Sharing Space: How to Merge Your Styles


Combining personal items like books and music can be a challenge for couple

Anne and RJ have bought a house and had a baby together. They share a bed, a bathroom, even a toothbrush when necessary. And yet, until a few months ago, their 200-plus CDs had remained strictly separate—his Bruce Springsteen on one shelf, her Brad Paisley on another. Marrying each other, it turns out, didn't automatically mean marrying their stuff.

Almost every couple we've talked to can relate. They may have cosigned a mortgage or even combined their DNA—but consolidate their books or music or art or furniture? That's a big commitment!

But it's one worth making. A joint MasterCard account may signal to the world—or at least your creditors—that your finances are intertwined. But your books mingling on the shelf (or your Saarinen side table snuggled up to his Chippendale sofa) are an everyday reminder that you've meshed as a couple.

Navigating the mine-field

What's so difficult about turning his and hers into ours? For some couples, the issue was that the possessions in question were deeply personal. Stuart, a friend who's a former book editor, has an emotional attachment to his library—so much so that even an emotional attachment to his wife, Patti, couldn't persuade him to integrate their books for the first three years they lived together. "Books were my thing," Stuart says. "Before we were together, I moved six or seven times in a four-year period, and my books were a part of me that stayed with me as I moved." Combining Patti's books with his would have been like pasting her baby pictures into his family album. Instead, she moved in her own bookcase intact.

Stuart and Patti did eventually marry their libraries. But wisely, Patti didn't force the issue.When one partner has qualms about a wholesale blending of belongings, a smaller, symbolic merger can be a way to signal togetherness without trampling anyone's feelings. On a certain shelf in their dining room, Patti and Stuart keep a group of volumes they consider special to them as a couple—mutual favorites, books they first read when they were dating, gifts to each other, or that they received jointly, beloved titles from childhood. It's a collection that symbolizes their relationship as much as their reading taste—and as a meaningful gesture, it far surpasses simple co-shelving.

The taste test

Sometimes, what makes a merger bumpy isn't so much a question of emotions as a clash of aesthetics—particularly when it comes to collections of art or furniture. (Though we did hear from one husband who was reluctant to house his wife's wellthumbed paperbacks among his pristine hardcovers.)

For Wendy and Jim, it was the art. After moving into a three-story house in New Jersey, they finally had plenty of wall space. But Jim's maps of Ireland and depictions of famous military invasions didn't live comfortably beside Wendy's arty black-and-white photographs and oil portraits she had painted herself. "They looked disastrous hung in the same room," Wendy says. "Much less on the same wall."

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