How to set up home with your partner

Whether it’s throwing out the ‘man furniture’ or battling over paint colours, setting up a new pad with your partner is never easy. Huma Qureshi meets three couples who’ve taken the design plunge
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The Independent Online

It's a well-played out scene. The happy couple enter Ikea/John Lewis/Habitat/Heals (delete as appropriate) hand-in-hand with that "we're moving in together" look, only to explode a few hours later into a public display of vicious bickering over what colour the feature wall is meant to be or whether scatter cushions are really necessary.

Setting up home, whether it's moving, redecorating or renovating a property from scratch, is stressful enough when there's only one of you; add in your other half, complete with their own ideas of what your joint home should look like, and those stress levels risk going sky high.

"It's very important to remember that you're both after the same result: a beautiful home that meets your needs and inspires you," says Heather Jenkinson, an interior designer based in London, who says she often steps in as the linchpin between arguing couples who have hired her creative expertise. "Once you divert the energy away from who's winning or losing the argument, to how you can make it work together, then you have progress."

Jenkinson says the key to couples keeping arguments at bay when it comes to decorating decisions is to make sure you both voice your opinions on what you would and wouldn't like, and compromise, so you each get a chance to inject your individual styles in different parts of your home. Luckily my own experience of merging two styles into one home has been without complication (so far) – my fiancé trusts my judgement and we appear to share similar tastes that haven't clashed (yet).

But while he's expressed relief that he can confidently trust I won't cover our home in Cath Kidston florals, which we both loathe, he has still vetoed a few of my product selections (coloured glasses from Toast and, bizarrely, a simple wire letter holder from Rockett St George). Similarly, there's one or two things of his choice I've vetoed too – namely, a boring black coffee table which will be going on eBay soon.

But despite the coffee table debacle, we both have a say in what will go in our new home and nothing gets ordered without us agreeing on it first. So far, it seems to be working; battles on the style home front have been almost non- existent.

But for couples who just can't stand each other's design choices – what then?

Jenkinson says finding common ground in your dislikes is a winning way to stop arguing and lighten the mood (nothing brings a couple together like a collective session of taking the mick out of hideous things you'd both never buy). "Often, it's your dislikes that will unite you," she says. "Keep a sense of humour between you. A little bit of it goes a long way."

So how have three young couples kept the interior design peace?

Zoë & Neil Pearson

If ever there was an example of a couple living in stylistic peace, it would be the Pearsons. They married earlier this year and now live in a two-bed tenement flat in Edinburgh. "In our first flat, we never really discussed a look; we just moved everything we owned in and tried to work it out from there," explains Zoë, 33. "In our current flat, we did discuss it more. We knew we wanted it to look happy."

After six years of living together, the couple say they are more in-tune with what the other likes, so there are few disagreements. "Neil tends to go with the flow and trusts me when I make suggestions. If he really doesn't like something, then I listen to him and usually we end up with a solution that was better than the original idea."

Neil's laid-back attitude has given Zoë free reign to be creative as he rarely dislikes her choices. "I'm quite passive in my design style, but I'm very clear about what I don't like," he says the 31-year-old. "I could never feel at home in a plain new build and Zoë will never run out of ideas to make our home a fun place to live. She has a great eye for colour."

"We just kind of get each other," says Zoë. "Our home feels like the two of us because we choose, alter or acquire things together." Neil agrees. "I don't really remember arguing over decorating. I generally go with what Zoë suggests; she has a great track record. If you look around our flat, everything is purely us."

Caroline Taylor & Simon Rowland

Caroline, 29, and Simon, 28, have been living together for six years and bought their first home, a two-bedroom flat in Kingston upon Thames, south-west London, two years ago. Their house purchase marked the first time the couple decorated together.

"There have been some tense moments," says Caroline, tactfully. "Let's just say wallpapering is never particularly fun..."

Simon politely agrees. "Caroline sees aesthetics. I see only practicalities. These two things don't always run in harmony. The problems that arise are comedy afterwards, but very much not so at the time. It usually involves me swearing a lot."

Caroline, who runs Patchwork Harmony, an online vintage home accessories store, has a natural inclination for all things vintage.

For Simon, there have been times when the vintage look has been taken too far. "I can't really handle things which have been made to look older than they are are," he says.

The couple say their style is generally compatible, but Caroline did put her foot down as far as Simon's bikes were concerned. "There was talk of Simon mounting one on the wall," she says. But for Simon it was a losing battle. "My bikes now live in the cupboard," he says.

Aisling & Philip Alsopp

Newly married couple Aisling and Philip bought a two-bed cottage in the small Berkshire village of Kingsclere two years ago. "We'd spent 18 months renting a bachelor pad and we'd had enough. We both agreed we wanted beams, sash windows and a home with a story to tell," says Aisling, 24.

But while they both agreed on the style of property, their ideas of what should go inside differed dramatically.

"I love mismatched vintage, Laura Ashley and patchwork quilts; a chunky kitchen table with bare floorboards and ragged rugs" says Aisling. "But Philip is into tidiness. He thinks everything should have its place.

Philip, 29, describes his look as "cohesive". "I like things to match. I do like the country look, but I'm a fan of minimal styles, too. Aisling's lack of visual tidiness drives me insane."

Living with Aisling's more feminine style has taken its toll on Philip. "I had to draw the line at the pink floral curtains for the bedroom," he says. "But then I had to get rid of most of my 'man' furniture."

While the Alsopps don't necessarily always like each other's choices, both appreciate that the other has some taste. "Don't tell him I said this, but Philip is quite stylish," says Aisling. "He might not be creative, but he understands the shape of a room instinctively so he knows exactly where certain pieces of furniture will work."

Meanwhile, Philip admits a soft spot for Aisling's free-flowing style. "Although I threaten divorce every time Aisling adds a cushion, she has an eye for tiny details - and it's those tiny details that make the difference."