Once children are grown and out of the nest, couples often find their home needs a midlife makeover.
Martin Elinoff, new national president of the American Society of Interior Designers, and his wife, Dawn, are in the midst of their own solution to this very common decorating problem. With their three children now grown, they are rethinking and replanning their garrison colonial house in Newton Upper Falls, Mass., to make it conform to their present needs and taste.
Right now, redecoration is taking place. The black-and-white color scheme and mirrored walls that seemed so dramatic 20 years ago now look passe. They are being replaced by a ''softer and far more subtle'' color scheme of off-whites and beiges, with a few colorful accents. Durable childproof fabrics are giving over to dressier cotton prints and plains. Vinyl tile flooring, which saved a lot of wear and tear when the children were small, is being replaced by broadloom carpet.
''The range is wonderful when you don't have to think about little fingers and muddy little shoes,'' Mr. Elinoff explains. ''Now we are decorating for ourselves, but making sure to have it welcoming for visits from the children and grandchildren.''
Like most couples, the Elinoffs have found that as their lives have progressed, their tastes have changed.
''Nothing remains static,'' Mr. Elinoff says, ''and the redecoration period is essentially a growing and a weeding-out time. Oh, the possessions we are editing and refining! Our big collection of primitive art from New Guinea is now being narrowed to those choice objects which we can really feature.''
They are adding some new contemporary pieces of furniture to complement some good older pieces they have, including a few treasured antiques. But for now they are keeping the look and the furniture of their Oriental-style dining room, because they both enjoy giving dinner parties.
''Our own blend of carefully selected and melded furnishings are fashionably defined as that style termed 'eclectic,' '' Mr. Elinoff says. ''The new look that is emerging will probably be simpler, but it may also have more overall depth and character.''
The Elinoffs are enjoying another aspect of living with the house to themselves. ''We are giving ourselves the luxury of private spaces to be alone in if we wish, or to follow hobbies in,'' he explains. ''I have taken over one son's former room as my own den-office, where I can bring work home and not have it disturbed - something I never had or did when the children were younger. My wife has taken over another child's bedroom as her sewing and hobby room, which she can leave as cluttered as she likes when she is in the midst of projects.''
Mr. Elinoff says that when other couples with grown families come for decorating help, they usually begin by inviting him over to their homes to ask him what they should keep. He always counters by asking them what they love so much that they have to keep. Whatever those objects are, he will work around them and retain them in the new scheme. He does think an interior designer can be helpful in that crucial editing of possessions that must take place, simply because he or she brings a cool, objective point of view to the collections of a lifetime and can give valuable guidance about what is most worth keeping.
If a couple doesn't know what new decorating direction to take in this midlife decorating job, Mr. Elinoff sits down with each one separately. He shows them piles of photographs of rooms and asks what they would choose if they could have anything they wanted. After hearing mumbles such as ''That's not me . . . I do like that . . . I can't stand that,'' he comes to some general conclusions about what each spouse likes most, then sets out to reconcile the differences.
''I have discovered,'' he says, ''that husbands are far more interested in these second-time-round decorative schemes than they were the first time round, and that husbands are far more willing to try entirely new color ideas. Wives say they are willing to change, but when it comes right down to the line, they tend to stick to those colors that they like most to wear and that they feel most comfortable having around them.''