even though you may be drawn to modern, contemporary design, if you have kids or plan to shortly, you don’t want all those sharp corners and glass edges around. Your design style may have to shift, and that’s ok!
On Getting Over (Minor) Disagreements:
Show visuals to make your case.
Megan Kaplar: We lived without any window treatments in our home for about a year when I finally told John that we really needed to add something to our main bedroom. It had become difficult to sleep in (I use that term loosely, because we have two young boys who are our alarm clocks every morning), and I was tired of the sun blasting our face at 6am during the summer months. The issue was, we could not agree on whether we wanted blinds (John) or drapes (me). I felt pretty passionate about adding drapes and felt that they would be both functional and also add warmth and character to the room to give it a more cozy feel. I decided to mock up a design board to show John what the room would look like if we added drapes. Mission accomplished! Once he saw it, he was on board!
Get a little clever.
Tessa Kirby: I feel like this is us with everything: I want it. He doesn’t think we need it. I justify why we need it. He says, “It doesn’t fit into our budget.” I say, “I’ll sell something we already have in order to buy it.” And the roundabout conversation continues. This is how we end up coming to an agreement. If I can sell enough of what we already have, then I’m allowed to buy it. Plus, I think he’s come to the realization that I’ll usually win when it comes to home decor!