How to make your downsized home functional and fabulous
Small, efficient spaces are the new “in” housing trend. Whether you’ve downsized because your kids have moved out of the house, your budget required a less-expensive mortgage, you were no longer able to maintain a large home or your eco-conscience was screaming for a smaller carbon footprint, you’re one of the many Atlantans whose residential relocation took you to a less-expansive home.
So, what are you supposed to do with all your stuff? And how can you make your smaller quarters seem spacious and inviting? Don’t panic—just because your old furniture and decorative accessories don’t fit in their appropriate spaces like they did in your old home, that doesn’t mean you have to buy all new furnishings. Learn from the pros about how to make your new, smaller residence a well-designed, functional and fabulous home.
Editing your effects
One of the biggest hurdles downsizing homeowners face is sorting through and getting rid of many of their belongings.
“When trying to decide what to keep, try to only keep one of a group of sentimental items,” suggests Laura Hamling, realtor and downsizing consultant with Harry Norman Realtors. “For example, I have 20 tablecloths that belonged to my grandmother and mother. If I downsized, I would only choose to keep one and give away the rest. Also, I tell my clients to try to stop using all but one or two casserole dishes. They are amazed at how they can get by with less.”
The bedroom is home to a specific set of furniture, as well as clothes and personal items. To edit down items in this room, it’s important to first determine what furniture can fit into the new, smaller space.
“Rather than attempting to fit the entire bedroom suite into the master bedroom, keep the headboard and perhaps one side table,” recommends Mical Traynor, Allied Member ASID, CAPS, with Design For The Ages. “Edit out the long dresser and perhaps the chest of drawers, as well. Modern walk-in closets are much larger and suited to hold more and can be beautifully organized, making the dresser and chest obsolete.”
Lauri Ward, author of Downsizing Your Home With Style and president of Use What You Have Interiors, also recommends using only the headboard. “Detach the side rails and footboard,” she says. “The headboard can be mounted or secured to the wall. If necessary, get a Harvard frame and bed skirt or a wooden or upholstered platform with hidden storage.”
Once you’ve figured out what bedroom furniture to keep, it’s time to go through your clothes and other personal belongings to ensure they will all fit in the remaining storage space.
“Most of us have more clothes, shoes, accessories, etc. than we could ever possibly wear,” says Johnna Barrett, architect and interior designer with Barrett Design Inc. “As a general rule, if you haven’t worn it in the past 12 months, it should go.
Same thing goes for extra comforters, blankets, towels, etc. There are the things we use everyday and the things that sit in closets ‘just in case.’”
To determine if a piece of clothing or accessory has been worn recently enough to keep it, Brian O’Keefe, general manager with California Closets, offers the following advice: “For hanging clothes, you can turn them around so the hanger faces the opposite way. After you wear the item, return it to the closet with the hanger facing the correct direction. Shoes can be turned so they are pointed in the opposite direction. It will become easy to identify which items of your wardrobe have been touched recently weeks or months later.”
Another handy tip—courtesy of Kent Schneider, co-owner of Verde Home—is to separate wardrobes by season. “My mom used to do this, and now I know why,” he says. “Get large Rubbermaid containers and put the clothes you are not using in them, then store them away until you need them. This eliminates much of the bulk.” Schneider also recommends finding new areas for storage, such as under the bed, with the help of a few bed risers or a new bed with built-in storage.
Kitchen and bath considerations
One of the best ways to fix a not-enough-storage-space problem in your kitchen or bath is to install organizational accessories to maximize the storage space you do have. “I redesigned my kitchen with new cabinets with storage solutions such as pots-and-pans drawers, pull-out trays and cutlery dividers,” says Karen Thompson, CKD, CBD, owner and principal designer with Transitions by Design LLC. “I also added a free-standing shelf from my previous home to use for cookbooks.”
