Do You Need An Interior Designer Or A Marriage Counsellor?
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Do You Need An Interior Designer Or A Marriage Counsellor?

Interior designers often employ therapy-like techniques to find stylish compromises for clients with warring aesthetics.

By KATHRYN O’SHEA-EVANS
Tue, Aug 30, 2022 9:41amGrey Clock 4 min

My husband James and I are decorating our new vacation house in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and have taken on so much more than we can chew that we’re choking…mostly because I’ve been a rude co-designer. Years of writing about decorating have turned me into the Joan Rivers of home décor, minus the comedy.

He wants wood, leather and black metal. If I don’t get white upholstery, one too many throw pillows and patterns as dainty as the pinnules on a maidenhair fern, I will perish.

When James texts me an image of a chair or light to consider, it’s often more masculine than I can bear—and I’ll text too brusquely why I hate it. My behaviour is not OK, especially because my spouse is one of the kindest souls on earth.

I’m not the only person whose style clashes with her partner’s as painfully as pink paisley and tartan plaid. “Disagreements between couples on residential projects is the leading reason our studio decided three years ago to pursue more hospitality and commercial projects,” said Dallas, Texas, designer Jean Liu. “Maybe we were unlucky, but we realized how unequipped we are to handle marital strife.”

It wouldn’t hurt an interior designer to bone up on strategies for couples-conflict resolution. In a 2021 survey by Houzz, a website and online community dedicated to home improvement and decorating, 11% of the couples among the 75,470 U.S. respondents declared they found it challenging to work with their spouse on a renovation. In the Houzz U.K. 2022 Renovations and Relationships Survey, 16% of 1,250 respondents said they considered separating during the renovation process.

When it comes to cohabitated spaces, the stakes are high, in part because your home is “an expression of who you are and your personality,” said Boston family therapist Terrence Real, author of “Us: Getting Past You and Me to Build a More Loving Relationship” (Goop Press, 2022).

Los Angeles designer Kevin Klein has found that when working with couples, disagreements are as unavoidable as shipping delays. Consequently, during initial consultations, Mr. Klein asks clients how they’ll handle any impasse that might arise. “They always look at me cross-eyed, like ‘What are you talking about?’ But that moment inevitably comes six months down the line, when we’re doing relationship counselling rather than designing.”

Real-estate developers Ilana and David Duel credit Mr. Klein for steering them through their own renovation harmoniously. “It’s really hard between husband and wife to make decisions,” said Ms. Duel. “You can spend hours and hours on just the tile.” She longed for an all-white house with light wood floors, while Mr. Duel and Mr. Klein sought to maintain the 1930s abode’s Spanish character.

Today, such unlikely roommates as a boxy, white marble coffee table—a nod to her taste—and drippy Murano crystal sconces—a reflection of Mr. Duel’s—are shacked up happily in the couple’s living room. “If you decide to hire a designer, know that they’re much better at designing than you are,” she said.

In case you don’t have the coin to take on a personal interiors pro, video design consultations offered by websites like the Expert, billed by the hour, can yield affordable tiebreaker advice. Decorist’s new service, for example, lets you book a 30-minute Zoom session with a pro for $59.

Whether hiring an expert or going it alone, Mr. Klein recommends you set up “office hours,” as he puts it. “When you come home after a long day, you don’t want to address these design decisions,” he said. “It’s not sexy; it doesn’t feel right.” Dedicating specific chunks of time to the process, periods when you’re both well-rested, is a better way to hear the other person’s side, he says, “than while you’re sitting in bed together watching TV.”

Another sanity-saving strategy: Choose décor that’s easily swappable. When Los Angeles designer Rydhima Brar’s client sought a swashbuckling 1970s-inspired graphic wallpaper, her other half didn’t find it shagadelic. The peace offering? Removable wallpaper they could switch out if he still balked down the line. Ultimately, he was into it.

Pictures, in these situations, are worth a thousand exhausting negotiations. “Most people don’t have the vocabulary to define their style,” said New York City designer Rozit Arditi. Gray Walker, a designer in Charlotte, N.C., often asks client couples to “pin” images of things they like on Pinterest boards, an easy ask, and then seek compromise with the help of those visual aids. “I have found that hearing both parties and giving each person a bit of what they want is the way to go without conflict,” she said.

For the living room of her clients’ 1930s Georgian revival home in Charlotte, Ms. Walker navigated warring aesthetics by acknowledging each—installing a Chinese screen and timeworn Oushak rug for him, an antique obsessive, and a bergère upholstered in faux fur as well as a minimal brick-red-velvet sofa for her, a fan of all things modern.

Seeking middle ground can lead to unexpected dynamism. When he first met his husband, Atlanta designer Vern Yip gravitated toward clean lines and Asian antiques. But his husband “brought a lot of European antiques into the picture that I never wanted and always felt kind of claustrophobic around,” Mr. Yip said. The happy medium they found was far from middle-of-the-road. “He had this dining table that had a ton of carvings. It was really well made but very old European. And we paired it with these Brno chairs—black leather and chrome—and it just sang, you know? They gave each other space.”

