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The Home Guru: When Two Combine Tastes (or The Mystery of the Disappearing Staffordshires)

What happens when two people with very different tastes in furnishings and decor combine households? Compromise, compromise!

Sometimes when two people decide to get married or take up living together, the going can be tough in combining tastes for furnishing and decoration, especially among those who have lived on their own and established their individual preferences.

You might remember the scene from “When Harry Met Sally” where the wedge issue between a man and woman combining apartments was a wagon wheel coffee table he brought to the union. A cut-away scene shows the piece being removed to the front sidewalk.

“My husband has always loved modern, clean lines – he works in the construction industry -- and I have always preferred the traditional look,” says a friend in the real estate business in my office, “so it’s been a constant challenge over the past 20 years to combine the two.”

Most people would agree that men let their wives take the lead in decorating their home.  It just seems to be the natural order of things, right? Not so with my wife and me.

I think one of the reasons my wife decided to marry me was that she was impressed that I had decorated my bachelor apartment so well. The furnishings inventory of mostly 18 century reproductions and some originals, influenced by my having grown up near Colonial Williamsburg, was impressive for a single guy, as was my debt to various department stores and antiques shops. While not originally to her taste, which was strictly modern, my wife adapted to the early American style, maybe because an investment had already been made in it.

She came to the marriage with her modern bedroom set and a good copy of the tulip chair designed by Eero Saarinen. However, when we bought our first home in Brooklyn Heights, built in 1826, those modern things disappeared because they definitely looked out of place. I reigned supreme as the decorator for some years to come. 

Lately, however, my wife has been hankering for a more casual, modern look again, and I haven’t been resisting it. We’re planning to move eventually from our 18th century home to a new one, so this would be a good time for such a transition.  I’m ready to be casual and comfortable.

So, we’ve been a good match in combining tastes, even when they change.  In all these years, there has been only one disagreement about our décor, and it happened very recently. Enter the mystery of the disappearing Staffordshire figurines.

Some years ago, I made a good buy on three large Staffordshire figurines, the mainstay of Victorian mantelpiece decoration, and displayed them in a big English oak cabinet in our dining room. Little did I think that they would become our one and only point of departure in taste. I share the story here because it may demonstrate how compromise works.

When it came time to have our recent Broker’s Open House, we got busy de-cluttering and leaving more open space on our tables and shelves, as I advise seller clients to do. In the process, I noticed that the three large Staffordshire pieces had disappeared from the haunts they had long occupied. When I asked my wife where they were, she said, “Oh, I don’t think we should display them. I never liked them, and you did say to de-clutter.”

My precious Staffordshires, relegated to clutter? 

She offered no hint about where they might be, but I knew that her favorite hiding space is in our kitchens’ lower cabinet space. Sure enough, I explored and found them tucked in between the mop bucket and the Drano, no less.

I returned them to their rightful home without saying anything. They remained for a couple of days, then disappeared again. And, again, I retrieved them. Left in the dining room for a few days more, I was satisfied that my wife had given up trying to classify them as clutter.

The morning of our Open House was quite busy with last minute details and I didn’t notice anything unusual until I set out on a personalized tour, entered the dining room and, darned if the figurines hadn’t disappeared again!

Even though there were many realtors in the kitchen, like a man obsessed, I actually moved a couple of people aside to access the regular hide and seek place, but, surprise, surprise, the figurines were not there. I then opened every cabinet in the kitchen, but they were nowhere to be found. I give up … for now.

My home decorating guru, Joanne Palumbo of Homestyling101, says on the subject of combining tastes peacefully: “I find that since people are getting married later in life and they have already purchased pieces of furniture that they love and have grown attached to, the problem is that, once they have found that 'perfect person,' they too come along with their own pieces that don't necessarily coordinate! ‘His, mine and ours’ is how I refer to it! Usually it takes a little psychology, negotiation and compromise to dig a little deeper and combine their likes in decor so they complement each other.”

I’m all for psychology, negotiation and compromise. So, does anyone want to buy these great Staffordshire figurines I have featured in the picture?

Bill Primavera is a licensed Realtor® affiliated with Coldwell Banker and a lifestyles journalist who writes regularly as The Home Guru. Visit his website at: www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com and, if you would like to consult with him about buying or selling a home, contact him directly at 914-522-2076.

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Melissa J Peltier May 05, 2012 at 03:22 PM
Wonderful piece. My husband and I were both in our 40's when we married (second time for both). I moved from LA to NY and we ultimately settled in Nyack to share custody of his daughter. One of the best thinks for me about being single again was indulging my "hobby I can't really afford", creative interior decorating. I'd made my bright, airy Studio City townhouse into a showplace of pastel yellows, peaches and moss greens, weighty moldings and trims in whites and almonds, huge comfortanble shabby chic furnishings with a traditional Southern garden touch. I'd call it "classy feminine.". My husband to be loved the cozy comfort of my place, but for a former Irish kid from working class Brooklyn, it struck him as way him it was far too girly a style for our new home. He was a straight from Pottery Barn showroom kind of guy, liking plain lines and pure woods. Oh, and white walls. Lots of white walls! The one thing I wouldn't bend on were the white walls ( he's so glad I didn't now - is addicted to the joyful inspiration of a colorful house.) and I got to indulge my love for crafty trim and interesting architectural features. With the help of our friend, decorator Irene Napolitano, we sort of mixed and matched our way into our own personal style - a sort of artsy updated traditional with continental accents meets - you guessed it - a touch of pottery barn. We love of our colorful, cozy home and it is so much better because it truly does reflect us both.
William Primavera May 07, 2012 at 02:46 AM
Melissa, It sounds as though this has been a joyful process for you and your husband! Thanks for commenting.

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