The Diplomacy of Decor

By Patricia Robertson for the Calgary Herald

February 22, 2004

An estimated 14.5 million people (married and common law) currently share living space in Canada.
You know what that means?The battle of the ugly, dog-eared unframed movie posters, classic sports-logo ashtrays, beer mug collections, ratty rag rugs, plastic placemats, stuffed animals, and mini-throw pillows gracing frilly beds has been waged (at one time, or another) in thousands of households across the country.

Is it really possible for a couple to artfully blend their stuff together without compromising their personal style? Case in point, the wagon wheel coffee table scene from the classic romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally. When Jess (Bruno Kirby) and Marie (Carrie Fisher) move in together, Jess produces a hideous glass-covered customized wagon wheel coffee table, dubbed as “straight from a Roy Rogers’ garage sale.”

He and Marie squabble over its prominence in their shared living room. Marie triumphs and the scene ends with Jess sheepishly rolling the wagon wheel to the curb. If only real life were so simple. Some concessions are necessary when a couple decides to share space but should the person with the most “taste” prevail?

“There’s no accounting for bad taste,” says Albertine Design interior designer Karyn Elliott. “The French said it is better to have bad taste than no taste at all.”

Elliott has had many encounters with bad taste in her 27 years of design consulting. “I don’t think a woman has been born to whom it would occur to substitute sports equipment lined up next to the wall for furniture groupings and area rugs”, laughs Elliott. She has seen bed sheets as curtains, mountain bikes crowding out kitchens, and a 500-gallon fish tank dominating spaces. Most of the taste offenders are men who “think their seven-foot speakers are members of the family – combined with huge sectional recliners to make the space look like mission control,” she says.

How do you decide whose taste prevails? Not every man is willing to roll the dreaded wagon wheel down to the curb, or give up his ratty recliner. Nor do some women want to replace granny’s rococo china pattern. Is it really worth fighting over? Can a couple arrive at some mutually acceptable middle ground?

Jodi Beckwith of Essential Living design and furniture store in Inglewood says that although many couples’ chances of having the same taste is slim, their goals for the space are usually the same. Her role as a designer is to help them arrive at solutions in taste conflicts.

“I helped one couple where he liked clean lines and she liked texture so we combined their tastes and they were both happy. In the end, it’s about creating an environment. Your home represents you. That’s why people are so passionate about it. Its not really about the furniture, now is it?” says Beckwith.

This is the essence of the lessons imparted in Sharing Space, Without Losing Your Place (Alpha, 2003). Both parties bring habits, possessions, and attitudes together when they combine households. Regina Leeds, an American designer and the book’s author, stresses the importance of negotiation, acceptance, and flexibility.
Elliott believes that kind of compromise is a good strategy and advises clients to make room for the occasional lapse in taste. “I prefer people who have some bad taste to a sterile environment. Personality and character can add to your decor. Maybe that moose head over the fireplace is not such a bad thing,” says Elliott. But surely everyone can agree on one thing: wagon wheel coffee tables have got to go.

Speak Your Mind