Column: The designer as marriage counselor


There is nothing like being introduced to a complete stranger as ‘the designer that saved my marriage”

This recently happened to one of our designers and it caught her completely off guard. Yes, she melded the two styles, yes, she met both of their expectations, and yes, she settled a few heated arguments … but save a marriage?

In reality, a good interior designer can nail the right sofa in an instant. A good interior designer can pinpoint the right window treatment without blinking. A really good interior designer is also a marriage counselor.

I’m not talking about the type that deals with “hand me a tissue edge of the chair wringing hands” couples. I mean the type that can interpret separate personalities and blend them into one decorating style while satisfying the needs of both.

When a couple brings diverse taste, approach, attitude and priorities to the marriage, the stage is set for decorating limbo. Novice couples often assume that decorating is a Saturday afternoon outing that consists of a trip to the mall. It will be a quick, effortless and end with lunch at the food court. Sometimes a list will be made in advance and the hunting and gathering is on. After several exhausting and futile hours, tensions flare, nasty swipes are uttered and a hasty retreat is made before a full-fledge battle erupts.

If the couple makes it beyond this point where reality intersects with naivety, the risk of the “this is fine so let’s just get it done” impulse purchase mistake happens next.

When the realization that the oversized leather sectional that looked great on the showroom with 30 foot ceilings, now looks absurd in the home with dainty architectural details and eight foot ceilings, some pretty nasty barbs go flying. If you are fortunate enough to be able to send the offending leather giant back to the store, it is time to admit that hiring a professional isn’t such a bad idea, after all.

Enter the interior designer – your couple’s communication specialist, facilitator, translator, mediator, magician and visual artist. Remember, couples rarely agree 100 percent on matters of taste, and finding a solution that will make both parties happy really is a delicate balance.

In the first meeting, the separate vision must be articulated. This is not to say “whatever you want.” This is the time to get it out there, admit that the rocking chair handed down from your grandma makes you want seasick just looking at it and that you have nightmares just thinking about sleeping in a room with rose and blue colored Amish quilts.

Budget is a typically the elephant in the room. Two people can have different ideas about how much it should cost to redo a room because it is a priority to one and not even a blip on the radar for the other. I love to ask a newbie decorating client how much they anticipate a sofa to be. This is a barometer of how observant they are to the cost of goods and services as related to home furnishings. I have had a husband say $300 and I have had a husband say $10,000. Both were extremes.

A good designer can explain the cost factors that make no sense to those outside the interior design inner circle like why a chair can cost as much as a sofa and why a delicate silk can cost 10 times more than a durable textile.

Remember, the next time a fight erupts over the number of pillows on the sofa or the color of the walls, a designer is far more affordable than a divorce attorney.