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Create a Gender Neutral Shared Space Without Killing One Another

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Do you ever watch episodes of House Hunters and think to yourself, “Oh Lord, how are these two ever going to decide on a place to buy? They’re total opposites.”

Yeah, me too. I sit there staring at my TV feeling all awkward and concerned for these lovely house-hunting couples that I’ve never met. (Totally normal, right?!) And while I realize that some of the drama we see happening is amped up for TV purposes, the reality is that these kinds of disagreements about decorating happen between couples all the time.

So, has this ever happened to you? Have you and your partner gotten into a spat (or 10…but who’s counting?!) over decorating your home and finding a happy medium between your decor styles?

Oh, hey. Over here. [Waves hand furiously in air.]

If you answered “yes” to the questions above and want to hear a few secrets for decorating a shared space without killing one another, then keep reading.

“That’s Not What I Expected The Room To Look Like AT ALL!” (Gulp.)

My hubby and I have been working hard recently on giving our basement a facelift. We hadn’t touched the space since we moved in over two years ago. It’s been a blank slate since we first toured the house, as evidenced by these photos from the MRIS listing:

Naturally, I’ve had the basement makeover planned out in my head for what feels like an eternity, but this room was always low on the priority list. I convinced myself this was okay because we were instead prioritizing projects in the rooms that we used more often.

I have to tell you that I quickly discovered that this rationale simply gave me an excuse to treat the basement like a storage unit. I used to dread going to the basement because for so long it was a mish mash of all the furniture, decor and toys that didn’t have a home. This space has amazing potential — it’s actually huge and is a perfect space for a lounge area/playroom! — but it was so uninviting that I would never want to spend any time down there.

Just before Christmas, we finally bit the bullet and decided to start on the basement’s long-awaited makeover. (I mentioned it here on Instagram — that Land of Nod teepee that “Santa” brought served as some of my design inspiration.)

We painted the walls. We set up a new play area complete with rainbow felt garland, artwork and new shelving. I created a chalkboard wall for the kids. I scouted out some affordable and kid-friendly IKEA finds that could replace the clunky, dark, too-large-for-this-space entertainment center that housed the TV. And I was pumped. Like stayed-up-until-1am-painting pumped.

So once the walls were painted, the furniture was assembled, and the new shelves alongside the TV were styled, I was ready to do a couple cartwheels in our new lounge space. And minutes later, I was completely surprised and bummed out to see this awful look on my husband’s face.

“It’s not what I was expecting,” he said. “And it doesn’t feel like there’s an ounce of manliness in here at all.”

I felt terrible. I had tried so hard to choose what I thought were gender neutral items for the basement. And he had been on board with most of my plans (or so I thought), and had also been such a huge help in Operation Basement Makeover. I quickly realized, though, that because I hadn’t communicated with him all that much about my design ideas, he felt in the dark and now disappointed with the (sort of) finished product.

If we were on an HGTV show, this is where they’d take a commercial break. And the three minutes of suspense of not knowing how we resolved our war over decor would drive you bonkers.

Anyway, the not-so-dramatic ending to this story is that we’re in the process of making some tweaks to our space, which is why I am not sharing a reveal here with you today. I spent some time thinking how we could bring more balance to the basement, making sure the room and its decor reflected both of us.

So if you’d like to avoid this kind of an argument in the future and win major bonus points from your significant other, here are five tips for marrying (Ha! I really make the worst jokes ever.) decor styles so that everyone winds up happy.

And remember, buying some new artwork or a sofa in a neutral tone is waaaaaaay cheaper than couples counseling. Just sayin’.

5 Easy Tips for Decorating a Shared Space Without Killing Each Other or Landing in Couples’ Counseling 

Share a Pinterest board. Pinterest is such a great way to test drive your decor. You can easily create a secret board that only the two of you can access if you don’t want to share your design trials and errors with the world. One of the things I love most about Pinterest is that it’s often easy to identify an item that sticks out and doesn’t work well with the rest of your decor choices when you see imagery of everything together in one spot. It’s also, of course, a great place to get some design inspiration too.

Stick with neutrals for your staple pieces. “Staple pieces” includes walls, sofas, loveseats, chairs, rugs, and any other large items that are a bit of an investment. This is the stuff you can’t easily swap out of your room. Save the bright colors and patterns for artwork, pillows, decorative accents, and more. Or if you both love the exact same color palettes and embrace the same design trends, then hey, go big and bold — and I’ll be over here being all jealous that you and your significant other agree on all topics related to decorating.





Select artwork together. Choosing artwork for your space can actually be a fun task, especially if you sit down and think about shared interests and other kinds of decor and memorabilia that are meaningful to each of you. After my husband and I discussed some artwork options, I had a much better idea of what he was hoping for, and then put together a few design boards to show him examples of what our gallery wall could look like.

Bonus: For more help with creating a gallery wall, check out this post where I shared our family room gallery wall and offered three simple tips for styling your own.




Incorporate natural materials. Embrace materials like leather, wood, metal and cork in a shared space. These can go a long way in bringing some subtle masculinity to your room. A Moroccan leather pouf in a warm cognac-colored leather is always a great choice, and you could bring some other textures into the room with decorative accents like this metal and wooden globe or an armillary sphere.





Make a list of your dislikes in terms of decor. Be clear with one another up front about a handful of decorative elements that you both absolutely can’t stand. Now, I do mean just a handful — you can’t swear off everything your significant other loves in an attempt to have complete control over the space. In our case, my “there is NO way that’s going in our house” item is a sports-related pennant or flag. (I am adamant that I don’t want to feel like I live in a sports bar.) Talk about these dislikes before you start designing your space. This way you can avoid unncessary spats (and being relegated to the couch for an evening) later.

So there you have it — 5 easy ways to decorate a shared space and still like each other when all is said and done. Remember, the underlying theme of all of these tips is — wait for it — communication. Talk over decisions and test drive decor together, and you’ll be on your way to creating a space that you both love in no time.

Do you have any other tips for designing a shared space? Tell me in the comments.



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Ep #062: Designing a Home and Life You Love with Kate Dreyer - She Reaches

Thursday 20th of April 2017

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Monday 23rd of January 2017

Great post! I have gotten myself into trouble a couple times for not considering what would work for both of us!!


Monday 23rd of January 2017

Thank you, Jennifer! So glad I am not the only one who has done this. Ah, well.....we live, we learn, right?!

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