This is a question I am asked all the time and today I thought I would answer it with an adapted extract from the book (Mad About The House, 101 Interior Design Answers in case you didn’t know!). Ever since I started this blog I have been posting a minimum of four times a week – seven when I began in 2012 – and in all that time I have never struggled for content. I once spent a couple of hours pondering what to write but that has been the longest. Now, however, when the shops are shut, the press releases have dried up and the last time I left the house was three days ago in search of a loaf of bread, it has become a little harder to think of new and useful content. So today seemed like the perfect opportunity to share something from the new book which was published on 5 March, just before lockdown and the shops closed their doors. It is, after all, new in a different format. It is in stock on line here but if you don’t like shopping at the big A then you can also buy it here and if you have already been kind enough to acquire a copy then I would be enormously grateful if you wouldn’t mind leaving a review. The giant algorithm requires 50 before it recognises and promotes a book and I am, at the time of writing, at 47. Thank you so much. I am, as ever, so pleased that you choose to visit The Mad House, when there are so many other places you could go on the internet and you have inspired this, and the first book, in so many ways. And, while we’re on the subject -there is talk of a third to round off the series… but I can say no more at this point. On with the show, as they say, or more accurately, on with the point of the post. Those pesky partners and their opinions.
This really is the $64,000 question, and one that I am asked all the time. There are definitely times when the role of an interior designer crosses over into couples’ counsellor, rather than merely showing off some wallpaper suggestions.
The Mad Husband and I mostly agree on things. We have a couple of friends – friends who are a couple – who don’t agree on anything. Where he wants walls, she likes open plan; where she likes colour, he likes white. They built a house together and it was, by all accounts, a very difficult venture for all concerned. More recently they carried out a large basement conversion and rearranged the top floor of their house. I was flattered to receive an email from the husband one day asking me my opinion on various elements. This was shortly followed by a text from the wife warning me that he was planning to talk to me and that I was to make sure that I fed back her ideas to him, as he would accept them from me, but not from her. I trod a tightrope for a few weeks there, I don’t mind telling you. I also don’t mind telling you that there were times when I thought they were both wrong and I gave them my own ideas regardless of tact and duplicity. And then they both often banded together in solidarity against me. See…. relationship counsellor, which was undoubtedly a better outcome for them.
And jokes aside, it really is as important to know what you don’t like as what you do. So if nothing else this helped them sort out their own opinions and then allowed them to start moving forward.
The truth is that if you have diametrically opposed tastes, there is no easy way. Marianne Shillingford, Dulux’s Creative Director, swears that by the time she has cooked a steak and opened a bottle of good red wine, her husband is putty in her hands. Other women tell me they have free rein from their partners. One husband told me he just didn’t care, as long as it didn’t cost too much. I have always favoured the give-a-little, take-a-little approach; if you are going to ban me from the pale pink sofa of my dreams, then I will paint the spare room ceiling gold as you never go in there.
But there is often a compromise to be made. The Mad Husband loves velvet sofas. I didn’t want any more velvet, but I did want the chaise longue to be reupholstered in pale pink. We met in the middle on pale pink velvet. And no it doesn’t mean that we are both unhappy. For that we have the marital veto. Rarely invoked, this means that if one really can’t stomach a particular idea the right to veto means it will never be mentioned again. It’s final. And we’ve only used it about three times in 25 years so there is usually a compromise. The last time was when I wanted gold grout on the bathroom tiles. He may have been right about that. Let’s go with, he wasn’t completely wrong…
Sometimes it simply involves having a conversation about why an idea has been rejected. This might be fear of something being too way out, concerns of going off it, or a long-held childhood dislike of a particular colour. As I wrote in the first book our reaction to colour is cultural, emotional and psychological – we can’t always do anything about our instinctive reaction. Unearthing the reason behind a refusal is often the door to the compromise. After all, the key to successful interior design is using colours and materials to make you feel the way you want in a room, so a dislike may be based on emotional reaction rather than taste. A colour may be rejected because it recalls a hated school uniform, but that probably doesn’t rule out every single shade of that colour. Remember there’s no such thing as the wrong colour – just the wrong shade. Regular readers will note my recent musings on ochre or saffron as opposed to my visceral dislike of daffodil yellow on anything other than a daffodil.
Or you might be able to use a particular shade in smaller doses. Remember that my podcasting co-host Sophie Robinson has yellow in every room but never on walls. Aside from one door, she restricts it to vases, flowers (she likes the bright version) and accents in her artwork.
But if a mix of guile, seduction and reasoned discussion is going nowhere, there’s the toddler treatment – that is, a very edited slash pre-approved choice. What parent hasn’t told their child they can have what they want for dinner as long as what they want is either red (tomato), green (pesto) or white (cheese) pasta? So put together a list of choices, all of which you can live with, but which must all be slightly different so there is a sense of a real decision being made. To return to colour palettes; Sophie’s is too clean and bright for me, I prefer slightly muddier shades. So draw up a list of colours that you can both live with – I like her cobalt blue hall but find the pink carpet too high contrast for my taste – and work out what shades you can both agree on for the rest of the room.
It’s not that I don’t love colours but I like strong colours used tonally; burgundy through to pale pink, where as she likes more high contrast. Were we to live together the compromise would probably be some of her strong shades but restricted to no more than three in varying depths. This is because she likes high contrast and I like calm. If one of you is afraid of colour then bring it in small accents. A white room with a rich, dark coloured sofa and lots of natural wood to bring texture. Link it via the picture frames and perhaps a rug that mixes the two. It will take longer as every single item and colour will, probably, have to bought over, but in the end you will be sure of ending up with something that you know you both like. Or, at the very least, understand how much it pleases your partner. And that can make you happy too.