Interior Designer Tips on How To Cohabitate Without Sacrificing Style

Moving in with your significant other is exciting/fraught/terrifying enough without thinking about what the combination of your stuff and her stuff is going to look like in the same space. If you’re daunted by the process of merging abodes, an interior designer can help you work out the details (and let you hand the decision-making over to a neutral third party). We asked Brett Foken, an Oakland-based designer, to guide us through the (potentially awkward and uncomfortable) early stages of cohabiting. If you like Foken’s advice, you can find her at Laurel & Wolf, an online interior design and decorating company that provides services for a flat fee and offers unlimited revisions and feedback.

Crave: What advice would you give a guy who has decided to move in with his girlfriend about the process of combining households?

Brett Foken: Things can definitely get tricky when you are moving into your significant other’s already established home. Even if it’s not a forever home for you two, you still want things to feel like they reflect both parties. I think my biggest piece of advice in this situation is to talk through how you want your home to feel, what colors you both like, what things you love in a home and what things you hate. Talking through these initial topics is important so you both can determine the overall concept for your new home together. I always advise to create a shared Pinterest board or some place where you can capture inspiration for your new home so you both can feel inspired and excited to create something new together even if it’s in an already established home.

What items can or should come from each of the previous residences? What items should be purchased new, together?

Things like art, collectibles and/or anything with sentimental value is what adds personality and meaning to a home, so these pieces should be incorporated in any new space. Pieces that require comfort and function for both individuals and are larger investments–like sofas, dining tables, and beds–should be purchased together. I also think investing in items like a great accent chair, a statement art piece, or a cool light fixture are great things to purchase together because they can travel with you to your next home and are generally versatile in where you place them.

Photo: Dustin Walker of Laurel & Wolf.

How do you strike a balance to ensure that no one room is too “his” or “hers”, too manly or too girly?

I think that a truly balanced home is one that combines both masculine and feminine elements; however, actually striking that balance can be very challenging. If a space ever feels overwhelmingly “girly” or “manly” then I try switching out certain pieces with more feminine or masculine ones. For example, if your main color palette is more “feminine” (pastels, softer colors, vibrant pinks, etc.) then try adding in some masculine textures like reclaimed wood, cowhide, or leather to help balance things out.

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Should each person have their own room that they get to decorate as they wish? Or is the goal continuity in decor throughout the home?

I definitely think it depends on the couple and the house itself. At the end of the day, you are creating a home for the two of you and it should reflect your individual personalities as well as your life together. I absolutely think it’s OK to each have your own space (even if it’s just a desk in a corner) if that’s what makes you happy but I also think there is a way to create a cohesive feel throughout a home that resembles both individuals and the things they love.

Photo: Dustin Walker of Laurel & Wolf.

What kinds of colors, fabrics, and furniture are easiest for couples to agree on?

You can never go wrong with a black, white, and wood combo but I would also say neutrals, rich blues, greens, and gray shades are usually easy for couples to agree on when it comes to color. In regards to textures, I always like to mix in natural textures like leather or a cowhide rug to add a more masculine touch and to help balance out any feminine elements. When it comes to furniture, anything with clean, modern lines is usually a safe bet.

What trends do you see in the purchases among young couples who are furnishing a home for the first time? How have the trends changed?

Trends I’ve noticed lately when it comes to young couples furnishing their first homes together are focused around the idea of versatility and investing in items that they can take with them to their next home. For example, a statement light fixture or wall sconces, a vintage faucet, unique cabinet hardware, a mid-century lounge chair, or a vintage rug. It seems that young couples are renting longer versus buying, but still want to create a home that feels personal and unique. I think the trends have shifted towards investing in quality, statement pieces that make a home feel more permanent but can also be carried onto the next home.

Photo: Dustin Walker of Laurel & Wolf.

What are the most common mistakes couples make when furnishing their first home together?

I’ve noticed a few common mistakes when it comes to couples furnishing their first home together and I can admit that I’ve made all of them myself before. The first mistake is that sometimes couples rush to furnish their homes just to “fill” them, which can result in impulse purchases and a collection of items that “work” for the time being but you don’t love for the long run. The second mistake would be not taking inventory of what you have and properly evaluating the pieces to keep versus ones to get rid of–this usually results in having multiple items that serve the same purpose or a home that feels like a furniture warehouse or thrift shop.

Photos: Dustin Walker of Laurel & Wolf.