The dream of a forever home is that it be used for decades of happy memories. Think about it — holiday dinners featuring smiling children and grandchildren passing the rolls and butter, playsets and pools in the backyard utilized during the warmer months, and glasses of sweet tea shared on the back porch at sunset.
Now, you’ve reached your golden years, but because you decide to downsize doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your personalized decor and interior design. You just need to think differently, says designer Kristen Pawlak and move manager Shana Cooper.
Kristen knows first-hand about transitioning from a larger home to a smaller space, as she recently closed on a senior apartment for her mother. Kristen’s mom initially sold her larger home to move into a patio home, and now, her mother has downsized again. “It’s been my life for the last year or two … (I know it) on a personal level,” Kristen says.
Kristen, who owns KP Designs, specializes in interior design for retirement communities, so she knows how to condense items from a lifetime of memories to a brand new, low-maintenance lifestyle. The first step, according to Kristen, is choosing spaces that have open floor plans and tall ceilings. “A lot of senior apartments are going to the more open look,” she says.
Kristen also suggests using monochromatic palettes — sticking with one color group — to create a more open feel. Light neutrals make places feel more open and less defined, she says. To make rooms feel more personalized, residents can vary textures and shades of accessories.
When it comes to art, Kristen says to add things that make the space feel more “homey.” Many things won’t fit and will have to go, but “art can be meaningful and sentimental and fill the space up a little more,” she says. “It can help finish the space.” And, of course, residents will want to add photos and personal items, too, to feel at home.
When moving into the new place, pay attention to scale. “Smaller areas do not need smaller things,” Kristen says. The expert suggests that the smaller unit doesn’t need a 10-person sectional by any means, but smaller pieces can sometimes make a space feel and look smaller and look like a “dollhouse.” “Maybe all pieces (from the former home) won’t fit, but you don’t need to trade them in for small items,” Kirsten says. “The less choppy visually, the larger, more comfortable and open the space will feel.”
Shana Cooper, a senior move manager at Moving For Seniors, helps clients determine the floorplan of the new space, then measures and tries to have them pick out their favorite things to bring. Shana helps in all phases of moving and downsizing: she helps clients clean up and disperse their estate; sorts through and helps them decide what to take; assists in packing; and helps clients arrange a mover and stage their former home for sale. “It’s really hard for some people to let go of things they’ve had 50 or 60 years,” Shana says. She frequently sees china and crystal that has been stored away, but she says, “What joy is it bringing to your life if it’s at the bottom of your cabinet?” Shana suggests, “Live large and use the crystal and china if you want to.”
So, how do you decide what stays and what goes? First, Kristen says, ask yourself, “When is the last time you used it?” And take only the things that are functional, but sentimental, to you.
Sometimes, she says, it’s just time to get new things. Shana agrees, saying, “Sometimes it just makes more sense to start over.” When choosing items to buy, multifunctional pieces are the goal, Shana says. This is includes items like ottomans that can be used for small tables and open up to store magazines and blankets or seating that. also provides multiple functions like storage. “You have to look at things a little differently,” Kristen says.
Sofas that once fit in a larger home might not fit through the doors of the new downsized unit. “Get stuff that fits the space,” Shana says. “Most of the time, people are happy to find something that works better.” Temporary storage can sometimes be a necessity, but can prolong the inevitable, according to Shana. “It’s a nice time for a change,” Kristen says. Downsizing is a time that can be scary for seniors, and some say “it’s so much smaller, there’s no way I can fit all my stuff in there,” Kirsten says. But, “it takes some hand-holding from companions and loved ones. It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
By Taylor Riley | Photos submitted by Decorating Den Interiors