WELCOME to my Blog, a page which I hope to develop into a pastiche of musings, advice and stories about life as an antiques dealer, a reckless and impulsive remodeler and a cancer survivor. Over the years, I've undertaken many remodeling, craft and decorating projects. I want to share my experiences to ensure that you don't make the same mistakes I've made and perhaps give blog readers some helpful tips to avoid my methods. My motto is "Don't Do It The Way I Do!"

As the owner of Finials Antiques for Home & Garden in Washington, DC, I also hope to help readers see design and decorating possibilities just about everywhere. Finally, as a mother of three children, a cancer survivor and a woman who has years of experience in political issues-advocacy, (I may be deluding myself) but I think I have something to say. I will occasionally post about whatever topics come to mind. Please check back often. I hope you'll be amused by my stories and will follow my blog.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Art of Compromise: How to Get What you Want and Still Keep Your Partner Happy

Years ago, tired of her old kitchen, my Aunt Kay decided to remodel. Although the stove (a fabulous old Garland restaurant range) and refrigerator were keepers, the kitchen lacked the appliances and accessories that my uncle Bob needed for the incredible gourmet feasts he routinely cooked for dozens of friends and it had very little storage space. Since I had designed and supervised construction of my own two kitchens, as well as my mom’s, Kay asked if I would help design the kitchen and act as general contractor. In exchange, she’d give my kids a trip to Disney World.

The design phase actually went pretty smoothly. We agreed on semi-custom beadboard cabinets, with a wonderful custom designed cabinet for my health-conscious uncle’s vitamins and potions. We picked out two deep, side by side full-size stainless sinks, two dishwashers and an extra deep (28 inches), 20-foot-long Corian-veneer counter top. I had a week, working with carpenters, plumbers, painters and electricians, to finish the entire project, but that’s a story for another time. What mattered most in this experience was what I learned about the art of compromise in remodeling relationships.

Bob had a fabulous, sky-lit, pegboard wall in the kitchen. It displayed everything from steam engine parts to giant lobster claws to currency from international travel. To make room for additional storage, Kay decided it should go. Bob, however, loved his wall. And so back and forth we went. Kay on one side, Bob and the other, and me, since I loved them both, desperately trying to find a middle ground. When it came to "the wall" there really was no compromise. It either had to stay or go.

A couple of weeks before we placed the cabinet order, I opened the Washington Post Home section. Then tabloid-sized, the center featured a full two-page photograph of Bob’s wall. The caption read, "the show-stopper of the kitchen is . . ." I didn’t read any further. I called Bob immediately. "How did you do that?!" I asked. "I can’t believe you could go to such lengths to keep that wall." Bob just chuckled; he knew he’d get his way. Turns out it was a coincidence. Bob hadn’t arranged it at all; he’d just gotten lucky. But the world had seen the Post call the wall a "show-stopper" so it had to stay.

Most of us won’t get that lucky in a remodeling or decorating project (and besides, we probably don’t have the connections to go to such lengths anyway). Your spouse or partner either holds firm, is willing to make adjustments, doesn’t care or refuses to argue. You have to fight it out the old fashioned way and perhaps even endure some stony silence. Even so, there are ways that you can get your way or give in graciously and really feel good about it. Kay did and even she developed a new-found admiration for the wall.

Sometimes you have to back down just because you love someone
This holds in all aspects of a relationship, but is particularly true when you’re contemplating living with avocado green walls or 1970s track lighting for the rest of your life. Even people who agree on most things, won’t always agree on furniture, accessories, colors or decor. At the end of our kitchen project, Bob and Kay were bickering over open shelves. Kay wanted a distressed, architectural look; Bob wanted restaurant-style stainless steel. Finally I said, "you know guys, sometimes you have to do something just because you love the other person." Kay jumped at the chance to be understanding, Bob got his shelves and Kay felt wonderful that she could give him that gift.

Find a way to highlight your partner’s personality in a room
I had almost finished redecorating the master bedroom and since the charcoal gray carpet couldn’t be replaced, I decided to go with black and white. Nineteenth century transferware plates adorned the walls; a black and white toile bedspread was in place. My former husband didn’t say anything, but I sensed he was feeling edged out. And so I pulled out a giant, framed, black and white photograph of Jerry Garcia (of Grateful Dead fame) and hung it above his period 1830s Empire dresser (newly painted in ebony satin). He laughed, but didn’t take it down. He appreciated my nod to his taste and it actually looked great.

Sometimes, you just have to find a middle ground
Years ago, I dragged home the most beautiful set of six, old rusty French iron garden chairs. They were perfect for the kitchen, old, distinctive and really shabby. My now ex-husband immediately pointed out how heavy they were; they’d scratch the oak floor, shed rust and flaky paint everywhere, and they were a little too low for the table. None of that mattered to me–they were fabulous!  But after giving it some thought, I decided to give in. Now the chairs sit outside and are charming on the porch. When Aunt Kay wanted to use old worn bricks to cover the entire front yard, Bob protested, "but I love to feel the grass under my feet when I get the paper." So instead of of an all-brick courtyard, Kay designed a round brick patio surrounded by elegant, curved patches of lush green grass that greeted Bob each morning when he retrieved the newspaper.

If all else fails, find some separate space
When partners really can’t settle their decorating or remodeling differences, the solution can be carving out some private space. My friend Debbie’s husband gets the garden–anything he wants there goes. Another friend gave up the best room in the house for her husband’s retreat. Although the kids are consigned to the basement family room as a result, he gets to pick his colors, hang anything on the walls and make everything suit his tastes. Some couples I know divvy up rooms and allow one person to decorate entirely to their own tastes. Other couples work out their decorating differences by allowing each to make all the decisions about furniture, lighting or accessories.

If you share living space, it’s important to be accommodating of each other’s style. At some point, you will probably develop an appreciation of your differences and embrace each other's tastes. The key is to keep talking, figure out what matters most to the other, try hard to be reasonable and show respect for your partner's tastes. Most important,  just like you’ve synthesized your lives, you’re combining your tastes and styles. Grace and a sense of humor will go far and make it easier to compromise, negotiate or even give up.  If you can keep that in mind, even when your partner drags home a psychedelic shag rug, you won’t need a newspaper photograph to get your way.