MCA-Design with Cohabitation in Mind-1

Since it’s nearly Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d take a minute to answer one of the biggest interior design questions that I get on a regular basis: how to design for cohabitation. Whether you’re moving in with a spouse, romantic partner, or just a good friend, creating a space for two can be a challenge. Blending two worlds into one is a labor of love, but it can also be exciting and incredibly rewarding!

Many think that combining two people’s distinct tastes in one home is all about compromise, but it’s really much more about finding balance. Priorities will differ, and so will style and color preferences. Preferred design periods, textures and finishes may be all across the board. Just to add one more layer of confusion, upbringing, life experiences, values, and even cultural influences will all play a role in specific design tastes. The good news is that with a little work, anyone can successfully marry individual tastes and styles together under one roof. That’s because “taste” and “style” are subjective, and not the core ingredients of good design. There’s actually only one universal truth at the core of good design – perfect proportion. But before you can get to deciding on proportion, there are a few more fundamentals to consider.

First, set your priorities. Starting with a clear objective on budget and time, and a general style direction will help guide the design initially. Next, determine what functions you would like each of the rooms in your space to perform, and use the functions to develop a floor plan. Work out function, scale, and proportion in 2D first, so you can iron out any issues on paper.

Next up, it’s time to decide what pre-existing pieces you’ll be keeping, and what new pieces you’ll need. Aesthetically speaking, blending styles, periods, and finishes is definitely a popular trend, so you shouldn’t worry so much about adhering to one specific or canned look. The big issue is achieving a balanced harmony in the room. This is where the 7 Fundamentals from The Art of Space will come into the most use for you. Using the fundamentals, work through the process to curate a composition that results in perfect harmony. I guarantee you’ll love the results.

People think that personal style is the big issue when designing for cohabitating, but the hard part is actually addressing differences in attitude. Some people will be passionate during the process, while others will seem (or at least claim to be) indifferent. That’s why it’s important to get your needs down on paper before taking a step in the physical world – it really helps to go through the 7 Fundamentals as a team to discuss your wants and needs for the space prior to taking drastic action.

Working through the first six fundamentals will be the easiest. If you have two of something and your opinions are divided about which one is the right choice, ask:

  1. Which one fits the best?

  2. Which one sits the best?

  3. Which one looks the best?

  4. Which one works the best?

The seventh fundamental, ornament, is generally the trickiest part, no matter if working alone or with a roommate. That’s because these are the personal favorites that may have more than an aesthetic meaning, and it’s often difficult to make the cut when pieces aren’t fit for a space. If getting to harmony is the goal, then you’ll need to be honest with yourselves. All the choices in the final art and accessories layer will have to have the right scale and proportion, as well as a color that enhances the overall design of the space.

No matter what, respect the tastes of others when creating your dream space. Work together to choreograph success, and you can’t help but fall in love with the finished product.

Mary Cook & Josh Kassing

Written By

Mary Cook & Josh Kassing

Founder and President of Mary Cook Associates (MCA)