Pulling a common nostalgic thread from a pair of clients’ pasts helped PJCArchitecture find a design detente for the couple’s lakeside second home in Indian Lake, N.Y. Rob Maher, a retired Metropolitan Opera chorus member, asked for something resembling a Japanese tea house, while his wife, Deborah Allton-Maher, a retired Metropolitan Opera dancer and attorney, longed for the lusciously loggy cabin in the 1981 film “On Golden Pond.” After learning that the couple had toured Japan several times, the New York City architects found consensus in a shared memory of shou sugi ban (charred wood), a common feature of the country’s temples. The bridging fix: The architects sided a modern Adirondack pitched-roof house with the material. “We loved it,” said Ms. Allton-Maher.

Therapist Mr. Real’s bottom line: “You can bully your way and get what you want in the short run. But you’ll breathe in that solution in the long run, in your partner’s resentment,” he said. “If you frame it as a power struggle in which one of you wins and the other one loses, you both lose.”

I didn’t want my husband and I both to lose, so I (mostly) quit being a tyrant. I relented on two of James’s desires, a pair of leather-and-walnut chairs and channel-tufted leather bar stools. And you know what? They look great next to my white bouclé sofa and the Deco-ish barrel armchairs I chose in a cinnamon velvet—and I think they’re all destined to live happily ever after.

 



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Why Prices of the World’s Most Expensive Handbags Keep Rising

Designers are charging more for their most recognisable bags to maintain the appearance of exclusivity as the industry balloons

By CAROL RYAN
Tue, Mar 5, 2024 3 min

The price of a basic Hermès Birkin handbag has jumped $1,000. This first-world problem for fashionistas is a sign that luxury brands are playing harder to get with their most sought-after products.

Hermès recently raised the cost of a basic Birkin 25-centimeter handbag in its U.S. stores by 10% to $11,400 before sales tax, according to data from luxury handbag forum PurseBop. Rarer Birkins made with exotic skins such as crocodile have jumped more than 20%. The Paris brand says it only increases prices to offset higher manufacturing costs, but this year’s increase is its largest in at least a decade.

The brand may feel under pressure to defend its reputation as the maker of the world’s most expensive handbags. The “Birkin premium”—the price difference between the Hermès bag and its closest competitor , the Chanel Classic Flap in medium—shrank from 70% in 2019 to 2% last year, according to PurseBop founder Monika Arora. Privately owned Chanel has jacked up the price of its most popular handbag by 75% since before the pandemic.

Eye-watering price increases on luxury brands’ benchmark products are a wider trend. Prada ’s Galleria bag will set shoppers back a cool $4,600—85% more than in 2019, according to the Wayback Machine internet archive. Christian Dior ’s Lady Dior bag and the Louis Vuitton Neverfull are both 45% more expensive, PurseBop data show.

With the U.S. consumer-price index up a fifth since 2019, luxury brands do need to offset higher wage and materials costs. But the inflation-beating increases are also a way to manage the challenge presented by their own success: how to maintain an aura of exclusivity at the same time as strong sales.

Luxury brands have grown enormously in recent years, helped by the Covid-19 lockdowns, when consumers had fewer outlets for spending. LVMH ’s fashion and leather goods division alone has almost doubled in size since 2019, with €42.2 billion in sales last year, equivalent to $45.8 billion at current exchange rates. Gucci, Chanel and Hermès all make more than $10 billion in sales a year. One way to avoid overexposure is to sell fewer items at much higher prices.

Many aspirational shoppers can no longer afford the handbags, but luxury brands can’t risk alienating them altogether. This may explain why labels such as Hermès and Prada have launched makeup lines and Gucci’s owner Kering is pushing deeper into eyewear. These cheaper categories can be a kind of consolation prize. They can also be sold in the tens of millions without saturating the market.

“Cosmetics are invisible—unless you catch someone applying lipstick and see the logo, you can’t tell the brand,” says Luca Solca, luxury analyst at Bernstein.

Most of the luxury industry’s growth in 2024 will come from price increases. Sales are expected to rise by 7% this year, according to Bernstein estimates, even as brands only sell 1% to 2% more stuff.

Limiting volume growth this way only works if a brand is so popular that shoppers won’t balk at climbing prices and defect to another label. Some companies may have pushed prices beyond what consumers think they are worth. Sales of Prada’s handbags rose a meagre 1% in its last quarter and the group’s cheaper sister label Miu Miu is growing faster.

Ramping up prices can invite unflattering comparisons. At more than $2,000, Burberry ’s small Lola bag is around 40% more expensive today than it was a few years ago. Luxury shoppers may decide that tried and tested styles such as Louis Vuitton’s Neverfull bag, which is now a little cheaper than the Burberry bag, are a better buy—especially as Louis Vuitton bags hold their value better in the resale market.

Aggressive price increases can also drive shoppers to secondhand websites. If a barely used Prada Galleria bag in excellent condition can be picked up for $1,500 on luxury resale website The Real Real, it is less appealing to pay three times that amount for the bag brand new.

The strategy won’t help everyone, but for the best luxury brands, stretching the price spectrum can keep the risks of growth in check.

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