Steve and Jody Anderly wanted a change: a smaller, easy-living home. “We wanted to get rid of maintenance and upkeep,” said Steve, who had come through a cancer challenge and was ready for a simplified lifestyle.
Along with that, they craved a simpler aesthetic — “a clean, uncluttered look, clean lines, less fuss,” said Jody.
Marcia and Doug Dewane were at another crossroads. Eyeing retirement, they were ready to leave their longtime home in Willmar, Minn., downsize and move closer to their family. “We knew we wanted to relocate to the Twin Cities — the grandchildren are here,” said Marcia.
Their situations were different but both couples chose essentially the same solution: They sold their big, single-family houses — leaving behind many of the belongings they’d accumulated during decades of living there — and moved into condos that they outfitted in a dramatically different style, with new, modern furniture, accessories and even new dishes.
“We had traditional before, and we wanted to get away from it,” said Jody Anderly of their house in Edina, which they left for a condo in Lilydale.
“We just wanted it to be all new and different,” said Marcia Dewane of the downtown St. Paul condo she and her husband moved into after more than three decades of living in their antique-filled house.
Shedding the old and starting over — fresh and unencumbered — with a totally new look is the stuff of fantasy for many an aging baby boomer. “So many people have said, ‘I want to do the same,’ ” said Doug. But the Dewanes and the Anderlys actually acted on that fantasy.
“We stripped down everything and started with a clean slate,” said Steve.
While few go as far as that, midlife clients who want a new look for a new stage of life are increasingly common, according to Sue Hunter of Home for a Change Interior Design, the designer who worked with the Dewanes.
Empty nesters aren’t just turning kids’ former bedrooms into dens or craft rooms. Often they want to re-engineer their home completely or move to something dramatically different. They’re looking for help uncluttering and creating cleaner, simpler updated spaces, Hunter said. “This is a huge part of my business.”
A change in life circumstance can be a catalyst for rethinking where and how you want to live, said Pat Manning-Hanson, a designer with Gabberts Design Studio. Often you don’t have to move to create a “new” home, she said. “I encourage people to start with an audit of each room, how much space they have and what they’d like to have in that space.”
Often that means letting go — of a lot of things, linked to a lifetime of memories. For designers who work with people trying to downsize, “the designer is really the therapist,” said Melinda Nelson, a spokeswoman for Gabberts, “helping clients reinvent themselves and navigate the nuances of emotion” that come with deciding which belongings are truly meaningful and which are just excess baggage.
For the Dewanes, who sold 90 percent of what they owned at auction, starting fresh was liberating.
“Some of Marcia’s friends asked, ‘Doesn’t this make you sad [seeing all your things sold]?’ ” Doug said. “The response was ‘No.’ It felt fantastic.”