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Our Décor, Ourselves

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You like clean, modern lines; he prefers ornate, Victorian furniture.

Your ideal home boasts colorful walls and countless tchotchkes; he aims for a monastic décor.

If you're going to loggerheads with your partner over decorating -- let's just say he wants to cluster his New York Yankees paraphernalia in the living room, inches from your Japanese woodblock print -- it could be linked to something in your childhoods. You seek a controlled, calm look because your childhood was chaotic, for example, while he has no such need. So claims Truehome, an online service that purports to help couples decorate their homes in ways that support their emotional needs while minimizing conflict.

Good luck with that, Truehome. If you succeed, may a Nobel Peace prize be bestowed upon you. But my hunch is that the sexes simply aren't willing to minimize conflict and support each other's emotional needs when it comes to clutter control, selecting a paint color or choosing a location to display a vase purchased on a vacation with a former partner. Given the choice, we'd rather level accusations of poor taste, generalized stupidity and being raised in a barn.

Personally, I've moved objectionable objects d'art in the middle of the night.

The template for home décor arguments includes an initial stab at goodwill, a sudden digging in of heels and an explosion, the debris of which may include a past lover's superior taste, the phrase "What do you know about decorating -- you grew up in Hoboken," or the words "I was just being nice." An example:

Wife: What do you think of this one?

Husband: It's fine. It'll do.

Wife: It'll do?

Husband: Honey, I'm kind of hungry and the game starts soon. Can we please do this another time?

Wife: Well, no sweetie. We need a new couch.

Husband: And it has to be the $5,000 leather one because...

Wife: It doesn't have to be anything. It has to be something.

Husband: What the hell is that supposed to mean?

Wife: It means the stupid, blue-plaid couch and the fur-covered piece of junk next to it are embarrassing!

Husband: That's Figaro's favorite chair! It's an antique!

Wife: Oh, I don't think so. Look up the definition of antique.

Husband: I don't need to look it up. I'm looking right at it.

Wife: You're an idiot.

Husband: And you're obsessed with what other people think.

Wife: Well! I hope our furniture is worth a fortune, because you and your dumb dog can have it in the divorce.

To keep the peace, couples resort to standardized tactics, including Containment Policy (you can keep your stuff, but it has to stay within the borders of the spare room), the Slow Release (I'll get him to agree on a new floor, then gradually he'll agree why the curtains, wall color, couch, lighting, and wall hangings have to change) and Simple Avoidance. Apple Computer co-founder Steve Jobs and his wife tried to circumvent furniture wars altogether by not buying any. As a bachelor, Jobs had lived couchless, his home spartanly appointed with only a mattress, some chairs, a table, a few Ansel Adams photographs and a grand piano. Then he got married. In Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, his widow, Laurene Powell, says of their foray into blending tastes, "We spoke about furniture in theory for eight years."

That's one way of handling it, but not an option for those of us who like to lie prone after a workday.

This is not a new argument, but an old one looking for new solutions. Couples have probably squabbled about interior decorating choices since the first cave-husband painted a hunting picture at his own eye level (Too high, thought the cave-wife), while the cave-wife fussed about finding the right pelt to soften the look of the room (Who cares? he wondered). A couple million years later, decorating wars surely are part of our collective unconsciousness, where ancestral memories come to life in dreams in which objects in a house represent something within us. Furniture, dream analysts say, symbolizes our attitudes toward home life; moving it suggests we're trying hard to make someone else happy. Having trouble moving it? We can guess at that.

What I know is this: when I open my eyes, a New York Yankees photo better not be within an acre of my Japanese woodblock. I'll yield on dinner plate selection and book case decor. But honey, if you're reading this, I'll be clear: in this area, I'm perfectly willing to escalate conflict and turn a deaf ear to your emotional needs.

What's that you say? You're willing to house your collection in the office? Sit down and relax while I take off these boxing gloves, cook your favorite meal, then turn down the lights.