From a 900 SF house for five people to an 800 SF house for a young family with one child to a 3000 SF house for a family of three which ended up being a house for two for 40 years after their daughter had left to a 500 SF apartment for two in a senior residence to a 350 SF apartment for one in a senior residence. Professor Jill Stoner talked about the physical and emotional process of ‘downsizing’ by tracing her father’s life story of home in the last AHWGO’s salon.
His story reflects the story of many in this country. The upgrading to a bigger home as sign of success and then in later life the decision that it is enough, too much to handle in old age and the difficult decision of what to take and what to leave and how to establish a new home in a place where the number of rooms does not count anymore but the quality of home matters.
Getting smaller, living smaller is often seen as a loss but Professor Stoner wonderfully illustrated that there is another approach that even though sad and intense can be more satisfying and forward looking – looking at downsizing as a an opportunity to curate one’s home. One’s world, one’s home is comprised of two and three dimensional objects, pictures, furniture, tools. When one recomposes home in a smaller space one has the opportunity to curate this collection. This curatorial move is an incredible personal process and even though painful and sad it can bring one back in touch with objects and create a lost intimacy that brings a sense of peace and identity. The intentionality of every move, every touch, contributes to the loving, inviting and warm experience of home. Putting for example her father’s year books in a glass cabinet below the TV provides an easy connection to them. The glass doors make this experience more special, like looking through a window or a looking at a collection. The small physical changes she made to her father’s apartment added specific and identity; colors, a low, long shelf for arranging photos, open shelves where the recessed medicine cabinet use to be, an IKEA storage unit that organizes an undefined closet space. There are other opportunities. Shelves or cabinets that are designed to blur the boundary between display and storage, deep chair rails that function as interior horizon, giving meaning to an empty wall and provide a ledge to display photos and little objects.
The more specific a room, the more it lends itself to different uses. Most senior apartments are designed to be ‘neutral’ in order to be flexible but the result is the opposite. Neutral apartments do not provide opportunities or invite choices, they make it hard to establish home (see also the ‘House of Montisi’ by Jill Stoner).
For most of us, this curating process is a painful one. A suggestion in our conversation was to create a coffee book, a tableau, a catalogue of one’s priced possession. The concluding thought this evening was that this regrouping of home as we age can be a source of delight, a positive process, if guided by the focus on creating a new home that can afford us simplicity, efficiency, playfulness and choice.