Where the Heart Is

Where the Heart Is

Featuring one of the nastiest divorces in cinematic history, the 1989 film “The War of the Roses” ironically can teach newlyweds a thing or two about setting up digs for the first time and building a happy home. Mr. and Mrs. Rose met at an auction where they both bid on the same antique carving, which went to Mrs. Rose for far less than its true value. With a knack for sniffing out deals, the couple later scored an incomplete set of Baccarat crystal stemware, five years into their marriage.

But they also made do with a tinfoil Christmas tree topper and skimped in other ways until they had enough money to buy their dream home. Even then, it took Mrs. Rose “a hundred Sundays” just to find the right figures for the mantel.

The point is that transforming a living space into a home takes time, patience, a good eye, smart decision-making and serendipity. It can be accomplished or at least started without much money. Most young couples can’t afford the best of everything right from the start. But, like the Roses, they can likely afford the occasional splurge even as they’re still acquiring basics.

What are the basics that every household should have? And how does a couple create a living space that reflects their own tastes and is inviting to others?

The wedding registry is a logical starting point, provided the couple “owns it,” says Clare Nolan, author of “Making a House Your Home: The Essential Guide to Modern Day Homemaking” (Kyle Books, 2011). “Don’t feel that you have to put things on your registry because it’s the ‘done thing’ or you’re trying to impress your mother-in-law. There’s really no point in having crystal glasses, silver and porcelain tableware if you’re not into fine dining.”

Couples can’t count on shower and wedding gifts to outfit their entire home, or even supply the basics. It’s tempting to fill in all the blanks as quickly as possible; however, rushing leads to regrets. “It’s perfectly possible to head to one shop and fill your home in a weekend with brand new items, but that would mean your home would look like any other house in your town,” says Nolan, adding that “shopping is a chance to personalize your home, surround yourself with items that tell a story and show your personality.”

Before they even start, couples should clip pictures from magazines and catalogs, build Pinterest boards, and seek inspiration from all manner of sources to determine their style. Then, they should think outside the big box store and hunt for treasures from flea markets and their travels. “That special piece you found and purchased together will be the start of building your new look as a couple,” says Faith Phillips, design and trends expert for La-Z-Boy.

Of course, before hauling back folk art or relics from overseas, a couple needs basics — stuff to cook and clean with, eat with, and lounge on. Mismatched dinnerware is no big deal and can, in fact, look deliberately curated, says Mark Cutler, chief designer for the community-curated décor site nousDECOR and principal of Mark Cutler Design, based in Los Angeles. He does suggest splurging on cookware, however: “A good set of pots and pans will help make your attempts at cooking all the better, and if selected correctly will last a lifetime.”

A quality set of knives will do the same provided they are “looked after and sharpened,” he adds.

In addition, there are some purchases that save a home from looking “like a college dorm,” Cutler says, including a headboard for the bed and a dining table and chairs. (“The days of sitting with food on your lap are over,” he says.)

As far as splurges, “Invest in the everyday basics first — things that will bring you joy every single day, such as a good quality mattress,” Nolan says.

Cutler adds towels and bedding to the list of everyday luxuries that couples shouldn’t skimp on.

Beyond a couple’s “must list” of basics, Nolan recommends compiling a “lust list” of things to save up for.

“Follow your heart all the way. This is your home,” she says. “You should have an emotional response to it and everything that goes in it.”

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