How To Decorate A Space With Another Person

An expert's guide to compromise.

Illustration by Briana Gagnier for Lonny.
How To Decorate A Space With Another Person
Illustration by Briana Gagnier for Lonny.

When you move in with someone — whether it's a romantic situation or just a Craigslist roommate — chances are you're going to have to have some differences when it comes to finances, living styles, and design preferences. Even if you have polar-opposite tastes, signing that lease means you also have signed up to collaborate with this person on making your house a home.

We all come to new spaces with our own curated collection of decor that we love and have held on to for years, so blending it seamlessly with another person's style can lead to some disagreements. Plus, if you need to purchase anything new for the space, you're going to have to have some conversations about splitting the bill and finding something you both can agree on. Since you probably don't want to grow to hate your roommate, working together to design your home is going to be an essential.

Since tempers can easily rise and toes can get stepped on, we called in a pro to give us some advice on how to decorate with another person without any fights breaking out. Rhonda Richards-Smith is a psychotherapist and relationships expert who knows the ins and outs of making any kind of partnership work. We asked her to give us the scoop on how to navigate sharing a home with a new person and working with them to create a space you both will love and appreciate.

Before saying yes to living with anyone, you have to have an honest conversation with each other. "Great communication is important in any relationship and it is critical of you are considering sharing a home with another person," says Richards-Smith. "It’s important to explore what your own boundaries and expectations are and to express those to your intended partner or roommate prior to making the decision to move in together."

Once that lease is signed, then comes the question of how to fill your new home. "Shifting from individual to shares living spaces can be a difficult transition, as it requires the approval of both parties when making decisions about the look of your home," notes Richards-Smith. One way to get to this state of agreement? Do a little exercise together to understand both of your goals for the space. "Instead of jumping into what your ideal dining room table looks like, discuss your thoughts on how you’d like your home to feel. What emotions are you hoping your home will nurture for yourself and your guests? Beginning from this place will keep your conversations grounded and focused," she advises.

How To Decorate A Space With Another Person
Illustration by Briana Gagnier for Lonny.

Once you have a vision for your space, you need to get down to the nitty-gritty of actual items you both want and need. "Living with another person will require compromise on the part of both parties," says Smith."Make a list of your living space 'must haves' and rank them in order, based on importance. Compare your list with your future partner or roommate and be prepared to negotiate and make concessions when necessary."

Next up comes the actual shopping process. While both of you might be avid Lonny readers that can't wait to get designing, sometimes there can be a disconnect between your enthusiasm to hit West Elm.

"Every couple is different when it comes to home shopping," says Richards-Smith. "In some cases, one partner is less interested in this process and may lean on the other to plan and design their home. In other cases, both partners may feel strongly about having a hand in the look of their living space."

"There isn’t a right or wrong way to delegate home shopping duties," she reminds us. "Respecting your partner’s desire to participate or abstain is the key to a smooth transition. If you need help making decisions on the decor of your home and your partner is uninterested, consider enlisting the help of a friend with an eye for interior design." However don't go ahead buying anything for a shared space sans permission. "The buying process can be very personal and your partner should be consulted and included in the decision prior to making a purchase," she adds.

How To Decorate A Space With Another Person
Illustration by Briana Gagnier for Lonny.

One problem that often arises in this process is differences in finances. While one person might have a capacity to spend the big bucks on Design Within Reach, the other might only have IKEA budget. While sharing the amount you can afford to shell out on a couch might be difficult to say out loud, open communication is a necessary part of the design process and will end of making all the difference in your relationship moving forward.

"Contention may arise based on spending, particularly if household finances will be managed jointly," shares Richard-Smith. "In these cases, be open to hearing your partner’s concerns regarding cost and willing to put in extra time and energy to ensure you’re making the best purchases possible."

Above all else, you should enjoy the process! Decorating can be such a fun way to bond and creating a space that inspires the both of you is your ultimate goal. "Whenever possible, practice gratitude from the purchasing process through home decoration and moving in," adds Richards-Smith. "The opportunity to share a home and make new memories within it should be celebrated."

As Lonny's Editor, you can find me writing about interior tips, scouting out the coolest new spots, and rallying behind amazing female entrepreneurs. You can reach me at shelby.wax@livingly.com or on Instagram @shelbywax.
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