This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart, not only because one of my passions is interior design (Apartment Therapy is my biggest work distraction), but also because it was only three and half years ago that I, too, was faced with the same dilemma of how to make his bachelor pad our apartment. Back in September of 2007, I moved from Chicago into Drew’s apartment in Manhattan — an apartment he had been living in for almost 15 years already.
You can imagine after all that time, Drew was just a wee bit resistant to making big changes overnight. So I didn’t push it. We took things slowly … very slowly. In fact, it was five months before I even moved my things in! See, when I moved to New York, I wasn’t sure I’d be staying with Drew permanently. I thought there was a good chance I would, but I also didn’t want to put that kind of pressure on a relationship that had, until that point, been long distance. So, I put all my things in storage, save for a couple of suitcases and my cats, and told Drew I would stay with him until I found a job and an apartment of my own. It wasn’t long, though — a couple of months, maybe — before we both realized how much we loved living together and how silly it would be for me to move out.
I could have sent for my things then. I could have started redecorating. But I waited. Or, more accurately, I tackled a very little bit at a time, and always in partnership with Drew. Over the course of several months — several long months — Drew went through all his cabinets, drawers and closets and started getting rid of things — 15 years of things! — that he no longer needed or wanted. Together, we made many, many trips to Salvation Army and quite a few sales on Craigslist. When there was finally a little breathing room, I had my things sent from storage in Chicago and we went through round two of unloading stuff we didn’t need. I think it helped a great deal that he saw how willing I was, too, to get rid of stuff so that we could both fit into his/our apartment. It can’t be just one person making sacrifices.
Finally, when we settled on what could stay, we began making some stylistic changes to the place. Remember, at this point, I had been living there for about five months! So, to say I was anxious for the place to better represent my aesthetic would be an understatement. But still, I didn’t rush things. And I didn’t make any big changes without conferring with Drew first. I wouldn’t have dreamed of changing his bedding, for example, without his okay, or taking over his closets or making big purchases without his input. What I did instead, was get Drew interested in changes I was thinking about. I started showing him ideas from Apartment Therapy or pictures from magazines. We went shopping together — a lot — which gave us an opportunity to sort of see how we could mesh our aesthetics.
Another thing I did, which went a long way in forming a kind of creative partnership, was encouraging Drew to frame some of his artwork (he was an art major in college and published a comic strip for several years) and hang it on the wall, and pull some of his grandmother’s cool belongings (she was a world-traveler and interior designer) from a box in the closet and put them on display. Giving space to parts of his history and talents was a great way to get him excited about this home we were creating together — it showed him I really was serious about making it our place and not just taking the space over.
Then — and this is big! — when our apartment started really coming along, I suggested throwing a party. After all, the place looked really different and I thought we should show it off. People who had known Drew the whole 15 years he lived there, couldn’t believe how great the apartment looked (here are some pics at one of our last parties in that apartment). We got so many compliments at that first party that it gave us both a boost and affirmed for us that the changes we’d made were good ones (it also made us love throwing parties…). Drew was so psyched to live in a place that people actually envied, that he gave me “free design reign.” He said he trusted me so completely to make choices that reflected both of us, that he was okay with me doing whatever I wanted from here on out. That was nice of him, but to this day, I still confer with him about big stuff. (Last June, we moved to a new apartment in Brooklyn that we have had lots of fun designing together. You can see pics of our progress here, here and here.)
Anyway, DM, my biggest tip for you is to make designing your home together a fun joint effort. Do not take sole responsibility. Do not move his things without asking him. Or, if you do, be sure you say, “This was just an idea. I wanted to see how it would look like this, but if you don’t like it, we can change it.” Go shopping together. Show him ideas on websites or pictures in magazines. Spend a weekend — or two or three — each going through your belongings and paring down so you have more room and storage space.
What it comes down to in the end is respect. As much as your boyfriend needs to respect your desire to make his home feel like yours now, too, you have to respect that he has history there that can’t — and shouldn’t be — erased. But, most important, that history shouldn’t get in the way of your future together either, or you happiness and comfort in your new home. So be honest with each other. Be honest and patient — very patient — and soon you’ll have a home that reflects who you are as a couple.
*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.