Breakups stink — especially when you live together. The process can be messy and get very expensive. And whether one person stays in the house or both parties move out and start over, it’s a seismic life change.
Picking out fresh bedding might seem like peanuts compared with all the other issues, but it’s one small, manageable change that can help freshen up a home after a split. (And maybe excise some bad juju.)
“It is really interesting how home is a part of the divorce story, and figuring out what it means anymore after everything falls apart,” says Rebecca West, CEO of Seattle-based Seriously Happy Homes and author of “Happy Starts at Home.”
West understands that divorce story as well as anyone. She founded her interior design company in 2007 in the wake of her own split, and has helped many newly single people figure out their spaces. Here are her tips for designing a home after a breakup.
Rearrange your space
Changing your environment can have a very powerful effect on your mental state, West says. Start with something small. Declutter. Let go of relics of your relationship. Give things away on Buy Nothing. Sell your couch on Craigslist.
Bring in one new thing, or let go of one thing. Focus on one room, or one wall, or one drawer. You’re reinventing yourself; don’t put any pressure on yourself about the timeline.
If new (or new-to-you) furniture isn’t in the budget, rearrange the stuff you already have. Move your bed to another room.
West had married young and bought a house in Greenwood. When she and her husband broke up, he moved out, but he didn’t take the memories with him. There was the bed they’d shared, the paint colors they’d picked together, the sofa inherited from their friend’s parents.
“What went from being our happy home suddenly became so claustrophobic,” West says. “I felt like when I was walking past the sofa, it was like the sofa was saying, ‘You make bad life decisions.’ It was such a weight on me.”
She sold almost all of her furniture on Craigslist, and bought a $20 used, turquoise, velvet sofa with cigarette burns. She recast her home as a feminine cocoon in pale purple and sea-glass-green, complete with a twin bed for one.
Experiment with paint
Play with things that are temporary, like paint, West says. Are you a purple person? This is when you can find out. “It’s such a safe way to experiment with who you’re going to become,” West says. “It might hurt your eyeballs, but there’s no real damage you can do.”
Shortly after West’s divorce, she took a gallon of paint out of the garage and painted her vaulted ceilings a navy blue so dark it was almost black. Then she added lime green and teal to the walls. “It was horrible,” West says, laughing. “The design decisions I made, it turned into what I like to call ‘the angry phase.’ ”
Single mom Marita White also turned to paint to transform her house after her divorce. Her 4-year-old daughter dubbed their Bothell home “Rainbow House,” and White embraced her daughter’s vision. What the barely 1,000-square-foot cottage lacks in size, it makes up for in personality.
One room was already painted pale pink when White bought the cottage, so she painted it a darker hue of pink. Then the cabinets were too white. Then a wall needed wallpaper. One thing led to another, and now every room, every surface is covered with vibrant colors and joyful patterns. Hot pink! Bright yellow! Polka dots!
“I love the idea of Rainbow House,” White says. “Just happy, happy, happy.”
The house White had shared with her ex-husband was the antithesis of Rainbow House. White had spent five years designing every detail of that custom-built lakefront home with an austere Scandinavian modern aesthetic. White walls, natural wood, everything as clean and sleek and minimal as possible.
After her divorce, White didn’t just tweak her design style, she did a complete 180. Maximalism for the win.
“When my whole life literally imploded, it was really freeing to be able to rethink it all,” White says. “I think I rebelled and grew into my own person afterward.”
Hold off on a major remodel
West’s No. 1 post-divorce home advice: “The worst thing to do would be to do a remodel during your angry phase.”
Jody Megrditchian, of Lake Stevens, heeded that advice. After her divorce two years ago, she rented for a year. Since buying a rambler last year, though, she’s tackled a mountain of projects, infusing her new home with a quirky personality — a change from the beige and gray home she had before.
“In an unhealthy relationship, you can compromise and lose who you are and go with the flow,” Megrditchian says. “But now having the creativity to look through 500 shower curtains, it’s nice to be able to do that and dig deeper into my style.”
The project she’s most proud of is the full bathroom remodel. Originally featuring a single stall shower with a strangely oversized closet, Megrditchian had the walls ripped out to make space for a full bathtub. Her style is light and bright, eclectic, colorful, bohemian. Plants everywhere. She picked out a bright-pink shower curtain and vine wallpaper and added funky design elements.
“It’s been really fun to just do whatever I want,” she says.
Allow yourself to feel hope
There’s always something you can do to make your space yours (and yours alone). “Even if you’re renting, even if you’re broke, you have more control than you think,” West says. “This is the moment you’re about to become a new version of yourself.”
At this point, White has 150 gallons of paint stashed away from various projects and murals. She recently started a business, Inner Child Interiors, painting custom murals for kids. Painting is therapeutic to her, and she wants kids to feel that joy too.
West was the type of person who decorated her dorm room with carpeting and curtains, but interior design? “I never took it seriously as a career,” she says, “because it was like, throw pillows for rich people.”
She earned degrees in geology and community planning, did a stint in the Peace Corps and worked as a ballroom dance instructor. After her divorce, she found herself without a job and without a marriage, so it seemed as good a time as any to start a company.
“It is very much a phoenix moment. It burns you completely to a crisp, but you can emerge from it stronger and more beautiful than you could have ever imagined,” says West, who has since remarried. “I wouldn’t be who I am and have the career I have without the divorce.”