HIS & HERS. When two households become one, something's got to give. A Kansas City designer gave one couple a fresh start, while preserving each person's prized possessions
Kansas City, Mo. — It is the second marriage for both. Jack Temple, a widower for several years, had a big Kansas City split-level home full of things he and his late wife had selected and loved. He liked strong colors like black and red, and big, hearty furniture.
Merla, his second wife, expressed a taste in her home for the light scaled, graceful, and feminine. After her divorce, she had resumed a career and settled herself into a small condominium. Both loved the furnishings they owned, but as they approached their wedding date, they realized that they must somehow combine two households into one . . . in this case his home, the larger of the two, in which he had lived for 17 years.
Like so many other remarrying couples, and the ever-increasing numbers of singles who marry late, the Temples felt overwhelmed at the prospect of commingling their overabundance of things. What must go and what could stay? They didn't want to settle for a hodgepodge or a bad try at mixing and matching.
Mr. Temple says he ``initially viewed the operation from the standpoint of what I might lose or have to give up.'' But his views have changed radically.
``This is the mess that's left after you finish combining households and decorating a house,'' he says, as he stands in his new basement, ``gorged with edited-out leftovers.''
Far from clinging to his once-prized possessions, he describes himself as ``eager to get rid of the stuff. Our second garage sale is coming up. Now I much prefer the uncluttered order we've seen emerge around here.''
That's a far cry from his feelings early in the process, when Merla sought help from Diane Vogel, whom she had used in decorating her condominium and thought of as the obvious candidate to assist in blending their joint households.
Jack had never been exposed to the services of an interior designer, and immediately became somewhat suspicious. Would she throw out all his favorite pieces? Would she involve them in a lot of extra costs? Would she be willing to work with the things they already had?
Mrs. Vogel, a member of the Society of Interior Designers, who owns In Touch Interior Design in Overland Park, Kan., says his questions were the common ones asked by doubting spouses. Her answer was a ``Second Marrieds Package,'' specially designed to help a couple amicably integrate the furnishings of two households.
For a onetime price of $250, she would visit both homes, list and measure each individual's furnishings, and also measure the rooms of the place they were to share. She would help them ``edit'' their belongings and make recommendations for their melding. She would offer a suggested floor plan and color scheme, and as the project progressed she would take care of those important finishing touches -- placing the lamps, pictures, and accessories.
If any purchases were made through her, she explained, the package design fee would be accordingly reduced or refunded. Mr. Temple liked knowing exactly where he stood on the cost, and said he only wanted them to bite off what they could pay for without going into debt.
Interior designers over the years have devised plans for offering design services at prices that people can understand and afford. Many interior designers, as part of their charging structure, now consult on an hourly fee basis, which puts their professional advice in reach of a much larger number of people.
Janet Schirn of Chicago, president of the American Society of Interior Designers, says 32 percent of respondents in a recent ASID survey indicated they charged from $25 to $49 an hour consulting fee, another 30 percent said they charged from $50 to $75 an hour, and 12 percent charged from $75 to $99. But 2 percent said they charged under $25. For people who need help with color, rearrangement, room plans, or advice on purchases, the fee plan or package-decorating plan, such as Vogel's, can be money well spent. It can serve as a longtime guide.
Mr. Temple had not updated the d'ecor of his house since he and his first wife had chosen the chunky, Mediterrean-style furnishings that were in style 15 years ago.
At first, he said he did not want to be involved in the new scheme, and would defer to his wife, who declared that involved he must be -- in every choice and decision; and he found that he loved the excitement of participating in the transformation project. He liked being consulted and having input.
When it came to the essential winnowing down of possessions, Vogel says she moved slowly, making sure she understood the Temples' true feelings, particularly his true feelings, since he had by far the most things and was the most wary about being deprived of something he cherished.
``As we looked at things one by one, I would ask if they had an attachment to it,'' says the designer. ``Those items that were not particularly meaningful to them, we put into the could-be-eliminated category. If they weren't sure, we put them away for three months and then looked at them again. I asked on the second go-round if they had really missed the objects and whether they could now part with a few more. They could, and we finally had enough rejects to stage our first big tag sale.''
They kept refining the deletion process, with Mrs. Vogel urging them to consider objectively whether or not there was a potential for using what they wanted to keep.
``As it worked out, we were able to use the basic pieces that each loved most and combine them together. That included her grandmother's 125-year-old Hoosier cabinet, her spinning wheel from Great Aunt Rose, her 150-year-old walnut gateleg dining table and four matching chairs, and the Victorian bedroom furniture that had been in her rural Kansas family for generations. It also included his favorite pair of lounge chairs and choicest pieces of furniture.''
The freshening up of basic backgrounds, all of which looked tired after 15 years, included the painting or papering of walls throughout the house, new window treatments and carpeting, and dark wood kitchen cabinets refinished to resemble a light fruitwood.
Generally their ideas about color were the same, a neutral warm white for most walls, combined with soft colors and sometimes with patterned wallpaper. Mr. Temple was a plain-painted-wall man and had to be sold on the charms of wallpaper.
Both said they want a quiet, serene atmosphere in which to live and entertain, and both said they wanted to live all over the house.
The lower-level family room is now being made over into a Florida room, replete with new off-white rattan furniture, gray chintz cushion covers, and patterned vertical blinds at the window-doors that open out to the patio.
Merla Temple sizes up the result of all their efforts this way:
``Jack had his house, and I had mine. But now we feel that what has evolved is truly our house, and that it is not closely identified with either former spouse. It is identified with us -- with Jack and me -- as the family unit.''