I recently wrote an article for the current issue of Antique Shops and Designers – a décor magazine which is produced here in Houston. This was the fourth issue I had contributed to, and this time I chose to tackle a subject I am asked about a lot: How do I get my husband to let me decorate the way I want to? Now, understand that I used the word “husband” because this is the most typical scenario, but this situation can apply to any couple. It may be the wife who doesn’t care to decorate, or it could be a same-sex couple, or even roommates with differing decorating opinions. The age of the `couple can widely vary. When my daughter went to college last year, she was interested in decorating her dorm room, while her roommate wasn’t at all, and I suspect that young sisters sharing a room can also experience this.
Parts of this article are tongue in cheek and parts are more serious. When you live with someone who lets you decorate the way you want, it’s hard to imagine how much anguish can occur when your partner is opposed to your ideas and talent. I can’t tell you how many emails I get from people who talk about this problem. This article details ways one might try to get a spouse to understand just what they are going through, when they aren’t allowed to decorate.
For the article, I used these two pictures of my family room to illustrate the difference between having a ceiling fan – which my husband insisted we have for years and years AND…
How the same room looks now with a lantern instead of the dreaded ceiling fan. To keep Ben cool, I have a small standing fan in the corner just for him, which he uses about 25 percent of the time. He used to run the ceiling fan 24/7.
This reader sent in a picture of her orange brick fireplace that her husband refused for years and years to let her repaint.
And after, under pressure from their daughter, her husband relented and she painted her fireplace white – to go with her all white décor.
To read this story of this fireplace – All In the White Family - go HERE.
Convincing Your Husband To Decorate Your Way
One question I get asked over and over again, as both an interior designer and as a blogger, is what to do about husbands (or partners) who refuse to let you decorate your house the way you want to? What happens if one partner has exquisite taste, while the other has, well, less than wonderful taste? How does a wife tell her husband to leave the decorating to her? Men and women have such different ideas about decorating and let’s just admit that most husbands’ design preferences are clichéd. For instance, what is it about wood paneling that men love so much? I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten an email from a distraught wife telling me her husband refuses to let her paint over their 60s style faux wood “paneling.” For some unknown reason, men think it is sacrilege to paint over anything made out of brown wood, despite how many veneers of plywood make up this purported “wood.” Why?
And don’t even think about asking for hubby’s permission to repaint Grandma’s tacky dining room suite that she probably bought for $100 at Sears, 90 years ago. It wasn’t worth much then and it still isn’t. And why do husbands go crazy for leather furniture? Does anyone truly understand why they are so attracted to poufy leather sofas, the pouffier the better? While big leather sectionals are nirvana to the male species, nothing is more heavenly than a leather recliner or one upholstered in some heavy nondescript fabric that’s impervious to nuclear blasts.
When furnishing their home offices, remember that husbands prefer Oriental rugs that are predominantly red and blue. A soft muted Oushak just isn’t their cup of tea. They also prefer brass and lots of it. Most husbands have never heard of polished nickel, except for the change in their pockets. They have a certain weakness for framed prints of birds or dogs, preferably prints of dogs with dead birds hanging out of their mouths. They certainly don’t care for modern art. Men like to display any award or diploma they ever received and the walls of the offices are filled with them. Books, with their dusty jackets intact, must be books that have been read. No fancy, French language antique books are allowed.
And to be sure, most husbands have quite definite preferences in paint colors: the jewel tones popular in the 80s are still their favorites: hunter green, navy blue, and burgundy are all acceptable. Ivory, never white, is the only exception. Good luck to the wife who wants to paint her bedroom a soft, coral pink. Divorces have been started over pastel boudoirs. The fabulous designer Charlotte Moss says master bedrooms should be the woman’s refuge. After all, it’s the woman’s domain and she invites the man into her bedroom. Sure, Charlotte. Maybe that’s how it is in your house, but most husbands think of the master bedroom as their personal playroom.
So, what do you do if you want a pink bedroom and a living room filled with white slipcovered furniture and scratchy seagrass rugs, but your husband refuses to budge from his man cave mentality? What do you do if you don’t want ceiling fans in every room, but he insists they keep the electrical bills lower? What if you want the brown paneling painted a soft, muted gray, but he stands firm against it? While all this may sound silly and trivial, when you are the suffering wife, it is really serious business. How can you convince your husband to let you decorate your house the way you want to?
When my husband and I were going through infertility treatments, we were required to go to counseling before we were eligible for the In vitro Program. So there we sat, two scared newlyweds, just wanting a baby more than anything. Well, I should clarify; there we sat, where I wanted a baby more than anything. My husband was just going through this process to shut me up. Of course he wanted a baby, but it wasn’t life or death to him. It was to me. Our one session with this unknown therapist has stuck with me all these years later – 21 to be exact. The therapist asked Ben a simple question: what did you play with when you were a child? Quickly and without thinking, he answered “cops and robbers, football, and soldiers.” And you, Joni, what did you play? My answer came just as easily “Mommy and house.” The therapist smugly nodded. You see, Ben, she said, Joni has spent her entire life playing at being a mommy, waiting to have her own house and her own baby, while you played soldiers. I was stunned at how succinctly she summed up the difference between men and women and how quickly Ben grasped that this bout with infertility was not just some little “problem” to me. It was devastating and hurtful and went against all my natural instincts as a woman.
Twenty years later, with a beautiful daughter now at college, I think of that therapist’s words and realize that what she said also applies to decorating. To a husband, his home is somewhere he is comfortable, somewhere to relax after a hard day at work. It certainly isn’t something he has planned for after studying countless décor magazines or watching endless programs on HGTV. To the wife, though, she has been waiting since childhood to have her own house, decorated in her vision, a place to entertain and a cozy nest to keep her family close. It is everything to her. It is the center of her existence.
When I get emails from blog readers asking me how can they get their husband to “let” them paint their brown paneling or the dining room table, I always repeat what that therapist told me all those years ago. My advice is simple. Ask your husband out to dinner. Tell him you want to discuss something important with him. Make sure he has a nice sized drink at dinner. Start out with a question. Ask him what our therapist asked: “what games did you play when you were little?” Tell him what you played. Make sure you tell him how much you respect him and what he does for the family. Explain that you want the same respect. Tell him that you have studied magazines and décor for years and know exactly how you want your house to look like. Ask him to understand that it is your lifelong dream to have that beautiful house. Ask him if he can say the same? Ask him to trust your taste. Above all, don’t raise your voice and don’t argue. State your cause in a mature, reasonable tone. This isn’t a fight, you are merely opening up his eyes to who you really are and what you really want.
Most likely your husband will see how serious you are and will be willing to give up his jewel toned walls, ceiling fans, and leather sectional. If not, compromise and offer to create a room especially for him, but on the condition that you get to design the rest of the house. Follow Charlotte Moss’ advice and tell him you are inviting him into your bedroom. Who knows? It might spice things up a little. In truth, your husband has probably never even realized how important the way your house looks is to you. He most likely has never given it a thought. Now that you have opened up and been truthful, hopefully he will step aside and let you paint those paneled walls a beautiful soft gray. Remember, you’ve been playing mommy and house since you were toddling. He was playing cops and robbers. Surely, you deserve a room full of white slipcovers and scratchy seagrass. Good luck!
Well, that is my idea! Do you have a better one? I would love to hear your tactics on how you handle your husband when he pokes his nose in the decorating !!! Leave a comment so others can get some ideas! As always, thanks a million for all your comments.
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