- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Marrying not only brings on the in-laws, but also means furniture, artwork and the odd little things one partner in love might hate.

Take the black leather bachelor-pad couch. How about the frilly bed pillows and teddy bear collection? Or the beer-stained easy chair? What about the Victorian table that has been in the family forever?

“If two people are putting their things together, the worst thing to happen is to have too much,” says Page Palmer, interior designer with Houseworks Interiors in Alexandria. “You don’t want it to look like a furniture store.”

Couples are marrying later and often already have homes filled with items they have purchased, inherited or been given during their single days. Unless the couple want two sets of furniture for each room, they will have to pare down their belongings and merge their different tastes and styles, metro-area interior designers say.

“The key word is editing,” says Catherine Armour, chairwoman of design at Corcoran College of Art and Design in Northwest.

Mrs. Armour recommends a couple go through their furniture, artwork and accessories to decide what to keep and what to trash, sell or give away. She suggests picking out pieces that have value, either emotionally or financially, as a starting point.

“Overall, the two tastes can blend,” she says. “It’s really important to make pieces of sentimental value fit. It’s important for both people to feel the home is theirs.”

Alternatively, designer Nancye Lewis-Overstreet prefers taking the emotional ties out of the decision process. She recommends looking at each piece of furniture from a practical and functional perspective, based on how the space in a room will be used.

“I don’t know whose piece belongs to who,” says Mrs. Lewis-Overstreet, owner of Rabbit Runn Designs in Alexandria. “I’m there to create livable and dramatic interiors with what they have left.”

The first thing Rebecca Cramer, owner of Cramer Interiors in Northwest, likes to do with her clients is take inventory of everything the couple own, noting any common colors or designs. She evaluates how much furniture each room can hold and uses the list of must-have pieces to develop layout plans. She recommends starting the plans with a new piece.

“It becomes a first ‘theirs’ purchase. It brings in something new and can blend the old pieces,” Ms. Cramer says.

Designer Kathleen “Kelly” Stieff looks for an “inspirational factor,” such as a piece of furniture, a rug, upholstery or a pattern or color, as a starting point.

“You fit the puzzle together after that with all of the different pieces,” says Mrs. Stieff, owner of KMI Design in Leesburg.

Part of the puzzle is using colors and styles that provide flow, or coordination from room to room, Mrs. Stieff says. For example, she says, a room designed with an Asian look opening to a French-style room would not work in a home with an open floor plan.

“You try to find a middle ground where they are going to be able to go for an eclectic look (the mix of traditional and modern styles) and pull things from each taste level,” she says.

The pieces in a room can be from different styles and periods but should have similar line and form, Mrs. Armour says. For example, antiques can be mixed with modern furniture if they have simple lines.

Painting the walls the same as the prominent color of the items in a room also can bring those pieces together, Mrs. Palmer says.

“If the colors work, you can make objects that don’t go together work,” she says.

In addition, furniture can be repainted to fit in with a room’s style, says Mrs. Lewis-Overstreet. The pieces can be “re-purposed,” such as cutting down the legs of a kitchen table to create a coffee table, or given a new use, such as turning a dresser into a front foyer piece.

If the couple cannot agree on a room’s style or look, they could have separate rooms to decorate according to their own tastes, Mrs. Stieff says.

“They can compromise that way and start fresh in the more livable areas,” she says.

The best situation, according to writer-speaker Judi Culbertson, is for a couple to move into a new place.

“It’s harder to move into one person’s place that is already established. You won’t have an equal say,” says Ms. Culbertson, of Port Jefferson, N.Y. She is co-author of “Scaling Down: Living Large in a Smaller Space.”

“Women are much more interested in making changes in their environment and decorating, especially if they are moving into a male domain,” she says. “Most men resist changes in their environment.”

Ms. Culbertson recommends that the couple visit furniture and accessory stores together and look through catalogs to see what they like.

“I don’t feel you should dumb down your environment to overcompromise by picking out things that are bland and don’t offend either person,” Ms. Culbertson says. “Even if you both have furniture you’re blending, be sure to pick out a few things jointly.”

The couple, she says, do not need to pick out everything right away and can buy good pieces as their tastes develop.

However, as Mrs. Stieff says, “It can be difficult if their tastes are different and if they’re not willing to give here or there.”

A couple can discuss what they envision for their home, what they are used to and what is important to them, says Rob Scuka, executive director of the National Institute of Relationship Enhancement, a nonprofit training institute for mental health professionals in Bethesda that also provides relationship skills training for couples.

Mr. Scuka recommends that the couple engage in a two-phase dialogue. The first phase involves expressing what is important and listening to each other without coming to any decisions or solutions.

“Hopefully, what comes out of that is a gradual emergence of a shared vision,” says Mr. Scuka, who holds a doctorate in religious studies. “It’s easier for that to happen if initially neither person is focused on ‘I have to have this.’”

After understanding one another, the couple is in a better position to make decisions about how to proceed, Mr. Scuka says.

“If you’re going to be a couple, it’s important to have a spirit of mutual accommodation, … staying with it until you find a way of making it work for both of you,” he says. “Simplistically put, are both people in it for themselves or interested in what is good for them as a couple?”

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