Back in the early 1990s, I sat front and center for the best fight in suburban South Florida history. There were no ropes and no screaming fans; nor were there disgruntled, black-and-white striped dudes with whistles. Featured opponents? My mom and dad. Location: formal living room, 8300 NW 54th St., my tropical childhood home.
Just to fill you in, my parents rarely fought. Even if they did, it would involve (a) coupon-expiration-date-induced bickering over where to eat dinner (b) Thursday Night Remote Control Tug-of-War (Chicago Hope versus NYPD Blue). When they did unabashedly lose their cool like housemates circa episode six of The Real World, I was unapologetically pleased, because it was mostly decorating-based.
The catalyst for that night’s explosion? Straight from the taxidermist, Dad snuck 12 feet of stuffed elk and sailfish in the front door as Mom pulled up from a PTA meeting, dinner in one hand and a 3-year-old in the other. What followed can best be described as the sound of all hell breaking loose.
For an hour, Thomas Sean and Maureen Elizabeth served up harsh expletives and you-have-no-idea-how-much-it-takes-to-keep-this-house-looking-nice slash I-work-so hard-to-keep-a-roof-over-our-heads antics until Brian Patrick concluded, “She’s right. The proportion, scale and texture of the uber-masculine moose head overpowers the room and fights with the muted, feminine pastels. But she’s wrong about the sailfish; it’s perfect for the blank space above the family room fireplace.” And that’s when I became an interior designer.
Twenty years later, I’m still dealing with man-versus-woman when it comes to shared spaces — and getting paid for it. Sure, it gets easier since I’ve done it 50 times, but when it comes to creating interiors equally as fit for Jack as they are for Jill, there really are no written rules.
Much like the real-life relationships of these spaces’ human owners, gender-blended interiors are all about balance, give-and-take and a willingness to change. Unless one of them is a control freak, unable to change and totally negates what the other wants. Just kidding! And as proof that I’m kidding and experienced with this topic, I present to you photographic evidence. The following spaces (tackled by yours truly) are one part Meg Ryan Marathon and one part Monday Night Football…so strap on the helmets, grab the tissues and have a look-see.
To keep the dining area of an Atlanta condo as welcoming for her as it was for him, I broke up the overall masculine vibe of blue-gray, glossy black and cow print with a red, feminine baroque mirror and wallpaper sporting perched birdies. He’s currently single, but it has nothing to do with my decorating…okay?
When a heartthrob TV weather anchor wanted his fiancée to move in with him, I de-bachelorized the workout area by making it a bit more warm and homey with a framed grade school topography map. I also made it what a girl wants with a Victorian bench upholstered in brown leather, which he loved as much as she did. They are now married, and I take full credit.
For a living room shared by a multi-talented couple (they’re producers, wardrobe stylists, directors and writers), I created a Hollywood glamor vibe with a Victorian sectional, then brought in some grit with black and navy velvet upholstery. They currently have several big projects in production. Coincidence? I think not.
Between its Hollywood Regency-style headboard, lavender linens and dainty chest of drawers, this bedroom could easily have been all about the girl. By introducing a geometric print, painting the walls medium gray and framing a beloved art piece with black lacquer, the room was also about a boy.
I recently completed the renovation of a teacher’s lounge in Rhode Island. To keep the space just as fitting for Mr. Cote as it is for Mrs. Brand, I opted for a gender-neutral color scheme of pale blue, white, charcoal and pencil yellow. Although the dining table and woven pendants have feminine lines, the sleek modern side chairs and graphic print on the upholstered chairs balance with masculinity. Since this project made the New York Times, I’d like to believe Mr. Cote and Mrs. Brand would give me an A.
A husband-and-wife lounge needed to accommodate her girly side and his affinity for dark colors and rich upholstery. By sticking with a gray palette and thick, nubby textures, I allowed small pops of pink and girly art to co-exist without screaming, “I AM A GIRL SPACE, LET’S HAVE A TEA PARTY AND PAINT EACH OTHER’S NAILS”.
This brainstorming space of a hauling company needed to feel personal to its owners, a married couple. Since the overall vibe of the company is uber-masculine, I brought in ladylike, laced-up-the-back leather chairs to mediate between the boyish childhood image on the wall, mid-century table and brown shag rug. A fun, gender-blending tidbit, she drives a full-size truck and sports a pink construction hat to work. True story.
When designing for clients whose previous palette was flirty and floral, I was sure to keep the new bedroom as far from that look as possible. Although the husband did have more say during the decorating process this time, resulting in a palette of charcoal, white and red-orange, the feminine element is still present in the satin coverlet and curves of the accessories. They are currently expecting twins. Just sayin’.