One of the biggest milestones for couples is designing their first home, but it can also be a major relationship pressure point. We partnered with Homepolish—an NYC-based home-design company that provides design services by the hour—to get some of their married clients' takes on how they decorated their first home together…without killing each other.
Shanley and Doug met in December of 2012 while tailgating at a Giants/Packers game in New Jersey—at the time, she was living in NYC and he in Milwaukee. "Doug was a friend of a coworker and he was in town for the weekend to see the game (he's a diehard Packers fan)," she says. "We spoke a little bit at the tailgate but wound up sitting next to each other at the game (I later found out he had tried to orchestrate this a bit), and we really hit it off." After dating long-distance for a year and a half, the couple landed smack-dab in the middle and decided to move together to Chicago. Just over a year later, they were married. Here, we talk to Shanley and Claire Staszak, the Homepolish designer that worked with the couple, about creating a dream home in the Windy City.
How did you pick out this house? Was it a love at first sight situation or did it take some convincing?
Shanley: It was a total joint effort. We had scheduled time with our realtor to go see about 10 places on a Sunday afternoon in April. We saw our place probably halfway through that day, and it was still very much a construction site. There were rickety stairs to climb and our unit (we're on the 3rd floor) was just drywall and the flooring wasn't down yet. It was very raw, but that night when we went home and weighed the pros and cons, we loved that we would get to customize this place. We've lived here since August 2016—it is our first owned home together, but we rented a place together in Chicago the three and a half years prior.
What made you decide to hire a designer? How did Claire help you to bring your vision for your home to life?
Shanley: We knew we had a lot of work ahead of us and we were basically tripling our space, so we also had a lot of purchasing to do. We knew we would need some help with things like paint colors and making the rooms "flow" together. Having lived in NYC most of my life to this point, I never really had much space to decorate and certainly didn't have to worry about multiple rooms working together, so it felt like we could use a professional. We want this to be our longtime home, so we wanted to invest in it and have it feel cohesive.
Claire spent time to understand our style and find unique pieces to fit it (and elevate it!). She was also really great about steering us clear of being too trendy, i.e. Edison bulbs everywhere (although we do have some!) and just flat out telling us when something probably wouldn't work. I also loved working with her because we felt very involved in the process, which was exactly what we wanted. Claire did exactly what we hoped, which was make our home feel like a sanctuary.
Claire: My favorite moments are typically when the client trusts you and then is super pleased with the results! This happened a few times with our design process. I also love when you and your client are on the same page about how awesome a feature will be. Shanley and I were both obsessed with the wallpaper and it turned out so well! I love working with couples because there is something so special about helping people create a home that represents their life and love together.
How did you navigate conversations about design, especially if you didn't necessarily agree? What were the hardest parts about designing a home together? The best parts?
Shanley: It was interesting because we found we did have a pretty similar style. I would say I was more willing to take "risks" on some light fixtures and other pieces and Doug took a little more convincing. I really like that Doug has an opinion on these things and cared about the décor (which I don't think is always the case in couples), so even if we disagreed, it never really got heated. There were definitely times where Doug would defer on things—and I learned that sometimes, if I waited a few days he might come around (or if I told him to find some alternative ideas, that didn't usually happen).
Claire: Shanley and Doug were on the same page with their design aesthetic from the beginning. They had a vision for a modern home, but one that still felt comfortable and lived-in. I think it's important to name the vision for the space at the on-set of the project. It's easy to get distracted, but if you keep coming back to the overall vision it can guide everyone's decision making and help narrow down options. Having a designer is often like having a therapist, mediator and friend wrapped into one. I'm there to be on my client's side and help them make decisions that can feel very overwhelming, especially when making so many at one time with a new build such as this.
Shanley: One of the things that is tough is you have this vision in your mind of what the space will look like—you have your heart set on this one couch—but it's not fully thought out. As the space starts to come together, you realize the couch won't work, and it just takes a little time to readjust your expectations. Once Doug and I recognized this and knew we were in great hands, it made the decisions a lot easier (and faster). Having realistic expectations for your budget and the time it will take to get the project done will help make everything easier as well. We discussed budget at the beginning and then would prioritize where we wanted to splurge throughout the project. The best part: when the wallpaper was all up and done...I texted Claire from our powder room and I said, "I know this is weird but I just cannot stop standing in here! The wallpaper is SO cool."