Living with Others, Part 1

by Sofia Tuovinen

Living with Others | Design*Sponge
I recently counted that I’ve shared a home with 20 people in total over the course of my life, excluding my parents who put up with me before I moved away for college. The number consists of several roommates with a few boyfriends thrown into the mix. That’s 20 people whose lives have been intertwined with mine in various capacities, for various amounts of time. Either way, we’ve all shared moments and glimpses in time — some people are distant memories, while others will forever hold a place in my heart.

During the time of me working on this story, my situation in life has changed from living with someone to finding myself on my own and adjusting. Instead of sharing my own experience of living with someone at this particular time, I’ll say this: living with others, not necessarily living in one shared space, but sharing your life with the people you love — family, friends, roommates, boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, partners and anything in between — is something we should all remember to embrace.

I had the privilege of asking some wonderful couples, families, and roommates to share with us their ways of living together, how they make it work, and of course — how they decorate! Thanks to Jonathan and Blake, Dominique and her family, as well as Susanna and Annika for sharing your stories with us in Living with Others, Part 1! Stay tuned for the second part of this series next month. —Sofia



Jonathan & Blake 

Artist Jonathan Kent Adams and barista Blake Summers live together in Water Vally, MS.

“We have lived together for almost five years. We started out in a cabin with a leaky roof, and we have now upgraded to some taller ceilings that do not leak. We live in a two-bedroom apartment in one of the old buildings on the Main Street of the small town. We both grew up in small towns and did not see LGBTQ people in our communities. We wanted to make a difference and try to be visible in a place where LGBTQ people are afraid to be themselves.”

Living with Others | Design*Sponge
Image above: Blake and Jonathan at home in Water Valley, MS. Photo by Erin Austen Abbott

D*S: What has been the biggest learning experience since moving in together?

Jonathan: I have learned that I am not always right. I have always enjoyed transforming spaces. I remember being a little boy and decorating my plastic house outdoors with flowers and pictures I drew. Something about decorating with objects that you love makes the space sacred to me. When we moved in together, I was confronted with Blake’s stuff that he loved. He would place things in certain ways, and I would quickly rearrange them. Somewhere along the way, I realized that he was right sometimes. Now, we decorate together until we are both happy or settle on a compromise.

Blake: I am entirely independent and often very selfish with how I spend my time, but living with him has taught me the value of losing my solitude. I find myself appreciating subtle projects he works on. He likes to garden, and I find three-inch vases with his grown flowers in them sometimes. I can’t help but smile.

I have learned that I am not always right.
– Jonathan

How has your relationship changed since moving in together?

Jonathan: It is stronger. I love seeing the way we adjust to each other over time. I am usually the one doing most of the cleaning and cooking, but Blake steps in and does that when I have art shows. He cleans and does stuff the rest of the time, too, but he really steps up when I have a show coming up.

What’s the best part about living together?

Blake: Living together is a healthy exercise for any partnership. We enjoy our time experimenting, rearranging, and imagining how we can transform a space into an environment we love living in. Energy is important. We both are very receptive to each other’s moods and play to the needs of the other.

Jonathan: We laugh a lot, and we are very intentional about making time for one another. We sit down and have tea, coffee, or [a] meal and discuss our lives. I think when you live with someone you forget to ask questions because you are around them a lot. It’s important to remember that the person that you are living with is still growing into who they are — so we try not to assume we have each other figured out.

How have you adjusted your home to meet both of your practical needs and personal styles?

Blake: My old style was too rich and heavy. Nate has a playful and buoyant charm, and suddenly we created a confusing collaboration that was well balanced. We both love nature so we spend time cleaning fish tanks and rotating houseplants, but it is well worth the effort. I am more practical-minded. I don’t hide yoga mats, soccer balls, or remotes. I use these objects often, and I don’t like having to fetch them from obscure places. I want to live in a house and not around a house.

Jonathan: I always have this dream of everything being white, especially in our bedroom. However, Blake always brings me back to reality. He reminds me that I get oil paint on everything. Nothing in our place is safe from oil paint. So — I have adjusted my dream, and we have lighter blue and cream bedding. There is already paint on the sheets.

Living with him has taught me the value of losing my solitude.
– Blake

Has living together changed the way you decorate?

Jonathan: Yes. We both have different styles. Blake prefers rich and earth tone colors, and I prefer muted grays and bright pops of colors. We both have objects and art that we have collected over time, so we each want certain things to be seen. Whenever we decorate, it is always a process of each of us critiquing each other and forming a compromise. I think it makes our home unique.

