Mad About . . .

How do I get my partner to agree to my interior design plans?

23rd April 2020
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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.

all blue via the modern house

all blue via the modern house

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.

A look at some beautiful rooms with Kate Watson-Smyth. Here the doorway leading into the dining room is painted green which links the space perfectly. A complementing green painted vintage glazed cabinet adds interest too. #greeninterior #madaboutthouse

green cabinet via @fig_tart

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…

pink and green via lagerlings via kim_dti

pink and green via lagerlings

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.

yellow kitchen with leopard laundry image by @ericadavies of @our_essex_house_renovation

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.

hallway at the home of sophie robinson

hallway at the home of sophie robinson

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.


Pink walls and black framed gallery wall make up this stylish dining room. Selected by Kate Watson-Smyth, by image via lagerlings. #gallerywall #diningtable

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  • Irene 24th April 2020 at 12:18 pm

    I love the cobalt blue too but am with you on the pink contrast. I would be very interested to hear what you you would use instead? My husband also has an opinion on everything but can usually be brought on side, unless all he can see are £££ running away!

    • Kate Watson-Smyth 24th April 2020 at 12:25 pm

      Hmmm, well if I was going with pink I might have gone with a softer paler one – no less practical than the dreaded oatmeal… Or = because I love tonal colours I might have found a darker navy blue – perhaps with a pink edge for a little more colour. Or a pattern which mixes blue in it. Alternative Flooring have great patterns – like this – for example but there are lots of others. I linked this as it looks as if it would go best with the walls.

  • Karen Kelly 23rd April 2020 at 10:48 pm

    Hi Kate, I adore your blog. For ages I was really grumpy on Wednesday mornings until I realised it was because I had no Mad dose to look forward to ( I have two pretty tough but wonderful kids).
    We have just moved back into our house after a renovation heavily influenced by you, Sophie Robinson, and your amazing books. You mentioned that you were mulling over what to tackle next here on the blog and I would love to hear some suggestions about how to choose a disruptor colour. I have a largely grey, navy, white and mint house and it just needs some oomph but I can’t settle on what exactly.

    Mostly I just want to say thank you for making my weeks happier 😊.


    • Kate Watson-Smyth 24th April 2020 at 12:16 pm

      That is a truly lovely message – thank you so much. Basically the disrupter should be a colour that you love and are drawn to but wouldn’t want to paint a whole wall in. So it might be a burst of burnt orange, or a flash of cobalt blue, even a pop of neon pink. Think about your favourite ice cream (mine is raspberry) or flower (mine is peony) or earrings (mine are gold and I have a gold ceiling) and see if that gives you a colour. Mint goes with lots of other colours from forest green (for a more subtle disrupt – if there is such a thing) to pink and shades of strong blue – teal and navy. Even yellow can work if you find the right one.

      • Karen Kelly 25th April 2020 at 8:56 am

        Thank you. That is really helpful.

        Hope you’re having a good lockdown Saturday.


  • Ellen Reed 23rd April 2020 at 2:50 pm

    My husband and I married after having been divorced (from others) for years. We were shocked when combining our “stored furniture”. Our tastes fit together like puzzle pieces. A comfortable mixture of mid-century modern and inherited antiques, which many might feel don’t really go together. But we find it to be like putting on an old shoe, fitting all the bumps and crannies. In the end, the only people that we have to please is each other.

  • Julie Bennett 23rd April 2020 at 1:58 pm

    My husband is probably one of the most tricky of the lot – he pretends it’s all entirely up to me, but then proceeds to have strong opinions on completely random things. My current battle is getting him to agree to painting woodwork something other than white. Argh.

    • Kate Watson-Smyth 24th April 2020 at 12:19 pm

      OK so this is not a discussion, this is basically a rule and he has to get his head round it. Does he always wear a white t-shirt or a white shirt with every single thing in his wardrobe? Even at weekends? No (I’m guessing/hoping not!) so he needs to concede that sometimes other colours go best with other colours. It’s the same principle with paint. Just because it’s traditional to paint woodwork white doesn’t mean you should. The Georgians matched wood and wall – possibly because they didn’t have a good brilliant white paint – and sometimes a blue wall would look better with matching skirts or a soft pink or yellow for contrast. Do keep us posted on how you are getting on….

  • longdenlife 23rd April 2020 at 9:33 am

    I’m lucky that my husband does agree to most of what I suggest – I have more adventurous taste than him so sometimes have to reign it in a bit. We make a joint decision on large items such as tiles or kitchens etc. He hates shopping and looking at endless options so I do the research and costings and come up with three choices that I love. He then makes a choice from the three shown to him. He is happy that he has made the final choice and I would have been happy with any of the three – its a win win and its stood us in good stead of 22 years of marriage!!

  • Jade 23rd April 2020 at 9:01 am

    I am lucky to have one of the husbands who doesn’t care. He occasionally has opinions on things if he really dislikes the idea, but he pretty much lets me have free rein. It’s actually true of our relationship in general and I realised recently that it’s one of the reasons our relationship works so well. He’s easygoing and I’m…. slightly opinionated 😄

  • Jenny 23rd April 2020 at 8:18 am

    I’ve left a review (a nice one!) I don’t think erica davies is the author of the essex house renovation?

    • Kate Watson-Smyth 23rd April 2020 at 11:37 am

      Erica took the picture of Wendy’s house. I should have made it clearer x

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