It can be disaster when families, furniture collide

BETSY LEHNDORFF
Scripps Howard News Service
Published Thursday, December 28, 2000

It is one of the biggest mysteries in second marriages: how to combine his furniture with hers so that everyone's happy with the union.

The task is not always easy. Often, decors collide because ulterior motives influence interior-design decisions.

He's deeply attached to his contemporary American Indian art collection; she argues it clashes with her expensive Ethan Allen line.

He wants to save money and reuse furniture from his first marriage; she gives him an icy stare and points to the basement.

With previously divorced people getting married in record numbers, the issue is not insignificant. So we asked six interior design experts at the Denver Design Center, in Denver, Colo., to discuss the land mines of different tastes, control issues, decision making and stepchildren when they help clients in second marriages.

Participants included Shelley Black of Fleming-Black Group Inc.; Dennis Leczinski of Leczinski Design Associates; interior designers Maril Wilson, Jaculine Harrier-Coss and Toni Palmer; and Jo Frank, executive director of the Denver Design Center.

ON CLIENTS

Wilson: I walked into one house that was divided in half with carpet and everything. One side was his, one side was hers. Her taste was beyond hideous -- Buddhas and skeletons. Luckily, I didn't take the job.

I can't imagine a home for a relationship where your house had to be divided that much. With a new marriage, no one wants to go through divorce again. I think the eclectic look is a nice solution. As they grow together over the years, I think they're ready for a new look -- about the time the furniture needs replacing.

Palmer: I have a girlfriend who recently told me that she's desperate to get married and she made the statement: "If he doesn't like my furniture, I'm not marrying him."

Wilson: That's an attitude that goes way beyond the furniture.

Frank: You're 75 percent psychologist and 25 percent designer.

Black: I've had couples yelling things that are horrendous. So I've had them come back to the objective -- "How will things fit?" "What is the objective of this room?" And this takes some of the emotion out of it.

Wilson: I had one couple; their tastes were both bad. They were on total ends of the spectrum, especially color triggers. We had to bring new things in that would give them a common ground and color pallette. We then utilized a little bit of this and that from their histories, but it's always a bit eclectic. The men either are 100 percent into it or they don't care. They say, "Do what you want."

Especially with new marriages.

I think they're both a little more willing to bend for a happy life. But when it comes time to write the check . . .

Frank: The person who writes the check has veto power.

Wilson: A Realtor told me if you want to know who's going to make the decisions, put them in your car and see who sits in the front seat with you. There's always one person who makes the final decision.

Black: In my world we call that the silent decision maker.

Leczinski: One of the points I try to stress is that we look at both of their colors. People have cool skins and warm skins. What I try to do is put both of them together. Where most women look great in sherbets and jewel colors, the men seem to still thrive on the basic blue, hunter green, burgundy. Thanks to female designers in the clothing industry, men are starting to get a little more color in their wardrobe.

I also try to concentrate on letting the females rule the roost in the bedroom. It should have a feminine feel to it. The man should feel like he's being invited into a boudoir.

Being able to bring both of them to the same plateau is a gift that a good designer can provide.

ON SPOUSES

Black: In 1985 when I moved in (to her husband's house), the architecture was a Japanese stucco house. And the interior didn't match the exterior at all. The interior was all avocado green and harvest gold.

So it made it fairly straight-forward. It became more of an intellectual design discussion rather than who has what taste and likes what better than the other person. It was a matter of blending decor that would go with the architectural style of the house.

The home has a lot of black accents throughout the house, earth tones, with splashes of reds and greens. It's like an Asian country home now with rich woods and rich colors. We were able to get rid of the 1970s flavor of the house.

Harrier-Coss: I presented my husband, Jerry, with many scenarios. It wasn't what either of us had before. But that was a way to draw him out and draw him into the process.

Palmer: Oh, mine was easy. I said, "Yours goes to the basement and mine stays upstairs." ... More seriously, in our home that we developed together, some of my stuff got sold and some of his stuff got sold. We're doing more Biedermeier as compared to his Stickley furniture and my contemporary. He has a lot of valuable, heavy Stickley. Some of it is in the basement.

Frank: I can just hear it. "Honey, you can use this for your next marriage."

Harrier-Coss: Jerry came with that huge chair and that animal collection. (She shows a picture of her husband's new study.)

Black: Archie Bunker.

Leczinski: Do you call it a Lazy Boy?

Harrier-Coss: I'm just not a collector. These little painted things were in a box for about eight years. I said if we're going to use these, we'll do it this way and I gave him parameters. All I said was, "You build me some boxes. I don't want to see how they hang."

And he did. He has a shop and built them himself. Maple with a clear-coat finish, recessed tops, mitered corners. And the lighting was a part of it.

(Harrier-Coss said she was pleased with the final results.)

I learned to trust Jerry. And we've developed a rapport of working together. He can take my designs and bring them to fruition. Until we both are satisfied, nothing gets built. The chair we got rid of. It was old and not of the style that I like. We got other chairs.

Wilson: I remarried two years ago and my husband's family owns a showroom. He works there. The look is more of a traditional mountain look. And Paul's taste was definitely from the showroom. Mine was definitely not.

But I had it easy, because he respected that I was an interior designer.

It was more important for him to get me than the style of the sofa. He was real comfortable with the look that is me to the core. Now that we're together, we're replacing some of my things with more us. The bed is whole new territory. I strongly believe in every home that the master bedroom is one of the most important rooms, if not the most important room.

Leczinski: There's a different aura in the bedroom. It's the room where you end the day and begin the day. But there are other rooms in the house where the man gets to dominate the taste -- the office, the den, the audio visual room. I tend to negotiate with my clients. I try to give a lot to the woman, because usually their taste is better. The man tends to be more interested in his remote control and the size of the TV screen than in colors throughout the house.

One thing: Never use the bedroom furniture from past marriages.

ON CHILDREN

Leczinski: Most people give the kids a pretty nice room.

Wilson: One couple I worked with, he came in with two kids, she had four. The problem that the adults had was that they had X number of dollars to spend. She felt the budget should be divided -- half for her kids and half for his, instead of the budget being divided by six.

Frank: She's not thinking of the six as a family.

Leczinski: It's hard to practice that portion. You have to do it live.

Usually when they blend their homes together, we count the children and try to make sure that everyone is together, that there's room for everybody. Sometimes we have to negotiate that it fits for the children on odd weekends and for the adults on other weekends. Or we find a nice local hotel.

Frank: If you want the kids to come, you have to create a space for them.

Leczinski: I have a lot of clients who have done a lot of teen-age rooms so they can draw the kids home.

(Contact Betsy Lehndorff of the Denver Rocky Mountain News at http://www.denver-rmn.com.)