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Patti Cowger

It’s not often that couples tell me, “We have the same taste, the same ideas, and the same goals.” So, a few years ago, I created an exercise that helps resolve conflicts before they arise and before choices, assumptions, purchases, and mistakes are ever made. I ask couples to do this exercise individually and independently. It looks like this:

1. Write your reasons for wanting to do your project. Include goals you hope to achieve and improvements you hope they will make. For instance, in the case of a bathroom remodel, your reasons may be that you want to update the space for both aesthetics and future resale value. You hope at the end of the remodel you’ll have a more functioning space, more storage, more natural light, and a space that begins and ends your day in a less hectic and more pleasant way.

2. Note any hesitations and fears you may have. This usually includes costs, inconvenience and disappointment with the result. Or, you may fear that your other half, dare I say, has obstinate and outdated views.

3. Create three columns titled “must have,” “would like to have” and “bonus if the budget allows.” Fill in the columns. For example, you must have an enlarged shower, would like a slab countertop, and if the budget allows, programmable warm floors would be a bonus.

4. Rate each item according to importance from one to three. There’s no right or wrong answer but you’ll see that this is an important piece of the puzzle.

5. Enter a realistic budget. I emphasize “realistic” so that you can get the best result for the amount you are willing to spend. This is especially important if you work with a designer who can then guide you in making the best return-on-investment choices.

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6. List ways to handle your differences once the project is under way. Knowing how you will deal with them before they occur gives you a head start on the solutions.

One strategy could be to agree that one person has the final say on tile, for instance, and the other has the final say on paint color. Another strategy could be to look at your itemized rankings in task 4 to assess its level of importance. The ranking scores come in handy when facing a budget conflict as well. That is, if the cost of enlarging a window blows the budget and was ranked a low 1, then leaving the window as is resolves the problem.

7. Wait a day or two and then compare lists. Make any initial agreeable adjustments and then make a new, combined list.

This exercise can apply to any project from new construction and remodeling to selecting furnishings and defining your interior style. So, sharpen your pencils and start planning to make your design wishes come true.

Patti L. Cowger is an award-winning, credentialed, Napa-based interior designer and owner of PLC Interiors. For more information about her design services, visit her website at call (707) 322-6522; or email