Blake: I would never have rugs slanted in diagonals before, but it adds movement to the room. It can give your eye direction. I also stack pillows differently now.

It’s important to remember that the person that you are living with is still growing into who they are — so we try not to assume we have each other figured out.
– Jonathan

What would be your advice to couples moving in together?

Jonathan: You must learn to communicate with one another. Do not assume that you fully know the person you are living with. You may get annoyed with small details about ways your partner does certain things, but always remember that no matter who you live with that will happen. Everyone is raised different and established patterns that you have to adjust to or discuss. Save a little money here and there and collect art that you both enjoy. Respect each other’s space.

Blake: Respect and mindfulness go a long way, and you can’t expect a person to read minds. Voice concerns and find solutions as a team.



Dominique, Syeed & family 

Entrepreneurs Dominique and Syeed Harris and their four children live together in Chattanooga, TN

“Two groovy souls from the late 70s, homeschool parents to four kiddos for the past seven years, business owners who are enjoying our busy, quirky and lively lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee.”

Living with Others | Design*Sponge
Image above: Syeed and Dominique with their four children.
A Bohemian Family Home Focused on Holistic Living

D*S: What do you appreciate most about your home and lifestyle as a family?

Dominique: There’s so much to appreciate, but what I do appreciate most is the comfort, consistency and the ability to work and live at our own pace. We love having the ability to control our days and if need be, do absolutely nothing all day. Being business owners and parents who homeschool, we have the freedom to wear PJs all day some days, take a day trip, weekend trip or week trip at the spur of the moment. We can allow the kids to enjoy a midday movie on the projector in our downstairs media room while we enjoy an hour of alone time or self-care time. There is just so much to appreciate and be grateful for.

The best part about living together is honestly experiencing and seeing the growth and maturity that we experience as individuals, as husband and wife and definitely as parents.
– Dominique

What is the best part about living together as a family?

The best part about living together is honestly experiencing and seeing the growth and maturity that we experience as individuals, as husband and wife and definitely as parents. I have learned so much about myself being a wife and mother and we learn so much about ourselves being parents. We learn so much from our children. It’s a huge level of accountability as kids learn by what they see, so they are our biggest accountability partners and that’s an honorable responsibility, but also a very serious responsibility. We love eating family dinner together and chatting about the ins and outs of our day. Most people assume that because we operate our business in our home as well as homeschool our kids who are with us throughout the day we would grow tired of seeing each other — that’s not the case at all because the atmosphere at dinner is way more relaxed. And, when we need moments of “self-time” or “mommy/daddy time” we give the kids the freedom to enjoy their gadgets or watch a movie and we also tell them, “hey, guys, we need a moment so if you guys can enjoy a movie or enjoy some art time, we’d love it.” We find that speaking very straight to them works and they respect our time just as we respect theirs. It’s all about living in harmony, because, you know, there are six of us in this home.

Are there any changes that you have made to your home to make it work for your family’s daily needs?

Yes! For two years, we opened a boutique in an office complex, however, once we purchased our home, we converted one of the bedrooms into our studio where we handcraft products and do all of our business related duties. This is great because, one, I didn’t really favor having a lifestyle where I would be locked down at a retail store for 8 hours and, two, since moving the studio into our home, it opens up more time with the kids and more time to truly focus on their homeschool activities as well as allowing them to build their knowledge of operating a business.

We are huge supporters of speaking clearly and honestly with our children.
– Dominique

What’s your best advice to parents who are preparing their home for a child, or parents with children in general?

Dominique: We are huge supporters of speaking clearly and honestly with our children. We allow them to express themselves, but always in a respectful manner. We understand kids are going to have lots of questions — lots and lots and lots of them, so we encourage them and answer them to the best of our ability. A huge thing that we are big supporters of is apologizing not only in the presence of but also to them when we make mistakes. When we make mistakes as adults, sometimes, we don’t think about the impact that it can have on our children and because my husband and I are huge thinkers and always questioning the “why” of things, we think about, “how will this impact them and why?” “How did this impact me when I was a child?”

We strive to teach life lessons at early ages, selflessness, humility, gratitude, respect (we are big on “yes ma’am” and “no ma’am” and “yes sir” and “no sir” when addressing or answering adults), but we also encourage making mistakes and learning from them. Mistakes are a part of life and we will continue to make them throughout life — in fact, they can be some of the biggest teachers, so make them and learn from them.

