Downsizing Design

More than half of Canadian boomers who move do so to downsize. Go from castle to condo and beyond with expert tips from two top interior designers


Karen Sealy of Sealy Design Inc., former host of HGTV Canada’s Summer Home and 2015 official spokesperson for the Canadian Furniture Show has taken clients from homes of 7,000 square-feet to condos less than a quarter the size and even on into assisted-living apartments. “I try to help them see what their life is going to be like for the duration of the time in that home,” she says, adding “And if they’re thinking about moving [again in the future], what that next step may look like as well.”

Consider scale. Midsize furniture looks and fits better in smaller spaces and with smaller items so think about that as you decide what to take with you and what to purchase now with the future in mind. And measure first – just because it fits in the room doesn’t mean it’ll fit in the elevator or through your new front door.

And Sealy provides much-needed objectivity for clients making what can be emotional decisions about what to take and what to leave behind. And when all else fails she poses two simple questions, “Do you love it? And would you buy it for your house today?”

Guest space is a common concern but Sealy recommends planning for a room’s primary purpose first. If you have guests only four times a year but still work from home full or part time, make the second bedroom an office but incorporate sleeper furniture like sofas, daybeds or even ottomans and chairs that fold out. Sealy also designs multifunctional built-ins (as seen above) to maximize space.

And when it comes to decorating, pick a cohesive palette throughout so pieces can be moved from room to room without looking out of place. For example, two occasional chairs from the master bedroom might be used at the head of the dining table when you have extra guests for dinner. And reframe artwork or family portraits in a modern gallery style – crisp white matting with a simple black frame – to refresh them for a new space.

Designer Jane Lockhart of Jane Lockhart Interior Design may be best known as a colour connoisseur having hosted the six-season run of W Network’s Colour Confidential but she’s also an expert in organization. She’s helped clients downsize, she’s helped her mother downsize and she has downsized herself and says the priority is always, “Storage, storage, storage.”

Lockhart adds built-in storage wherever space permits and if the ceilings are high, builds it up. For safety and convenience, store lighter items up top, like linens and seasonal apparel. For heavy items, incorporate pullout drawers (or retrofit existing kitchen or bathroom cupboards) for easier, back-saving access.

Choose small appliances and use the found space for storage because “you never see a half-empty closet,” says Lockhart. “But if your fridge is filled with just condiments … consider a smaller one if you’re downsizing.” Miele, Bosch and LG offer slim models and look for retailers specializing in condo size.

Lockhart is also a fan of ageing-friendly fixtures. For example, taller toilets improve accessibility and she recommends a brand like Toto whose models can also be outfitted with a Washlet (a seat with built-in bidet) down the road.

Tips to reduce, re-imagine and rejuvenate will go a long way – even in a small space.