Photographed by Annie Leibovitz, Vogue, October 2013

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Photographed by Annie Leibovitz, Vogue, October 2013

The lease is signed, you’ve handed in the keys to your old pad, and your boxes are packed. But before you can settle into cohabiting bliss, you may still have a few hurdles to overcome. “Decorating is such a stress point for couples,” says New Orleans–based interior designer Sara Ruffin Costello. “When you’re decorating rooms, it’s like working on any job together; you’ve got to come together, and there’s going to be lots of compromises. The quicker you enter the program like that, the less blow-ups there will be.” With that in mind, here are some tips on how to peacefully primp your new space—without meltdowns.

Get on the Same Page Financially
Moving in together can be a serious test for how well couples will work together in the financial realm. To avoid any financial surprises, map out a master budget for decorating your new space—and stick to it. If your dream lounge chair is too pricey, circle back to it a year from now—you can always upgrade staple pieces in the same color palette.

Purge, Purge, Purge
“I would rather have a hole where a table should be than a table I don’t want to look at,” says Costello. “I think the most liberating thing in the world is to have the equivalent of a yard sale, which allows a couple to actually go out and hunt together, rather than be saddled with a lot of things they don’t want.” Take inventory of your items together, making note of special keepsake pieces you’d never want to toss. “There are things you want to keep that are sentimental and have these wonderful narratives associated with them,” says Costello. “Those things make a couple’s apartment.” Not digging the dresser he’s had since childhood? Have a calm conversation about potentially repurposing or sprucing up pieces headed for antique status. Remember: a new coat of paint can go a long way!

Determine Your Mix
With dozens of decorating aesthetics available at our fingertips, it’s no wonder couples often struggle to get on the same style page. “The options are dizzying,” says Costello. “Do I want it to be total French? Should we go Swedish modern? Who you want to be on Tuesday is sometimes not who you want to be on Saturday.” Costello advises couples to pick and choose pieces and styles that bring out their best selves individually—then blend. “As any decorator will tell you, the beauty is in the mix,” she says. “There’s a way to blend two different styles—let’s say, hyper-feminine with the man-cave look. These two can blend together really well, if you pick and choose correctly; it’s a wonderful balance. If there’s too much man cave, it’s out of balance—like the yin and the yang—it’s a wonderful thing when both styles are taken with measured consideration.”

Start With the Sofa
The focal point of almost any entertaining space can also be a serious investment, not to mention a major point of conflict for just-moved-in couples. “In many cases, sofas need to be jettisoned because most people’s starter sofas aren’t that great, and it’s a fun thing to buy together,” says Costello. “It really sets the tone for the rest of the room, so I like to start fresh.” After you’ve established the desired look and feel of your new place, begin shopping for a new sofa—and take your time. If well-maintained, this staple item can last you and your beau over a decade, so it’s important to agree on its shape, size, and overall look before hiring movers.

Stick With “Non-Color” Walls
“Color transcends gender in so many ways because it can cut in either direction, but white is typically a safe bet,” says Costello. “White, cream, ecru—any of that—levels the playing field.” To keep rooms feeling gender-neutral, Costello advises couples to stick with strictly light or dark colors for their walls. “With those non-color colors, you can weave in a palette that is masculine and feminine,” she says. For more zest, be sure to add pops of color in the form of accent pillows, wall art, and decorative items around your space.

Make Your Presence Known—Slowly
Moving into your (already established) lover’s place? Make your presence known, but be sure to wield your sword lightly. “Start with something small, like the bed linens,” says Costello. “This is someone’s home. You don’t want to all of a sudden put your stamp on it and steamroll. That’s a great way to break up immediately.” Rather than zeroing in on what you don’t like about your partner’s space, focus on first adding small items that will bring you both joy. “I think the greatest relationship advice is don’t sweat the small stuff, so I apply it to decorating together as well,” says Costello. Above all else, if you find yourself in a decorating stalemate, sleep on it. Your new roommate will thank you for it.

 

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