In the mornings, after we enjoy about five minutes of meditation; I help them understand that their power of choice is an amazing power to have. They can choose to have a great day or a not-so-great day, but they hold the power of how they choose to respond or react to it… Responsibility is taught and learned early in life and we are huge advocates of owning responsibility for your actions. Do what you say you will do because your character is one of the most important things. Also, helping them to refrain from blaming others for something that was their responsibility (something I think many adults could respectfully learn). When our children make a mistake, we ask the questions and then if they are at fault, we encourage them to take responsibility and think about how they can make different decisions the next time, always keeping in mind that we — as adults, as parents — must be the example of this first and foremost. Lastly, healthy communication, teaching them to respect others regardless of differences and lots of love, which I believe, and this is just my belief, recognizing that we are accountable to our children and hold a huge level of responsibility for the beginnings of how they will not only see the world but how they will respond or react to it.


Susanna and Annika 

Susanna Carlson is a Greenwich, CT based psychotherapist and AASECT certified sex therapist who lives with her daughter Annika in New York.

“The core to our household (since less than a year ago) is a divorced, single mom, Susanna, with a daughter, Annika, a junior in high school. With my second son taking off to college last summer, my daughter and I decided to move to a smaller home. We found a cozy, warm, gatehouse cottage to find solace in. My two teenage sons love returning home to the encouraging close social interactions by necessity.” — Susanna

Living with Others | Design*Sponge
Image above: Susanna and her daughter Annika at home in their cozy gatehouse cottage.

D*S: What have you learned about living together, just the two of you?

Susanna: Annika and I are closer than ever before; a mom/daughter duo loving life together! We have found it easy to enjoy each moment in the new house, yet also easy to express our disagreements in the moment when they come up. We have hosted multiple mom/daughter dinners in small groups.


How has home life changed for you since living together?

Susanna: The impending departure to college for Annika has created a sense of urgency to Carpe Diem — grasp the moment! Just the two females full-time in the home means also a menu of just our liking. Much less of ‘meat and potatoes’!

What will you most appreciate during your remaining time of living together?

Susanna: We will appreciate every moment, every breath, every late night conversation spilling much too far into the night, but so much enjoyed! We both have a wanderlust that is waiting to be fulfilled; life will happen as it may and we will stumble upon another place in time that will bring us close together physically as mother/daughter yet again in the future.

We will appreciate every moment, every breath, every late night conversation spilling much too far into the night, but so much enjoyed!
– Susanna

How are you preparing for big changes in the way you live? 

Susanna: While taking in every little detail of today, we both are happily inviting planning for the future, including separate home addresses. We now plan for an appropriate place of comfort for each of us immediately following Annika’s departure to college. Both of us capable of laying anchor anywhere in the world, the excitement of allowing life events guide us to the well-fitting surroundings, brings a sense of warmth and thrill!

What’s the best part about living together?

Susanna: We have built-in best friends! Having a cup of tea to close up the day over good conversation. The best.

We live with more intent than ever before!

How have you made your home work for your needs?

Susanna: Great question! In order to make this home work for us, we had to store a large part of our belongings for the short term we live here. We moved in with only the most important items for us; emotional or practical reasons considered and anything in between. We have enjoyed paring it down to the essentials. Interestingly enough, a lot of the conversations in the house have to do with the same theme carried over to the emotional world; we live with more intent than ever before!

Has living together changed the way you decorate?

Susanna: This is the first house where Annika actually has expressed her wishes about how her surroundings look. She has always made decisions about her own room, but this time she cherished the entire process with me! Living together has not changed the way I decorate, but has made it more meaningful to share the result of it with my daughter, who appreciates the result as much as I do.

What do you appreciate most about your home?

Susanna: The beautiful vignettes! The home is one of the smallest ones I have ever had, yet the most meaningful. Sharing it with all children over their school breaks is the best! We are forced to be in close quarters and love it!


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  • I LOVE this! Sharing/combining spaces is challenging. My girlfriend moved into my house after three years being there alone and there was a lot of adjustments, but definitely makes you feel all the feels about being more vulnerable, combining styles…she helped me bite the bullet on installing a dishwasher. Blake’s comment, “I am entirely independent and often very selfish with how I spend my time, but living with him has taught me the value of losing my solitude. I find myself appreciating subtle projects he works on. He likes to garden, and I find three-inch vases with his grown flowers in them sometimes. I can’t help but smile.” really rang true for me.

    • Thanks for sharing, Julie!

