Downsizing in Style

No need to give up great design when you give up square footage: tales from the trenches on how to downsize your home



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Freeman’s former living room (left page) was single-purpose compared with her new downsized version, shown bottom right. “I call my dining-room table my ‘everything table’ now, because it also works as a room divider, library table, and my catch-all table,” she says.  Above photo and Freeman's portrait on opposite page by Phillip Ennis. 

 

The First Steps to Downsizing Your Home

For 30 years or so, Kim Freeman lived in the 2,800-square-foot, Cape-style
house in Ossining she inherited from her parents, who designed it themselves
and filled it with Early American furniture. Freeman, an interior designer in
her early 60s, added her own antique pine furniture along with vintage French
textiles, majolica, flatware, and various other collections she’d amassed during
her previous career as a magazine design editor and stylist.

Recently, though, Freeman began yearning for a simpler life—and realized one way to get it was by moving to a much smaller home. “It was an emotional decision,” she admits. “But I finally felt overwhelmed by everything. I felt the objects were owning me. I wanted to be freer with less responsibility, and that equals less space and less stuff. Everybody I talk to these days feels this way.”

Yes, downsizing is all the rage. It’s a trend whose popularization is often attributed to architect Sarah Susanka’s bestselling 1998 book, The Not So Big House, in which Susanka describes her philosophy of quality over quantity—an idea at odds with the spendy final decades of the last century. In 1950, the average American home was 983 square feet, according to the National Association of Home Builders. Three years ago, despite the shrinking of the average family, it was going on 2,400 square feet. And, in Westchester, where McMansions loom on every horizon, that average is probably higher. But it looks like the days of “more is better” are on the wane.

While only 14 percent of Americans over 65 say they plan to move in the next five years, 67 percent of them will be downsizing. Most of them are empty-nesters, those wanting to age in place, or retirees aiming to free up some of the equity in their houses. The financial advantages of heating, cooling, and maintaining a smaller home are obvious. There’s also the bonus, if you want to renovate, of being able to splurge on high-quality materials that you might not be able to afford in large quantities. Apart from practical reasons, there are those like Kim Freeman, who want a less encumbered life. “I’m in the business of things, and the more I saw, the less I wanted,” she sums up.

Freeman decided to rent a new place, rather than buy. “I wasn’t sure what the next step was. I’m single; I may want to travel. I found a dream cottage on an estate in Bedford Corners—900 adorable square feet.” Her circa 1920s home, once a gardener’s cottage, is configured like this: “There’s a living room/dining room—the living room consists of a sofa and the dining room consists of a table,” she jokes. “I changed the second largest room, once the dining room, into an office; there are two cozy bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, a basement, and a screened-in porch that I call a room the minute the doors are open.”