Moving in together? Tips for couples blending 2 homes into 1

This undated photo provided by Burnham Design shows a living room designed by Betsy Burnham of Burnham Design.
This undated photo provided by Burnham Design shows a living room designed by Betsy Burnham of Burnham Design. John Hugstad/Burnham Design via AP

For couples setting up a new home together, it’s a challenge: how to merge two sets of stuff and two decorating styles into one space they both can love.

“Emotions get really high when it comes to your belongings if the person you’re choosing to spend the rest of your life with doesn’t love what you love,” says stylist Marianne Canada, host of the “HGTV Crafternoon” web series.

In our increasingly design-savvy world, many people come to coupledom with a clear idea of how their home should look. Even when couples try to accommodate conflicting tastes, they run into the space issue.

“Most of us just don’t have room for two full households together,” Canada says.

Here, Canada and two other interior designers — California-based Betsy Burnham and Florida-based Laura Burleson — offer advice on mixing, matching and peacefully negotiating a merger of two homes.

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Claim your favourites

Each person probably has a few treasured pieces of furniture or art that they can’t imagine living without. Burnham suggests that partners agree to each keep perhaps three or four of these pieces in their shared home. If one partner truly dislikes one of the other’s absolute favourites, consider changing the piece a little through painting or reupholstering.

Burleson cites one couple who disagreed over a set of cane-backed dining chairs. The solution: lacquering the chairs in a dramatic shade of charcoal grey that matched a modern, concrete and brass dining table.

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“It takes repurposing things like that for people to look at them in a new way,” Burleson says.

“It’s such a great exercise as a first compromise. And we all know marriage is based on compromise.”

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Burham agrees, and says this creative approach can work with almost any piece of furniture: For example, “if she’s always had a floral chair she likes to read in,” says Burnham, keep it but recover it in a more neutral fabric that both partners agree on.

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Go with the contrast

Once those favourite pieces are chosen, Burnham suggests creating a clean slate by painting the walls a crisp white or a white shade with just a hint of colour. Then look at all the remaining furniture against this new backdrop as though you were shopping.

Rather than trying to group items that are similar, experiment with pairing those that contrast. All three designers say contrast can be the best part of decor. In fact, couples merging two households “have such a leg up, design-wise,” says Burleson, because they can creatively mix and layer a wide range of decor into one stylish space.

“There are no two styles that can’t be combined to some degree,” says Canada.

And doing so can result in decor “that feels more collected and intentional.”

Try new locations

As you assess your remaining furniture and accessories, consider placing things in rooms where they’ve never been.

“You don’t have to make that big leather recliner work in your traditional living room,” Canada says, even if that’s where it’s always been. What about using it in your bedroom for late-night reading?

Small dressers can serve as end tables or sideboards, while end tables can be used as bedside tables. Living room seating can make a guest room cozier, while a small kitchen table can add extra dining space to a family room.

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Burleson finds that older clients marrying for the second time tend to be more open to embracing new locations for favourite things.

Shop together

Buying a few new pieces can tie together a couple’s shared decor and help both partners feel at home. “Maybe they go shopping,” Burnham says, “and they find some great vintage rugs that neither one of them knew they loved.”

This includes accessories and artwork: Canada suggests buying one powerful piece of art to be a focal point in your newly shared space.

Couples may want to ask a friend or hire a designer to suggest specific new pieces that will tie their collective belongings together effectively.

And if they really can’t reach agreement, Canada says, “There’s no shame in selling your furniture and going out together and buying new pieces as a couple.”

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