      I agree, I found so much wisdom from all three sets of roommates here. For me I was especially blown away by this comment of Jonathan’s: “It’s important to remember that the person that you are living with is still growing into who they are — so we try not to assume we have each other figured out.” I’ve lived with my husband for over 8 years and that was still a fresh and energizing thing for me to read and realize :)


  • I am so excited by this series!
    I am having serious growing pains about my house sharing situation. My partner and I are meeting with a realtor to put an offer on a house this week; meanwhile, our friend/housemate is entering his 16th month (?!) of unemployment. I find it really hard to enjoy the time spent in our beautiful old rental home, because it’s not quite big enough for the three of us and it’s not fun to give up part of the limited square footage to a person who has never contributed at all to the household expenses (even though I know it’s not half as hard as he finds not having any money).
    Tl;dr: a series reminding me that the people are the most important part of homes is just what I need!

  • What beautiful humans! I have tears in my eyes.

    I know this is a series about cohabitation, but what a lens into how people can learn to get along, respectfully, with one another — even when we disagree . . . and how much we all need reminders of the importance of doing that right now!

    My parents kicked me out at age 14, and I spent many years feeling unsafe. But as a adult, I’ve almost always managed to build home environments that felt loving and supportive. It has never escaped me that having a safe, peaceful, loving home life is an enormous advantage.

    I wish that for all.

  • Thanks so much for this series! This is something I think about so much, and I find that what little reflection you find about this in design media usually involves a husband shrugging and saying “happy wife, happy life,” and then retreating to a “man cave.” I love how this piece really focuses on how designing and inhabiting a home together helps people to grow in their ability to compromise and respond to each other in thoughtful ways.

    When it comes to making design decisions, my husband and I have not always had an equal say, and that has, at times, caused some tension. This was particularly true when our house was being built and we were making a million decisions about every tiny detail. At the end of the day, though, my emotional investment and patience for the minutia of design is often greater than his. I will research options for a given project endlessly, and design decisions will keep me up at night. This is not true for him, so it often doesn’t work for us to have 50/50 say.

    That said, I take a huge amount of pride in the fact that our home reflects the spirit and the needs of all four people that live within its walls, both in terms of function and aesthetics. Hand-me-downs from my husband’s grandparents mix with ones from my grandparents. The walls are hung with art that reflects all of our tastes and interests, much of it created by us or by friends and family. My husband’s guitar is hung in the centre of our home so he remembers to take the time to pick it up and play with us, and here and there his Star Wars action figures and my daughters’ Peppa Pig figurines are tucked in beside my cookbooks or antiques. Everywhere there are baskets and hooks at child-level so that they can access their books and toys and clothing independently, and also tidy up their own things (thought this is a bit of an ongoing struggle TBH!) I use washi-tape to hang up their are artwork, or quotes we like, or words they are learning to read.

    The resulting mix does not always look Instagram-worthy, but it is warm and perfectly imperfect and fills me with joy everyday.

    PS Liza– I loved your response. So powerful!

    • Hi Kate! I love how you’ve incorporated each family member’s personalities in your decor. I loved reading your thoughts on this topic, thank you! :)

  • Thank you so much for this piece. I love that it goes beyond similar design media pieces I have read, which tend to be little more than a husband shrugging and saying “happy wife, happy life,” and then shuffling off to his “man cave.” I love that this dives so much deeper, focusing on partners and families who truly collaborate on their spaces, and see the processes as a way to grow and reflect and reconcile our difference in a respectful way. Such a wonderful read!

    I would say that in my own relationship, we have not always had equal say in the design of our home, which has led to some friction at times. This was particularly true when our house was being built and there were a million tiny decisions to be made. But the truth is that when it comes to things like paint colours, furniture, and finishes, my emotional investment and my interest is so much greater than my partner’s. I spend hours researching and agonising over options, and I loose sleep over it all. My partner does not. Given this, we have learned that it doesn’t really make sense for us to have a 50/50 say in certain things.

    That said, I take an immense amount of pride in the fact that our home truly does reflect the spirit and the needs of all four of its inhabitants, both in terms of its aesthetics, and its function. My cookbooks, my husband’s science fiction, and my kids favourite books are are all jumbled together and displayed with love. My daughters Peppa Pig figurines and my partner’s Star Wars action figures are tucked in amongst the house plants and family heirlooms on every surface. At the centre of our home, I have hung my husband’s beloved guitar so that he remembers to take the time to play whenever he can grab a minute here or there. Everywhere there is art work that reflects all of our tastes, much of it made by us, or by friends and family. In every room there are hooks and baskets at child-level so that our daughters can access their books and toys and clothes independently, and so that they can (in theory, at least) tidy up on their own. I use a lot of washi tape to hang up their art work, or quotes we like, or words they are learning to read. The resulting design is not always “Instagram Worthy,” but it is warm, story-filled, and every evolving. It fills my heart with joy.