Hard choices come with move to less space

April 02, 1992|By Joe Surkiewicz | By Joe Surkiewicz,Contributing Writer

Not too long ago, most apartment dwellers were students, singles and young married couples saving for their first house.

Lately, however, a new category of people is swelling the ranks of apartment residents: "empty nesters" -- married couples with kids who have grown and left home. Faced with a house filled with unused bedrooms, more and more empty nesters are opting for the convenience and ease that apartment living affords.

Yet empty nesters face a special problem in making the transition from a house to an apartment.

What do you do with all that stuff?

"My recommendation is to only take to the new apartment the furniture and items that are more delicately scaled," answers James C. Biehl II, the president of Halcyon Design Group, an interior design firm in Owings Mills. "Then, after you've moved into a smaller space, the items become more important and predominant."

Of course, that requires making a lot of tough decisions about cherished furnishings. After all, how are you ever going to part with Uncle Harry's massive oak desk?

"Making those selections is the hardest part of moving to a smaller space," admits Mr. Biehl, an interior decorator with 22 years of experience and a national clientele. "It's especially hard if some items have been inherited."

So, Mr. Biehl says, start the process of elimination with the items you have the strongest feelings about. But, he warns, don't get carried away.

"Some clients want to give everything away and have a completely new look in the apartment, but I'm seeing less and less of that," he observes. "It may be a reflection of our troubled economic times, coupled with a trend toward tradition."

After selecting a core group of furnishings that will make the move to the new quarters, the next task is to formulate an overall design concept for the new space. "Look at it in terms of color preference and ambience," Mr. Biehl says. "Then the plan will evolve. But the floor plan to the new apartment is the key. Will the sofa fit? Will the chest of drawers go here or not?"

Luckily, the scale of the apartment will suggest solutions. For example, high ceilings lend themselves to dramatic treatments, while low ceilings offer lots of wall space for oversize paintings. "Work the arrangements in terms of the environment," Mr. Biehl recommends.

A recent client of his serves as a classic, if somewhat exaggerated, example of how to make a successful transition from a house to an apartment: a wealthy woman who moved from a 7,000- square-foot house in Guilford to a 1,600-square-foot apartment in Roland Park.

"To most people, that doesn't represent a small apartment, but her home was crammed with museum-quality antiques," Mr. Biehl recalls. "We had to cull her furniture and select pieces that would work. Of course, she would have been happy to take the whole house."

By finding new uses for things, many of the precious furnishings his client couldn't part with were successfully adapted to the new apartment. For example, a favorite chest of drawers was used to store shoes, purses and personal items. "What we really did was assemble the items in a different way to create maximum flexibility," Mr. Biehl points out.

Probably the best example of the successful transition was the careful culling of the client's large collection of oriental rugs. By eliminating the larger pieces, the smaller rugs gained a new sense of importance in the apartment. "This was the secret of our success," Mr. Biehl says.

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