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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A Killer Golf Swing Is a Hot Job Skill Now

Companies are eager to hire strong players who use hybrid work schedules to schmooze clients on the course

By CALLUM BORCHERS
Fri, Jun 14, 2024 5 min

Standout golfers who aren’t quite PGA Tour material now have somewhere else to play professionally: Corporate America.

People who can smash 300-yard drives and sink birdie putts are sought-after hires in finance, consulting, sales and other industries, recruiters say. In the hybrid work era, the business golf outing is back in a big way.

Executive recruiter Shawn Cole says he gets so many requests to find ace golfers that he records candidates’ handicaps, an index based on average number of strokes over par, in the information packets he submits to clients. Golf alone can’t get you a plum job, he says—but not playing could cost you one.

“I know a guy that literally flies around the world in a private jet loaded with French wine, and he golfs and lands hundred-million-dollar deals,” Cole says.

Tee times and networking sessions have long gone hand-in-golf-glove. Despite criticism that doing business on the course undermines diversity, equity and inclusion efforts—and the fact that golf clubs haven’t always been open to women and minorities —people who mix golf and work say the outings are one of the last reprieves from 30-minute calendar blocks

Stars like Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie West helped expand participation in the sport. Still, just 22% of golfers are nonwhite and 26% are women, according to the National Golf Foundation.

To lure more people, clubs have relaxed rules against mobile-phone use on the course, embracing white-collar professionals who want to entertain clients on the links without disconnecting from the office. It’s no longer taboo to check email from your cart or take a quick call at the halfway turn.

With so much other business conducted virtually, shaking hands on the green and schmoozing over clubhouse beers is now seen as making an extra effort, not slacking off.

Americans played a record 531 million rounds last year. Weekday play has nearly doubled since 2019, with much of the action during business hours , according to research by Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom .

“It would’ve been scandalous in 2019 to be having multiple meetings a week on the golf course,” Bloom says. “In 2024, if you’re producing results, no one’s going to see anything wrong with it.”

A financial adviser at a major Wall Street bank who competes on the amateur circuit told me he completes 90% of his tasks by 10 a.m. because he manages long-term investment plans that change infrequently. The rest of his workday often involves golfing with clients and prospects. He’s a member of a private club with a multiyear waiting list, and people jump at the chance to join him on a course they normally can’t access.

There is an art to bringing in business this way. He never initiates shoptalk, telling his playing partners the round is about having fun and getting to know each other. They can’t resist asking about investment strategies by the back nine, he says.

Work hard, play hard

Matt Parziale golfed professionally on minor-league tours for several years, but when his dream of making the big time ended, he had to get a regular job. He became a firefighter, like his dad.

A few years later he won one of the biggest amateur tournaments in the country, earning spots in the 2018 Masters and U.S. Open, where he tied for first among non-pros.

The brush with celebrity brought introductions to business types that Parziale, 35 years old, says he wouldn’t have met otherwise. One connection led to a job with a large insurance broker. In 2022 he jumped to Deland, Gibson Insurance Associates in Wellesley, Mass., which recognised his golf game as a tool to help win large accounts.

He rescheduled our interview because he was hosting clients at a private club on Cape Cod, and squeezed me in the next morning, before teeing off with a business group in Newport, R.I.

A short time ago, Parziale couldn’t imagine making a living this way. Now he’s the norm in elite amateur golf circles.

“I look around at the guys at the events I play, and they all have these jobs ,” he says.

His boss, Chief Executive Chip Gibson, says Parziale is good at bringing in business because he puts as much effort into building relationships as honing his game. A golf outing is merely an opportunity to build trust that can eventually lead to a deal, and it’s a misconception that people who golf during work hours don’t work hard, he says.

Barry Allison’s single-digit handicap is an asset in his role as a management consultant at Accenture , where he specialises in travel and hospitality. He splits time between Washington, D.C., and The Villages, Fla., a golf mecca that boasts more than 50 courses.

It can be hard to get to know people in distributed work environments, he says. Go golfing and you’ll learn a lot about someone’s temperament—especially after a bad shot.

“If you see a guy snap a club over his knee, you don’t know what he’s going to snap next,” Allison says.

Special access

On a recent afternoon I was a lunch guest at Brae Burn Country Club, a private enclave outside Boston that was the site of U.S. Golf Association championships won by legends like Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones. I parked in the second lot because the first one was full—on a Wednesday.

My host was Cullen Onstott, managing director of the Onstott Group executive search firm and a former collegiate golfer at Fairfield University. He explained one reason companies prize excellent golfers is they can put well-practiced swings on autopilot and devote most of their attention to chitchat.

It’s hard to talk with potential customers about their needs and interests when you’re hunting for errant shots in the woods. It’s also challenging if you show off.

The first hole at Brae Burn is a 318-yard par 4 that slopes down, enabling big hitters like Onstott to reach the putting green in a single stroke. But to stay close to his playing partners and keep the conversation flowing, he sometimes hits a shorter shot.

Having an “in” at an exclusive club can make you a catch. Bo Burch, an executive recruiter in North Carolina, says clubs in his region tend to attract members according to their business sectors. One might be chock-full of real-estate investors while another has potential buyers of industrial manufacturing equipment.

Burch looks for candidates who are members of clubs that align with his clients’ industries, though he stresses that business acumen comes first when filling positions.

Tami McQueen, a former Division I tennis player and current chief marketing officer at Atlanta investment firm BIP Capital, signed up for private golf lessons this year. She had noticed colleagues were wearing polos with course logos and bringing their clubs to work. She wanted in.

McQueen joined business associates on the golf course for the first time in March at the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. She has lowered her handicap to a respectable 26 and says her new skill lends a professional edge.

“To be able to say, ‘I can play with you and we can have those business meetings on the course’ definitely opens a lot more doors,” she says.

MOST POPULAR
11 ACRES ROAD, KELLYVILLE, NSW

This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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