When evaluating whether to keep items from your former, large kitchen, look into the number and sizes of your appliances. “A small kitchen will only accommodate a certain number of appliances before storage is lost to an unbalanced scale,” says Bryan Marquardt, designer with CSI Kitchen and Bath. He notes that many downsizing homeowners are utilizing smaller, moveable islands for flexibility and storage.
Oftentimes, a smaller home—such as a condominium or apartment—has only one area for dining, forcing downsizing homeowners to choose between a kitchen
table and a dining-room table from their previous home. “If the dining-room furniture suite has been only used for special occasions, it is likely in good shape,” Traynor says. He recommends keeping the dining table and sideboard, and possibly updating the chairs with new fabric seat covers. “The china cabinet can be repurposed in a guest bedroom or reading area as a library piece for books and mementos,” he adds.
Not only is your new home smaller, it also doesn’t have as many different spaces as your old home did, so you have even more extra furniture and decor—no more formal living room, sun room, etc. The simple fix? Get rid of the furnishings in the rooms you no longer have.
“In general, there is always one room that a family lives in, regardless of how many rooms we have,” Barrett says. “Formal living rooms and other sitting areas are nice, but most people rarely use them other than on special occasions. Recognize that the extra furnishings were nice to look at but not necessary for daily life. Let go!”
Lighting is everything
For small rooms, a comfortable, spacious feeling is often achieved by a lighting scheme. “Lighting creates the perception of the space to the human eye,” Marquardt says. “A poor lighting plan or a non-adjustable lighting plan can destroy a perfectly cozy room. Recessed lighting, up-lighting, lamps and dimmers are key to a successful environment.”
Floor lamps are a popular, functional and flexible item for small-space homeowners. According to the mother-and-daughter team of Rita L. Goldstein, ASID, president of Interiors By Rita, and Pamela K. Goldstein, CMKBD, CAPS, Allied Member ASID, president of Pamela Goldstein Designs Inc., “Floor lamps are compact design statements that direct light both down and up, giving ambient light that is glare free and brightens up dark corners, enhancing the reading or needlework experience.” The Goldsteins also recommend utilizing chandeliers and pendants as decorative accents, offering glitter, elegance and general lighting for any room.
For homeowners on a tight budget, shopping garage or consignment sales for functional items is a great option. But how do you know where to go? “Seek out the deals in neighborhoods that match your needs or interests,” Marquardt says. “For example, if you are looking for children’s items, look in the affluent suburbs. If you are looking for antiques, hit the estate sales in the lofty, in-town super residences in Buckhead. There also are many good antique malls that have super prices on vintage and mid-century pieces,” he adds.
In all, moving to a smaller space can be an overwhelming process. To ensure success and ease, hiring a professional who specializes in downsizing is a good idea. Simone Feldman, CKD, CBD, owner of Simone Feldman Designs LLC, advises, “Find a professional designer who understands your needs. He or she will help make your future home much smarter and more enjoyable, and perhaps most importantly, a stress-free transition.”
Multifunctional pieces are ideal for the living areas of small homes. Check out these items recommended by interior design experts:
• Trunks make great cocktail and side tables, providing the added bonus of storage.
• Club chairs with ottomans are a great alternative to bulky couches.
• A pop-up cocktail table is helpful for dining and desk work.
Lightening The Load
Furniture is not designed to take over a room. Take into consideration how tall your furniture is and the footprint it makes on the floor. Some pieces look great on paper when drawing out a room, but their heaviness makes them feel too big. Replacing wood shelves in a cabinet with glass shelves can lighten up the feel of the cabinet. Couches with legs, creating a space between the couch and the floor, feel lighter than a sofa that comes to the ground.
—Allison Carter, chief executive organizer, The Professional Organizer LLC
Advice for letting go
Think about how you really live instead of holding on to furnishings with primarily sentimental value. There’s a feeling of liberation that comes from letting go of things that have served their purpose but you no longer need. Focus on what you are gaining, not what you are losing. This is an opportunity to simplify and streamline your life.
—Johnna Barrett, architect and interior designer, Barrett Design Inc.