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Make Your Home, Not Your Mother's. Relationship Advice On Decorating Style & Compromise

Updated on June 12, 2012

Dear Veronica,

I would like to ask your advice. My wife and I have just bought our first house. Just a little background on us we met in college. We began dating right after I graduated. After my wife graduated she moved in with me for a little while in an apartment I was renting with another guy. We got married and then we lived in our own small apartment for a year while we saved to buy our first house. It was a horrible little dump but it was very cheap and close to both our jobs. We were able to save a lot of money. I don’t know if this is helpful but we have lived together before. We have always gotten along great. Now we’re in this beautiful house and we are fighting all the time, about the house! This is stupid. I should also mention that we both work, but recently we were both able to take our jobs home. So we are both in the house and together more than we had been before. Maybe that’s a factor? I was googling around and found your hub Tips On Moving In Together.

Our situation is a little different because we are in our twenties and we have lived together already before and after marriage and we know each other’s little patterns and idiosyncrasies. The part of that hub that made me think you could help us is tip one. That is all we argue about. It’s ridiculous. I had no idea we had such different taste. We are decorating our dream house it shouldn’t be a nightmare.

Recently this came to a head with decorating the formal living room. A couple years ago my parents downsized and moved to a retirement community. They put furniture in storage that I really liked and asked for since I had no where to put it at the time. Well the time has come. This living room set is expensive traditional Italian formal furniture. My parents took great care of it and it looks fantastic, it’s what a formal living room is supposed to look like. My wife absolutely hates it and wants to buy new furniture that’s all retro feeling modern. She isn’t even looking at sets, they are all separate pieces from places. It’s not formal looking at all to me. We can’t even agree on the color to paint the room. The money isn’t the issue for me, I just don’t get her taste. And she doesn’t get mine! I think she just doesn’t know what a house is supposed to look like. I don’t know how we got here. I’m anxious to hear your thoughts.


of Owen and Penny

Dear Owen of Owen and Penny,

The issue the couple in the other hub were having with decorating came from their both being firm in their tastes. The issue you and your wife are having come from not having any taste yet.

I’m not saying you have no taste as in your taste is bad. I’m saying, I don’t think you personally have your own individual style explored yet. You said you want your parents’ antique furniture because that’s what a living room is supposed to look like. You made comments about choosing formal furniture in an old fashioned pre-packaged set. And you said your wife doesn’t know what a house is “supposed” to look like.

Owen, this one’s on you.

It’s a wonderful nod to your childhood and your family that on some subconscious level you’ve chosen to recreate the home where you grew up. It says a lot about your strong feelings of family, and the home nest.

Stepping back for a moment, the reason this hadn’t surfaced in your marriage until now is because you two didn’t decorate a home before. Her moving in with you and a roommate was convenient and probably fun, but I’m sure she felt a little like a guest or a part of a crash pad, not like a home-owner creating her own space. The small cheap apartment you described after marriage was a holding spot. You said you were there to save money. That indicates to me that you weren’t spending and decorating and caring about creating an important space there. You didn’t even bring in your family furniture when you received it.

Being in this house together is the first time the two of you are creating a space that’s truly yours without holding back. So this makes sense. Additionally, working from home means you’re both scrutinizing it more, thinking about it more, being in the moment more, and wanting it to be perfect even more.

You’ve only lived in one home: your mother’s. College, crash pads, small apartments to save money… they weren’t home. Now you are finally “home” and in your mind’s eye you have a vision of what home looks like. The problem is, you’re confusing the memory of what home “should” look like, with what a home means.

A home means a place where the family feels safe, secure and nested. Whether it’s a family of 1, 2, or 10, it’s a place where its members feel the truest sense of belonging. It reflects who they are, and the kind of life they want to have.

You are not making a home with your wife. What you’re doing is trying to visually recreate a home you once had. What’s more is even if your wife caved and you decorated the house exactly like your mother did hers decades ago, that doesn’t mean you’ve recreated that home your parents made; one that was obviously so special and ingrained into you that you can’t even conceive of their being any other.

Owen, I gotta tell ya, your wife thinks you’re comparing her to your mother, or trying to make her into your mother. And she may be right. The fighting you’re doing is not about lamps and rugs.

And just so you know, most women do not want their mother-in-law’s old furniture. Most women want to create their own homes with their husbands. She wants to make a life where she see him as her man. She doesn’t want to re-create her mother-in-law’s home, where she sees her husband as a child.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a say in the décor. You should, as long as that’s what it is. Expressing a genuine like or dislike for a decorating style is much different than insisting that there is only one way a home should look, and it’s your mother’s living room from 30 years ago.

Here’s what I want you to do. Pick one thing from that storage unit. If money isn’t an issue as you say, then my advice to you is that you must let that storage furniture go. Keep only one piece, to celebrate the warm memories and sense of home you’ve obviously built in your heart. Maybe a nice big arm chair that you can put in a guest bedroom or a console table you could put in a hallway where it stands on its own. Maybe even adorn it with some nice framed photos of both your families.

And then you and your wife should begin again clean from this point. Spend some time exploring. With an open mind look at some websites and catalogues like Pottery Barn, Raymour Flanigan, Ballard Design, and Ikea. Watch HGTV shows like Color Splash, Deserving Design and Dear Genevieve for more ideas. From Dream Home to Design on a Dime there’s lots of inspiration to be had.

You may find you don’t have a specific style but you do have some specific tastes. For example you might figure out you love granite in the kitchen, but you’re open about cabinetry. You may fall in love with a beautiful clean-lined modern sectional. Building the room out from that anchor piece might bring both your tastes into an eclectic mix with a base theme, like a color, or a decade, or a theme if done low-key.

You may find you do gravitate to different styles and need to compromise. That’s fine. But I bet you this: you will be amazed how much more willing your wife is to compromise over a new piece of furniture you genuinely like, as opposed to an old piece of her mother-in-law’s furniture and your firm stand that it’s only correct sofa.

You could bring in a professional decorator but since this is such a psychologically complicated thing for you, I think passing it off is a bad idea. I think this is something you need to experience, hand in hand, with your wife.

Decorating the house together will be the first building blocks to creating your home. You can always change your mind about a couch, repaint a wall, grow your décor with your life changes, but you can not go back and make these first steps together again. You have one opportunity to create that initial foundation to building your home together. This will impact the way the two of you problem solve and build your lives from here forward.

Buying furniture should be fun. If you guys can’t figure out a way to do this, imagine what you’ll be like with the really hard stuff, like an illness or unemployment.

The fact that you sought opinion and help on this is a great sign. I believe you can do this. Best to you both in your new home.


Submit a Comment

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

    Marcy Goodfleisch 

    6 years ago from Planet Earth

    Great advice - Owen appears to need the comfortable feel of still living in his parents' home. Unless Penny genuinely loves the same style, the idea of mimicking her mother-in-law wouldn't appeal to her, or any woman, for that matter. Voted up and useful. You always have such great hubs!

  • Dolores Monet profile image

    Dolores Monet 

    6 years ago from East Coast, United States

    I've never read one of your hubs before so I don't know how often you employ this letter format. It's a great idea, and adds a bit of drama to the whole thing. I'm with the wife. Blugh. The mother's stuff sounds awful.

  • Paradise7 profile image


    6 years ago from Upstate New York

    Excellent advice. The minute I read Owen's statement about how a house "Should" look, and the fact he wanted his parents' old furniture...I thought to myself, look out! This guy hasn't really left home yet. He's not looking for a wife; he wants a Mommy!

    You hit the nail on the head in your advice to him, and did it very tactfully. I hope he listens, and not only for Penny's sake.


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