When Lynn and Tom Henderson looked around for a place to start the second half of their lives, they chose Greenville because of “all Greenville had to offer.” With that choice came the decision to downsize: The Hendersons traded their 4,200-square-foot house in Morganton, N.C., for a 2,300-square-foot home built in the 1970s close to downtown.
Downsizing possessions was easier than she expected, Lynn said. “I was never so relieved as when I saw 25 years of furniture and stuff leave in a truck headed to a local nonprofit. You’re a little melancholy for a few minutes and then the truck pulls away and you have a huge sigh of relief. I couldn’t believe how much of a burden I felt lift knowing that I was no longer responsible for taking care of all that anymore.”
Margaret Marcum of Spaulding Group, C. Dan Joyner, Realtors, said she has seen an increase in empty-nesters and downsizing homeowners.
“The size of the average downsizer’s home is between 3,000-4,000 square feet,” she said. “It’s a big range [that] depends on if their grown children live out of town or local. If local, they tend to go for smaller square footage.”
Marcum said today’s new wave of downsizers are “definitely looking for smaller yards,” as well as less “exterior maintenance such as wood windows and trim that needs painting.” Downsizers also prefer “master and second bedrooms on the main level that can be used by elder parents or as an office.”
Henderson and her husband “purposely wanted to design a house with a very contemporary, minimalistic design that would encourage us to live a simpler and a less materialistic life. We wanted to create a serene and peaceful environment not by buying things for the house, but through use of different textures, woods and color palettes that worked in harmony.” The biggest advantage to downsizing, she said, “is it demands that you continue to de-clutter and simplify your life.” Her rule of thumb: “If it doesn’t have a use or purpose, then it doesn’t come into our home.”
Henderson said the couple “blew out the whole back of the house to open it up and allow for an open floor plan.” They moved the laundry and master suite to the first floor and added 4-to-5-foot windows to flood the rooms with light. They also combined the old kitchen, den and dining room into one open gourmet kitchen perfectly suited for entertaining and Henderson’s passion: teaching vegan cooking classes.
“I thought this was best done in an atmosphere that was uncluttered and allowed me to focus on the food,” she said. “The benefit to downsizing for us was more free time and less responsibility.”
A design team of architect Joel Van Dyke, designer Katie Skoloff and builder James Speer of Carson Speer Builders completed the 18-month renovation.
Skoloff is owner and principal designer of Greenville-based In-Site Designs, which focuses on high-end residential and boutique commercial design. She, too, has seen an uptick in homeowners wanting to simplify as well as downsize.
Downsizing “doesn’t mean going smaller necessarily, but a redefining of the space – a more tertiary use of space like a game room, or less bedrooms in favor of larger master suites,” she said. “They’re definitely focusing on themselves more.”
Skoloff describes the trend: “We have a large number of clients come to us to help them pare down for the next phase of life. This can mean that they are newly empty-nesters with children off to college or that they are older with a lifetime of collections they are tired of maintaining. Either way, they all want the same thing: to simplify their homes. We love this because it lets us really give new life to their spaces and provide them with an aesthetic that is clean, yet offers beauty through the materials and textures in the space. Comfort remains key.”
Skoloff said most downsizers “are either at the peak of their career, [who] can afford luxury materials and want everything put out of sight so that their brains can function at high levels, or they are nearing retirement age and are looking to clean up their clutter.”
A home office or office space is a priority for these downsizers, she says. Additionally, “we are always asked for the most up-to-date and functional kitchens and baths: new appliances and new cabinets and tile back splash. Beyond that, clients want more tailored window treatments – taking down their old jabots and swags and replacing them with long panels and clean Roman shades.” Skoloff said she modernizes bedrooms by replacing bed skirts “with clean bed frames and tucked coverlets – no more pleated or fringed pillows at all. One last trick is that they have us reframe their art and pictures to have them all coordinate.” One would assume that downsizing after years of memories in a home can be an emotional and difficult decision to make, but according to Skoloff , “The most difficult part for the homeowner is usually one person in the couple wants to keep more than the other. We do find that older couples are usually ready just to move on and they are happy to pass their favorite pieces down to family.”
As “downsizer” Lynn Henderson explains: “We’re not tied down, maintaining a yard or interior of a house that requires a lot of time. We enjoy what we have and have kept the things we find enjoyment in. Living with less has allowed us to appreciate what we chose to keep. Less is defiantly more.”
Merry Christmas and happy decorating, everyone!
Kathryn Brown is a native Greenvillian and owner of Serendipity’s Cottage, a small interior design consultant business focused on residential coastal resort properties. She lives in downtown Greenville with her husband, Greg, and one very spoiled rescued German shepherd named Boaz.