Not Your Mother's Living Room

Whether we realize it or not, our childhood homes shape the way we design and decorate.

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Over My Dead Body

The lessons childhood homes bequeath aren't always simple or straightforward. Nor will our lessons be the same ones learned by spouses or housemates. Sure, you see Uncle Elmer's humor or Grandma's kisses in the chipped armoire. Your partner sees trash. So how can you and your partner respect the ghosts you carry through the doors?

Here, experts and peacefully designing couples offer their advice:

  • Compromise. "My teddy bear" — displayed in designer Michael Payne's family room — "means nothing to my wife but she understands what he means to me," says Michael. "And she is incredibly proud of a really ugly Howdy Doody puppet" — also in the family room. "We compromise."
  • Take your time. "You need negotiating time, time to let your partner see what you love," says Cecilia Tejada. Robert and Leslie Hirschman of Los Angeles, for example, have spent two years looking at chairs for their dining room table. They've finally agreed on style and are now negotiating about color. "We made a pact," says Leslie. "If one of us doesn't like something, we won't get it."
  • Pick your battles. "Decide if this issue is more important to one of you than the other," suggests New York child psychologist Robin Goodman. "If one person's taste is minimalist, the other person may need his own room where he can be expressive. Or maybe one person decides about style but compromises on color and accessories. It shouldn't be all or nothing."
  • Keep perspective. "I say to clients, 'This is not life and death,' says designer Carol Tobin. "'This is about color, table and chairs. We can have some fun.'"

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