Design Dilemma: We Have Different Decorating Styles. Help!

I just received this letter about an Interior Design Dilemma:

Dear Laurel,

I really hope that you can help us. I recently got married and while I love my husband, Michael to bits, we are often arguing about what we’re going to keep and how we’re going to furnish the home we are buying next month. Whenever I show him photos of what I like he says, “NO WAY.” I love really pretty, pale rooms and he likes that dark, mission stuff. I think it’s really heavy and depressing. It’s just so much wood! We just have very different decorating styles and I don’t know what to do!

Is there any hope for us?


Mary Young-And-Married


Dear Mary,

Sorry, it’s all hopeless. Get a divorce.

Just kidding. :]

Of course there’s hope, because I believe that I can help you with this; I have gone through this sort of thing many times and in the end, both are as happy as can be. Ya know… Happy wife… happy life? However, we want him to be happy too, because the reality of that platitude is a little bending is fine, but too much can build up an unhealthy resentment. And we can’t have that!

If you are interested, I can do a consultation where you will have some homework to do. It’s a worthwhile exercise because I am positive that you guys can find some common ground. Often times, I consult with young couples who have NEVER decorated a home before. They go into the process with some preconceived ideas and when presented with other options, begin to realize that the scope of what they like is more than they realized. Sometimes too, it’s our own personal fears or biases based on our early childhood experiences that can color our desires. [or lack thereof]

They were interested and so, I sent the Young-And-Married’s a questionnaire for each of them to fill out on their own. And then, I had them each find five living rooms, five kitchens and five bedrooms on pinterest. I suggested several pinner’s boards as well as my own.

And then I gave them this helpful exercise for couples with very different decorating styles

They needed to create their own board filled with images that each of them loved. And also some images that they liked AND thought that their partner would also like. They also were instructed to make some comments on their board. The beauty of pinterest is that you can make boards like this private.

Then, each of them shared their boards with the other and made another board with the other’s rooms and made comments like:

can’t stand.

Could live with.


What was discovered is that Michael was afraid of living in a home that was like his aunt’s full of flowery chintz everywhere and precious, fragile antiques that no one could go anywhere near. He just wanted to kick back and put his feet up after a long day as a trader at Goldman Sachs.

Mary was afraid of living in a cave— although, she realized that she didn’t mind some dark colors so much as she did all that wood. She also didn’t mind the more clean lined shaker style cabinetry as long as she could add her personal homey touches. Michael was fine with that and as it turns out, he even liked the clean fresh white cabinetry, as long as the floor was wood. In addition, it was also discovered that they both loved just about every shade of blue with accents of warmer colors. Aha! Now, we have something!

Divorce averted. [for now] :] Mary and Michael in doing this exercise created a new style that was a reflection of both of them and in the process broadened their own horizons, learned more about themselves, and each other. And the best part. There was no arguing whatsoever. Their stress levels were brought way down as well.

When struggling with very different decorating styles, here are some suggestions for creating harmony and a home that you will both love

  • collect rooms and colors on pinterest or houzz and share them as in the above exercise. *
  • have a glass of wine
  • a romantic dinner
  • share I-pads
  • discuss each other’s rooms and what you like, hate and can live with
  • make notes on the areas of common ground.

Here are some of the rooms that both Michael and Mary Young And-Married liked and/or LOVED and some that didn’t quite work for one of them, but might work for someone else. All the rooms blend elements of traditional and contemporary or modern design.

Photorepro: 1 Adam B

Joakim Kroger

 Both loved the furniture but Mike thought that the architecture had too much going on, but Mary absolutely went ape over the gorgeous mouldings.


Mary McDonald

Mary loved this living room and Mike liked a lot of it but thought that the drapes were too “busy.”


Minnie Mortimer

 Mike loved the table and thought that the tulip chairs were cool. Mary didn’t object, but it wasn’t her favorite.

bell-luna-cha-cha-very-different-decorating-stylesoriginal source unknown

Both thought that this was a cool living room, but maybe not quite right for them.


Sage Design



Meredith Heron



Mary and Mike agreed on all of these kitchens. Mike was fine with Mary’s nick-knacks as long as the rest of the space was clean lined. And Mary didn’t mind the stronger geometric pattern in the floor as an accent.


Madeline Wienrib


Above and below Wendy Posard


photographer-alex farnum-stylistrosy strazzeri-fridman-rejuvenation


They both liked all of these entries, but thought that this floor had too much going on.


Peter Dunham

Mary was shocked that Mike really liked this living room! Hmmmm… not exactly Mission style, now is it.


Julia Reed House

And he also liked this room. “Are you the same guy that hated everything I loved last week?”

Zach Motl

Zach Motl

Mary wasn’t so keen on this for their bedroom but thought it would be handsome for a boy’s room


source unknown

Both loved the colors and art on this stairwell.


Meredith Heron above and below


This room was a clear winner


Susan Greenleaf

Mary absolutely adored this dining room and while Mike didn’t love it, he didn’t hate it either and thought that the art was way cool!



Both thought that this room hit the nail on the head giving each something of what they liked in a harmonious way.


Ryan White

Maybe a bit beachy, but nice for a guest room

lindsey-coral-harper-interior-design-interiors-xlnLindsay Coral Harper

A clear favorite for both.


and this one too!

above and below by H2 Design


The following were their favorite bathrooms.


designer unknown


designer unknown


H2 Design

gerety-restorationKeith Gerety Contractor


H2 Design

blogger-image-1884707318designer unknown

Michael loved this for the home office and Mary loved the fact that it incorporated some more feminine touches to counter-balance the dark grays.

ben-pentreathBen Pentreath

Another winner and going forward in time, another post devoted to Ben.


source unknown

Mary didn’t realize that she could love a wooden bed if it was juxtaposed against pristine white walls and fresh white linens. Both really loved this bedroom.

BTW: As I’m sure you must realize, there is no such couple as Mary and Michael Young-And-Married. They are an amalgam of other couples that I’ve had of ALL ages. However, as you can see… in their process of marrying two disparate tastes, they discovered a brand new style that was uniquely theirs and opened up their decorating choices to many great possibilities.

“Gee, said Mary… “Now, we have too many wonderful choices! I think that we need to call Laurel!” :]





5 Responses

  1. Nice post Laurel. My husband and I, we’re one of these couples. We both bend, and sometimes I roll my eyes and need to go take a walk in the fabulous garden he created. He just texted me a picture of the light fixture he installed in the kitchen while I’m away for two weeks. Mama mia. That’ll trigger quite a stroll. Your post inspires me to make more of an effort with him to find our common ground, and remember that it can be fun. Thanks, Lisa

    1. Hi Lisa,

      Over the years, I’ve actually had some husbands who’ve taken far more interest in the decorating than their wives. It’s more the exception but it does exist.

      I’ll drink a long walk to common ground!

  2. Oh Katie, I’m so, so sorry! And I even had your name wrong. Geeezzz. Thank you for pointing it out. I think I have it straight now. LOVE your work! I wanted to put the entire home in there! best, Laurel

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