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Decorating Duel: Linda and Bill Curtis of Monrovia

A House Divided: Hey, It Works for Them

They split their style differences by divvying up the house. But in their central atrium, could they find common ground?


"Lace meets burlap." That's how Linda Curtis sums up the differences between her ideas about home decorating and those of her husband of nine years, Bill.

When the couple moved into their Monrovia home three years ago, they came up with a numbers system--decor a la divisible--to accommodate their clashing styles--she frilly, he unfussy.

Linda, an information specialist with the U.S. Geological Survey team at Caltech, wanted a feminine look in their 2,000-square-foot house. Bill, an electronic technician at the Pasadena facility, preferred a more austere look.

"We knew from prior experience that our styles clashed from having lived in a condo when we first got married. The condominium was already decorated because it was Bill's place to begin with," Linda said. "Bill's style is Southwest, mine is more like country French and a little antiquey."

They did manage to agree on small things like the doormat that greets visitors at the front door with the warning, "A spoiled rotten dachshund lives here."

The decorating duel's solution was to divvy up their one-story, three bedroom house, built in 1997, into eight areas. Linda, 47, and Bill, 48, each could do what they liked with their designated areas.

But could they or would they compromise on a ninth area--the atrium in their U-shaped house? It is the focal point, especially for the kitchen, a bedroom and backyard, and could not be easily divided.

Linda's turf includes the living room, master bedroom and bath, and kitchen with a dining area and family nook. Clearly the master bedroom reflects her love for patchwork quilts. She chose lime-green colored sheers by Martha Stewart for the French doors and windows in the master bedroom. She suggested Bill would have put up blackout curtains. The master bath has a floral motif.

Bill's terrain covered the second bedroom, a second bathroom, double-car garage and the great outdoors--the frontyard and backyard where there is a gray work shed with impatiens in the front and Bill's tools inside.

Brown carpeting covers not just the floor of the second bedroom but the walls and a window as well. Linda said that even though she would not have carpeted the walls, she understands that acoustically it was a practical move given the stereo and other electronic equipment kept in the room.

The room is his getaway spot, "the inner sanctum," so the door is kept locked. That also keeps out their dachshund, Buster, who likes to chew on wires.

Bill's bathroom reflects his austere decorating preferences: no flowers, but brown towels and a dark blue throw rug.

The third bedroom belongs to Linda's 18-year-old son Josh and is off-limits to them.

Sometimes crossing the demarcation lines is irresistible. Even though the outdoors is Bill's domain, Linda did plant some flowers in the frontyard.

"Fair is fair," she said in defense of the daffodils, poppies and pansies. "He picked out and installed a huge vent in the kitchen. We make trades."

Linda, who likes tchotchkes, placed cookie jars and birdhouses upon high shelves in the kitchen. Her collection of full-size bird-houses includes a church with a steeple, a strawberry-shaped one and another that is a three-tiered bird condo.

One day when she came home, Linda discovered that Bill had relocated all of the birdhouses outdoors, "including one that cost $50," Linda recalled. "I was very distressed."

Bill, a private man of few words, hung the birdhouses on the apricot tree in the backyard.

"That's where they belong," he said. "I like to stir things up sometimes."

Slowly, Linda is bringing the decorations--birdhouse by birdhouse--back to the their rightful place--or at least her idea of their proper place.

Despite these occasional transgressions, their system seems to work pretty well.

Decorating the atrium was another matter, however.

Linda and Bill each had different ideas about what they wanted in this area. The atrium is a focal point, both from within and outside the house.

The couple did agree on one thing about the atrium: It needed a fountain.

But Linda wanted it to be a brick color. Bill wanted gray.

"We looked everywhere, at least 10 different places for about four to five months," Linda said. "Bill wanted one that had four lion's heads going in every direction with water coming out of each lion's mouth."

Her choice was a curvy, three-tiered fountain called "Romantica" in terra cotta to match the stonework in the backyard. They eventually shelved the fountain project because they couldn't come to a mutual decision.

Then in mid-February, Linda came home after work one day to find that Bill had installed a fountain in the atrium.

Was she about to face the lions?

She was thrilled to see the "Romantica" model--although it was gray, not terra cotta.

"It was the nicest Valentine's day ever," Linda said.

So now, the decorating decision comes down to the garden in the atrium.

Bill has planted a few palms. He wants to add moss.

She wants flowers.

Maybe they'll do with a little of each.


Candace Wedlan can be reached at

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