Real homes: I'm not having that in my house!

Love the man, hate his settee - so what happens when you move in together? HERO BROWN squares up for a fight
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Indy Lifestyle Online
You've always admired your boyfriend's taste: his clothes sense, his obscure taste in films, his penchant for slightly camp cocktails. Happy and in love, you move in together. Then - and only then - does he ambush you with his two 6ft Hitler paintings (previously in storage) and demand that they have to hang in the living room of your lovely Georgian flat. For everyone to see. Or else.

Welcome to my life. Since Paul and I bought our apartment three months ago, I have been struggling to reconcile (and by this I mean hide) his possessions - the Kinder Surprise toy collection, the revolting purple vase, his plastic car collection - with our elegant surroundings. This has resulted in some nasty domestic spats. He's taken to calling me Laura Ashley, and complains that I'm stifling his self-expression. I keep telling him that I'm all for self-expression, as long as it's mine.

Ours is not the only relationship suffering from the home decorating malaise; now that we're a nation of trend-conscious nesters, it's happening to everyone. Whereas our mothers exercised iron control over interior arrangements while our fathers concentrated on the important things, like going down the pub, Nineties Man is taking an irritatingly active interest in the home. Sara Jarratt, 32, knows this only too well. Four years ago, she bought a three bedroom flat in Brixton, London with her 34-year-old boyfriend Mark, a film producer. Already a couple for the six years before they moved in together, Sara had no idea that her taste was so little appreciated.

"Even as we unpacked our stuff, it was obvious that all my lovely little trinkets - vases, pottery, sentimental mementoes - weren't acceptable to him," she says. "He'd roll his eyes or crinkle his nose, and it's been like that ever since. I feel marginalised in my own house." But does Mark care? "He knows how I feel, but won't budge. He moves my stuff through a subtle kind of subterfuge, quietly removing my things when I'm not looking. I find them weeks later in the kitchen cupboard."

Elizabeth Hughes, 41, has been having the opposite struggle with her husband Tim, 43. Apart from the fact that he wants his house to look "like a bachelor pad" (according to Elizabeth, naturally), their latest bone of contention is a house in Portugal which they've just bought. "Tim has set his heart on using one of the largest rooms as a personal den," she groans. "He's already bought a juke-box which is bad enough, but we had a row the other day about a horrendous Formica bar he was about to buy. He thought it was kitsch and trendy, but it was just tasteless and overpriced. I'm not going to let him have it."

But that way madness lies. According to counsellor Denise Knowles from Relate, Elizabeth's attitude will only pressurise the relationship. "It is possible that you could split up over interior decorating," she begins, cheerfully. "How you treat things in your home is a reflection of how you treat things outside the home. If you start moving things around, saying no to the other person's suggestions, and imposing your own will, it's not showing a great deal of respect and that can set rot into a relationship." I tell her about the Hitler paintings. "They sound horrible, don't let him put them up!" she says. (This, alas, is a joke). "You must ask yourself why he likes these pictures, what the rationale is behind his attachment to them." Well, I say, five years ago he found them on a street in New Zealand with a sign next to them saying "please take" (no wonder). And ever since he's just loved them. This sounds perfectly reasonable to Denise, and she regales me with the C-word. Compromise. "It's tedious," she says, "but it's important."

It is, however, no good to me. Jane Burton, editor of Living Etc magazine is much more helpful. "You should both have one room where you do exactly as you want," she begins sagely, "and then go simple and neutral for the rest of the house, especially the lounge and the kitchen which you use often. But try to accept and adapt the other person's belongings. If you don't like his sofa, put a throw on it. If his hi-fi system's too big, buy a TV stand which can hide it. If you don't like his paintings, buy a screen on wheels so you can cover it when friends come round." And if none of this works? She smiles. "Just remember that possessions do get broken `accidentally' sometimes."

HAPPILY EVER AFTER

Agree to a budget - this will help you decide on a look you know you can both afford.

Discuss your likes and dislikes: you're sharing a house, so share your thoughts.

Find a way to live with your partner's possessions - adapt them to your own style.

Find an interior designer to referee.

Destroy each other's gear so there's nothing left to argue about.

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