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Redecorating as a Couple

Marriage counselor and interior designer Michelle Eaton explains how decorating as a couple can help with communication.

Michelle Eaton is a certified interior designer. She knows all about draperies and furniture, carpet and wallpaper.

She's also a marriage counselor and psychologist -- though not certified.

When it comes to couples and interior decorating, Eaton says that overcoming differences of opinion is factored into the floor plans.

Eaton owns Eaton Interiors in Sacramento, Calif., and has served as president of the Sacramento chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers -- both perfect credentials for selecting a credenza. But what about settling a spat over slipcovering a sofa versus buying a new one? Or what about the spouse who wants the big-screen TV hidden from all public view?

"I've also been a teacher and in management (at Pacific Bell), so I've learned a lot about working with people, especially when they disagree," Eaton says.

Her goal is to have couples communicate and express their ideas.

Most designers cite three areas that tend to separate the sexes: color, aesthetics and money.

"Men tend to favor blue, green and brown (think taupe)," Eaton says. "Women often experiment more with color, opting for airy rooms or something more dramatic, such as red."

In terms of aesthetics, the family or entertainment room should be functional and comfortable for men, while the kitchen must operate smoothly for whoever's stirring the pot.

It's one thing to be married to a designer -- or anyone with taste; it's another thing to get a decorating budget passed.

Mark Mayfield, editor of House Beautiful magazine, says he hopes he doesn't get in trouble for saying this, but "most designers deal creatively with the woman. Then the guy comes in and complains about the money. They want to know why something, whether it's fabric or furniture, costs as much as it does. It's just not on their radar."

Mayfield says that while the initial meeting between couple and designer might involve both parties, designers usually work through one person. If both spouses want an equal say, it's the designer's job to mediate disagreements.

"Guys tend to be very logical (when it comes to design)," Mayfield says. "They choose a chair for comfort, and they tend to like brown furniture and antiques, and rooms with a more masculine feel, such as a library. Women are interested in public areas of the home, such as the dining and living rooms."

Mayfield believes television shows and the proliferation of decorating and remodeling programs have piqued the interest of both men and women because of the unique correlation between fashion and, well, fabric.

Ultimately, Mayfield says, a house is going to be the vision of one person.

John and Lori Kukis of Sacramento will break ground around Aug. 1 on their dream home. Designer Eaton, who redid the couple's master bedroom and bathroom three years ago, will be holding their hands every step of the way as black-and-white renderings become a home for the Kukises and children Michael and Marissa.

Their current home had an early 1970s look when they moved in and, even though it seems spacious, the children won't be toddlers forever.

"When they're teens, we want them to have room to have their friends over, have their own bathrooms and not have toys spill over into the living room," Lori says.

John is a general contractor who does remodeling for a living. He says knowing building codes is an advantage, but when it comes to his voice in the new home's design, he just wants "a bigger office and a rec room for the full-size pool table."

The bedroom that Eaton redecorated for the Kukises in their current home is a lovely mix of corals and greens, stripes and florals. Not manly enough for big-guy John?

"Actually," Eaton says, "John requested that it be romantic."

Lori says she can't wait to work on the children's rooms. Even though building a home can be stressful, she and John see it as an adventure.

"We're having fun," Lori says, "but I'm so glad Michelle is helping. Hers are another set of eyes. A right brain and a left brain, you might say."

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