For baby boomers considering downsizing, this is a crucial question. Taking a 5,000 square foot lifestyle and shrinking it down to 1,000 square feet or less is no small feat. How you perceive the space matters, said Tanya Fletcher, co-owner of downsizing management firm Sterling Transitions.
“When you downsize, every inch counts in the new place. We see people initially thinking their second bedroom will be a full-fledged guest bedroom, but we’ll generally try to get them to think about other ways to make it more versatile because that’s the only extra space they have,” Fletcher said.
According to Denese Butler, owner and founder of Boston-based design firm The Perfect Vignette, maximizing utility doesn’t necessarily mean minimizing style or comfort.
“For grandparents who want to create a space for their young one, I think it’s so important to invest in children’s furniture that fits into their current home aesthetic,” Butler said. She recommends modern baby brand LaLo for stylish pieces that fit perfectly into a contemporary home or Wayfair or Overstock for more affordable options. When the style of children’s furniture matches the style of the rest of the home, it’s easier to find a dual use for them. A cute table for the grandchildren to eat or play can become a side table or a place to store plants.
Sometimes hosting guests may not require an additional piece of furniture, but simply a reimagining of what a piece of furniture can be. An oversized coffee table, for example, can serve as a dinner spot for guests, Butler suggested. Hosts can place zabutons – Japanese seat cushions – around a coffee table to create seats that can be stored away when not in use. Butler said she prefers a round table to a square table to maximize the number of people who can sit on it, recommending those from furniture design firm Blu Dot.
Indeed, you don’t need a formal dining room to host guests for a meal. For those transitioning from a full dining room to a kitchen with breakfast nook, finding ways to incorporate more seating is key, said Brookline-based designer Cecilia Casagrande. “If you want a setup that doesn’t take up as much space as, say, eight chairs, you can try a corner banquette,” Casagrande said. These can be built into the kitchen or purchased separately from places like Ballard or Crate & Barrel.
Even a few tray tables set up near the sofa can make dinner more intimate and cozy. “At the end of the day, it’s about creating memories and experience,” Butler said.
For those looking to entertain overnight guests, finding ways to incorporate sleeping spaces without a lot of extra bedrooms can take some creativity. Heidi Cheris, co-founder of Details Design Consultants in Newton, recently did just that for a client, turning one guest bedroom into two by removing a built-in office nook and opening up a walk-in closet. The former closet, separated from the main guest bedroom by pocket doors, now houses a desk, TV and sofa bed, allowing it to function as a living room or bedroom, depending on the owner’s needs.
Even in places where there’s no extra space, there are plenty of ways to add multifunctional sleeping spaces, said Anna Novak, owner of Washington DC-based downsizing companies Simply Downsized and Home Transition Pros.
For those more concerned with convenience than comfort, Novak suggested a daybed (his pick for those is World Market), which could double as a sofa or daytime lounging area and guest bed. the night. Some will fit a twin mattress or even a trundle underneath, Novak said.
Murphy beds are another option for those looking for out-of-the-way sleeping spaces, said Brookline architect and interior designer Jonathan Cutler.
“There are wall beds that can convert into desks and sofas, perfect for offices or living rooms,” Cutler said. He recommends those from Resource Furniture, a company that specializes in space-saving pieces.
With Murphy beds, however, “you get what you pay for,” Novak warned. “I wouldn’t recommend buying a cheap Murphy bed or buying anything that you put together yourself,” she said, recalling a customer who asked a guest to rip a pull-down bed from the wall while he slept on it.
For little ones, that may be less of an issue, but for those hoping to provide space for their adult children, a sleeper sofa may be the answer, Novak said. Although for some the mere thought of a trundle mattress can cause back pain, today’s models have come a long way. Some, like American Leather’s sofa bed, are just as comfortable (sometimes even more) than a real bed, Novak said.
Herein lies one of the main tenets of downsizing:
“People shouldn’t think of downsizing as a demotion but as an upgrade,” Novak said. “You are upgrading your life towards more enjoyable things, which you enjoy more. You have a chance to have something better than before.
Wilkins, who now spends time that would previously have been spent maintaining her massive 5,000 square foot home with her granddaughter, would agree.
Kelly Garrity can be reached at [email protected]. Subscribe to The Globe’s free property newsletter – our weekly digest on buying, selling and designing – at pages.email.bostonglobe.com/AddressSignUp. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @globehomes.