Downsizing Your Parents Family Home

Seniors Residences are not what they used to be as is illustrated in these “before” and “after” images of a recent Napanee Design custom project. It’s not always easy but with sensitivity and a designer’s professional help, this “next stage” living can be a rewarding and welcoming process for the family and the client involved.

Families involved in their parent’s downsizing to the new residence can be a hotbed of emotional stress for all parties and I have found a combination of family support and professional hands on collaboration are required to navigate the slopes of this process. Seasoned designers have had years of practice in establishing very personal relationships with their clientele and know that trust is the first step in any residential project. We have been in the bedrooms and bathrooms of our clients in the most intimate of ways as we get to know their habits and requirements. We have established relationships with the most precious of all, their children. For me, the relationships we establish are most rewarding part of interior design.

It is important that everyone be sensitive to this task that begins with the biggest decision of all – the new residence itself. Once that piece has been confirmed, the rest is just details – but details that can bog down the most flexible and able bodied person of any age. As a designer, I am acutely aware of the relationships we develop with our “things”. Many possessions have meaning to us and most often an unexplainable attachment. It’s the job of a designer in any project to do the research into not only a client’s own personal taste but to develop a reflection of that in their new surroundings and in this case a sense of safety and calm. Often that means highlighting some of their most prized and sentimental possessions and working them into the function and décor of their new rooms. The trickier part of this process is the hulling of excess that may not fit into the new space.

I have found it more effective to itemize the major furnishing items that are “yeses” than go straight to the “discard or donate” items. A scaled floor plan is definitely a prerequisite so that it’s clear which pieces will actually fit before adding them to the ”keep” category. Art is often easily relocated as are small furnishings, bed and bath linens, accessories, framed photographs of family and cherished books. Once it is established that the precious items are coming with, it is much easier to let go of the unwarranted or inappropriate possessions. If there are emotional but unwarranted items to let go of, I find that keeping a photograph album is an acceptable way to honor those items without actually having to keep them on hand. If there are legacy items, get them to the recipients now with the benefit of seeing them enjoyed by loved ones. Try to keep the sorting to an hour or two in the beginning and then later, when you have an abundance of one category like clothing or kitchenware, it’s less personal and consequently less taxing for an older client. I strongly suggest there not be a “maybe” pile. Sell, donate or discard are enough categories to stack up against a small “keep” pile. Don’t be fooled – we are a measuring society and three against one doesn’t add up even if it’s agreed that it’s required.

It is important to have as many visuals as possible so photograph the space, the items to come along and then hopefully some new and exciting ideas to look forward too. A color board that they can keep in their possession throughout the process is an ideal tool to transform stress into positive anticipation. Often memory can be an issue as well, so it’s handy to have those visuals to be reminded of the end goal. If you can communicate via email, it is also a good idea so the other family members can be in touch and aware. I would highly recommend one or at the most 2 two family members be included or cc’d on all communication. Whoever is helping with the financial transactions should always be kept up to date with any decisions in that regard. The design choices are better left in the client and designers hands. Too many opinions only makes the creative process stressful and lengthy. If decisions seem to be getting overwhelming right out of the gate, sometimes an objective friend is a better bet than a family member. This makes it more of a social time than a daunting chore. Redecorating should be the uplifting part of the move, giving autonomy when it seems we are losing control of our lives.

Vulnerability is at it’s peak at this stage of life so anything that is a known by family members to invoke a sense of safety is most helpful at this time. It can be anything – a bit of gardening in container pots, a visit from a cherished friend or grandchild, a shopping trip for some new duds for the new community, or a regular scheduled walk in nature. Familiarity, wherever it can be found is so important when everything is changing around us.

Living Room After Living Room After  Living Room Before Living Room Before

The Living Room got a new curved, neutral sofa and an ivory leather recliner but we surrounded it with her cherished antique table of her grandmothers, her framed family photographs, accessories and her own original art mixed with some new decorative art.  The linen floral draperies were custom made and live foliage added the heartbeat to the space. She loves pink and wanted a cozy, feminine space that would seat 3 visitors.  There  is a circular marble  dining table just out of site  that  sits  four as well with a small kitchen fully equipped with new and old china, crystal, the family silver  and cookware all from home

Den After  Den After  Den Before Den Before

This tiny Den was converted into a guest room and an office with a narrow laptop desk and a sofa bed for overnight guests.  There were no windows in this space so we added a grid of custom mirrors to add light and visual square footage.  Her antique side table sits as a beautiful sculptural piece with another nod to her family history.

 Bedroom After Bedroom After  Bedroom Before Bedroom Before

The Master Bedroom was furnished with a new bed, headboard and bedding, a low modern dresser that doubles as a nightstand and a narrow mirrored cabinet at the foot of the bed for a TV and extra storage. The family photos were all newly framed and set on her antique table to one side of the bed. A tall reading lamp finished the tranquil and feminine room that she was after.  Pink lambs wool never hurt anyone.