By Design: For Better or Worse (or Moose Head)

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The adage “opposites attract” never rings as true as when I’m on a design job that involves working with a couple.

From my design viewpoint, I can appreciate each person’s design differences. The mix of tastes and preferences adds flair to what could be an otherwise predictable space.

Let’s say one person is drawn to natural textures and rustic themes, while the other prefers dramatic, contemporary style with bold colors. It’s not a design deal-breaker.

It’s possible to blend both sensibilities and still achieve design harmony. In the neutral/bold scenario, just integrate that natural style as the backdrop in furnishings, wall color and window coverings. Next embrace the expression of the bold, contemporary style in the details, such as a large single piece of art, or pillows and accessories.

Sometimes, design opposites make perfect partners. For example, an old-world rustic coffee table can serve as a fetching display for objects with contemporary flair. Likewise, a gleaming contemporary coffee table makes a wonderful setting for a rustic display.

Often, I advise couples to do their homework and identify their design preferences. I might return later to help them arrange furniture, hang art and create displays.

Speaking of displays, one of my favorite, most dramatic personalized design features is to show the couple how to create custom art by enlarging cherished family photos in black and white, and showcasing their heritage on an entire wall.

Photos aren’t the only things that sometimes be better, bigger.

One client showed me a small watercolor painting of a grassy field that her husband painted in high school. It was his one-and-only painting.

In the meantime, we were discussing the need for a large piece of art over their couch. I remembered the tiny painting and suggested they super-enlarge it, then have it matted, framed and hung over the couch.

The client’s husband was pleased that his painting would be honored in such a fashion.

For those who lack photos or art to super-size, paint can come to the rescue via a mural to transform rooms in short order.

Murals work especially well in children’s rooms, where I am occasionally commissioned to paint scenes that highlight their particular interests, from Beatrix Potter-style woodland creatures and Old MacDonald’s farm, to safari animals, koi ponds and fairy tale castles.

With some couples, the resistance to compromise becomes a battle of wills, with a winner and a loser.

In those situations, I suggest couples really examine their resistance to their beloveds’ seemingly irrational design requests.

The item of potential conflict might be a blue-felted billiard table, or a bizarre family heirloom, or a gigantic black beanbag chair, or even a moth-eaten Moose head.

But if that “thing” is something extra meaningful to one’s better-half, I suggest  couples choose their design battles carefully and compromise, for the sake of the relationship.

For better, for worse …

Not only will the couple have gained a comfortable living space, but couples who can compromise and remain friends through the process of designing their home will gain crucial life skills that will enhance and enrich their relationship.

Until death do us part …

Shelly Shively lives in Redding. She is IRDN (Interior -Re-design Network) certified.  Among her specialties are real estate staging, furnishing vacation and new homes, and the art of interior “re-design” – where she transforms and refreshes clients’ living spaces using their existing belongings. Shelly is also a freelance artist, illustrator and muralist.  To inquire about a consultation, she may be reached at  530-276-4656 or

Shelly Shively
Shelly Shively lives in Redding. She is Interior re-design network certified. Among her specialties are real estate staging, furnishing vacation and new homes, and the art of interior re-design where she transforms and refreshes clients living spaces using their existing belongings. Shelly is also a freelance artist, illustrator, muralist, Whiskeytown kayak volunteer and curator at O Street Gallery. To inquire about a consultation, she may be reached at 530-276-4656 or
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5 Responses

  1. Avatar `AJacoby says:

    Sometime I hope you address the problem of having too much of a good thing. When you reach my stage of life, you have accumulated a mountain of “meaningful” accouterments. Things that belonged to your parents and/or grandparents or stuff you’re holding on to for your children or things that have meant something to you over the years. Just being willing to put stuff in a closet becomes a challenge in itself. And if you have a partner, that seems to amplify the problem.

    Thanks for all your insights . . .

  2. Avatar Shelly Shively says:

    AJacoby, you bring up one of the most common dilemmas of design, of too much stuff. I’ve touched on this in an article over a year ago, but will address it again with more depth.
    The core of accumulation seems to lie in the discomfort that comes with “letting go”. All our belongings possess, in varying degrees, emotional attachments. It’s not easy, but can be liberating to be cut loose from that which overwhelms.
    Thanks for your comment…I will definitely write more about this in the next few months.

    • Avatar `AJacoby says:

      But what do you do with the dresser scarf that was tatted by my mother’s Great Aunt and given to her for a wedding present in 1922. Or the clock that my father gave my mother for their 10th anniversary in 1932 or my mother’s pressed glass baby cup . . . . etc., etc. All family mementos but still STUFF? A the king said, “‘Tis a puzzlement!”

  3. Avatar joanne gifford says:

    Love your design viewpoints. I am big on changing things around every few weeks even if its only changing the throw pillows on the couch.


  4. Avatar Sam Allen says:

    Great article. I have “things” that I have had so long I can’t imagine not having them in my life any longer. You know the things, dance cards from high school, troll dolls,pictures of old boyfriends that dumped me for her. These things are packed away in trunks and boxes that are seen about every ten years on a cleaning out the closet day. Crazy huh!