How to decorate without breaking up

5 years ago
3 minutes

Apparently, it’s not the big-ticket items like sex or money that bring couples undone, but decorating their home. 

A British survey conducted by the Ideal Home Show, a massive organisation that exhibits for the trade and the public in London and across the UK, asked 2,000 people how they got on when renovating and decorating, and estimated that beautifying the home led to 130 million domestic tiffs every year.

Thirteen per cent of respondents said that had split up with a partner because of arguments over renovations. Paint colours caused 46 per cent of rows and 41 per cent were sure that their taste was superior to that of their partner. Around 22 per cent said that they were in complete harmony on every issue – except home decor.

A survey by Houzz, a website for home renovating and decorating, found that more than 10 per cent of respondents considered divorce during a renovation.

Hardly encouraging is it? How do you put together a home you both love and still have a relationship by the time the paint has dried? And, we haven’t even mentioned assembling flat-pack furniture.

US interior designer and author of Decorating Without Fear: A Step-By-Step Guide to Creating the Home You Love, Sharon Hanby-Robie says that the best place to start is by both of you selecting pictures of interiors that you love. That way you will get inspired together and it creates an atmosphere of cooperation. You can then discuss what it is about the Pinterest clips or magazine pics that you find attractive, rather than hoping your partner remembers those gorgeous blinds at Mandy’s place.

Two things are absolutely essential – budget and communication. Before you get down to colours and shapes, decide how much you have to spend, what you need immediately, and what can wait. And, talk about everything. Make time to reach an agreement. 

If you are combining two households or moving into your partner’s place, there is a whole other level of negotiation before you get to the pretty stuff. There is no easy way to do this, but you can start by each person saying what they like and (gently) don’t like about their partner’s possessions. (Good luck with the framed football guernsey.) 


What can we say? Compromise is a building block in any good relationship. Look for common themes in your possessions – perhaps 20th century modern design – that show what you both like and build a structure from there.

Work with items that have meaning for both you – reflect your shared interests and who you are as a couple. It could be framed prints from a holiday or favourite location, perhaps plants and natural elements if you are outdoorsy types. And when buying anything, shop together. That way you both have equal input.

When it comes to colours, even the most solid couple can clash. The most useful advice here is to start with neutrals for walls, floors and large furniture pieces, and add strong colours in less permanent ways. This has many advantages. It gives a cohesive look, you can change and update inexpensively, it’s a proven formula for small and large rooms, and each person can have the colours they like.

Always remember: It’s really not worth falling out over the shape of a coffee table. You are both bigger than that.