Combining homes isn’t easy. Here’s how to make it work.

2011-04-03T00:00:00Z Combining homes isn’t easy. Here’s how to make it work.By Barbara Ballinger CTW Features nwitimes.com
April 03, 2011 12:00 am  • 

You've got your stuff, your partner or spouse has more stuff, and the home you've started to share simply doesn't have enough room to accommodate all the merged belongings.

Whether you're young newlyweds moving into your first condo or baby boomers with decades of furnishings, blending household possessions can be a challenge due to space limitations. What makes this process tougher is that most of us develop a deep emotional attachment to our things. And we're less than thrilled when a partner dislikes something we cherish and wants to banish it to an attic, basement or worse - the dumpster.

Apryl Childs, an account executive with an Archer Malmo in Memphis, Tenn., understood this dilemma firsthand. When she and fiancé Jason Potter, marketing director for the Memphis Red Birds minor-league baseball team, set up shared housekeeping in his 100-year-old home, she desperately wanted to discard many of his possessions that she considered "undesirable": bobblehead dolls sitting on top of the refrigerator and on living room shelves, a hand-me-down Oriental rug looking out of place in an informal den, a hand-me-down 1967 plaid couch and a painted folding screen depicting a horse race, accenting the living room mantel.

Whenever Childs brought up the idea, her fiancé resisted, saying "You're throwing away all my stuff," she recalls. Since she knew their happiness hinged on finding a tactful solution, she suggested each of them pick a few items from their prior living spaces that they couldn't live without and buy new items they both loved.

They've started their new hunt and also found places for the possessions each couldn't live without. They bought a new couch and slip-covered the old plaid one, bought a new rug for the living room and put the Oriental underneath the bed in the guest room, placed the bobble-head dolls in a storage until they build a bar where they'll display them and put Child's old sectional couch in storage, since Potter "despised it," she says.

Her advice to others: "Strive for a balance. You can't throw everything away. But you also should try to create a new vision," she says.

Julie Feece, a graphic designer in Sycamore, Ill., faced a similar quandary. A widow with three children living in a three-bedroom ranch, she recently married a man with three children who also lived in a three-bedroom ranch. Because his home was larger, they moved into it, but they knew they didn't need three couches, 10 TVs and two kitchen tables.

And since Feece's husband wanted to be involved in the re-decorating, Feece found that the best solution was to make blending a process. "I brought up what I wanted to keep, like my headboard and bed, and when he objected I didn't bring up the idea for a while. Then I raised it again. It took six months to convince him, but I did," she says.

Instead of discarding items outright, the couple stored those they weren't sure about at an off-site storage facility, since they plan to buy a larger new home and may be able to incorporate more of their original possessions. They also may buy new ones, Feece says.

Her advice to others is to give a partner an equal say. "The person's feelings are more important than having everything your way."

Shari L. Goldstein, a public relations practitioner in Suffolk County, N.Y., whose family recently moved in with her beau's, says a willingness to try furniture in different arrangements and rooms can spark new, better layouts.

Design and relationship experts who've dealt with such situations offer additional tips. Mary Emmerling, creative director for Country Home magazine, suggests compromise. "Marriage is about compromise and trade-offs. If differing opinions arise, one spouse chooses, and then the next time the other gets to choose. Keep it even and switch off." Madeline Roth with Pariscope Design in Geneva, Ill., prefers letting one person "get" one room and the other having a say over another, which she thinks works better long term than compromising so that neither is happy. "The living room becomes her look and the family room his," she says. She also recommends transforming some items through paint for a more cohesive look.

Sue Aprill, an interior arranger and decorator in Canton, Mich., mediates such situations, trying to validate each person's belongings. For $125 an hour, she'll begin a dialogue, saying to one spouse, for instance, "I know this isn't your favorite piece, but it's very important to your wife. Let's display it here where you might not see it too often but where your wife can still appreciate it." She also advises rotating furnishings.

Because conflicts may arise, relationship and love expert Kathryn Alice, author of the forthcoming book, "Love Will Find You" (Marlowe & Co., 2007), recommends knowing how you'll deal with such situations before they occur.

She also suggests finding a private space that everyone can call their own. "Humans are very territorial and need a place to retreat," she says. That haven may be the place to put your most favorite objects that your partner doesn't like.

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