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Capitalizing on Downsizing

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The living room is centered around an ottoman-turned-coffee table that also serves as a poker table. Photograph by John LewisMeredith Graves knows all about the joys of doing more with less. In August, Graves, her son, Will, and their corgi, Sadie, moved from a six-bedroom, seven-bathroom home to a 1,500-square-foot two-bedroom, two-bathroom gatehouse off Rockland Road.

Leaving a beloved home is daunting, especially when it involves a life transition such as a divorce. “It’s very, very hard to even conceptualize yourself in another home,” Graves says. But as part of the settlement, she had elected to keep a second house on Cape Cod, where she has family, instead of remaining in the large home.

A floral and interior designer, Graves is co-owner of Found, a home accessories boutique and design company, so she is no stranger to what she calls “stuff.” The challenge: a good portion of her stuff would have to go.

Graves, however, was up for the task. Her secret? A positive attitude laced with creativity. By thinking outside the box, she’s repurposed furniture to both fit the space and preserve her most cherished pieces.

Graves had tackled her attachment to her old home long before she left. Divorced for two years, she was eager to move on. “Once you make the decision, then you’re ready,” she says. Plus, she wanted to get settled before her son started his senior year at Wilmington Friends School. She toured six houses for rent before learning about the Rockland Road property from a tennis pal. Famed area architect R. Brognard Okie (1875-1945), who worked on the restoration of Pennsbury Manor, William Penn’s home, helped convert the second floor of the barn into the gatehouse, one of three homes that share the 27-acre estate.

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Graves’ old kitchen table is now a work desk in the living room. Photograph by John LewisOkie is known for his Colonial Revival style, symmetry and detailed woodwork—all of which are evident in the gatehouse. The structure boasts wainscoting, 10-foot ceilings, built-in elements and graceful archways. Graves was instantly enchanted. “I’ve always lived in older homes,” she says.

She, Will and Sadie occupy what is the building’s second story, but because of the bank barn setup, her entrance is flush with the driveway. (A horse’s stall on the first floor serves as a novel storage unit.)

Though full of historic charm, the gatehouse features all the modern conveniences, including central air, a laundry room, two updated, freshly painted bathrooms and a sparkling kitchen with granite countertops. “The owners are meticulous,” Graves says. “Being in the home business, it’s so nice to rent from owners who care.”

The kitchen’s pine table, purchased in Massachusetts, was once a computer table in her son’s previous bedroom. “I love the patina on this, but we weren’t sure where we would put it,” Graves says, brushing the table’s glossy surface. “My son said it would be perfect in the kitchen.” Three dining room chairs made of tiger maple surround the table. They are part of a 12-chair set that the Long Island native purchased at a Westhampton Beach antiques show. (She has six. Her ex has the others.)

Her old kitchen table, a French walnut piece that Graves has owned for 24 years, is now a work desk in the living room. “It’s fun that everything has a new purpose,” she says. In the vestibule, the green gingham-covered bench that once stood at the end of her bed provides the perfect place to pull on boots. “It was a gift from my dad,” Graves says. “I couldn’t part with it.” Across the hall, a bow-front chest-of-drawers holds scarves and linens.
 

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The bedroom features a deep-set window that overlooks a field that includes picturesque cypress trees. Photograph by John LewisGraves makes good use of the living room, the heart of the home. Two jade green armchairs and a camel-colored sofa surround a round ottoman-turned-coffee table. It’s also the occasional poker table for Will and his friends, who watch football on a flat-screen TV tucked in an alcove.

When the teenagers take over the living room, Graves retires to a small sitting room, where one closet holds her work files and another holds coats. Here she reads the paper, watches the smaller TV or writes letters—a lost art she still practices.

All the rooms are laden with rich fabrics. The living room chairs, for instance, have a checkerboard pattern with a raised finish that invites a touch. A lush fur throw is tossed over the back of the sofa. A profusion of needlepoint and velveteen pillows tumbles from the sofa corners in both rooms.

There is no dining room, which might present a problem for a hostess who once thought throwing dinner parties for 18 was fun. That, however, was in her 30s. Graves sold the mahogany dining room table before the move. Now guests gather in the living room, plates on laps. Or they collect around a makeshift dining room table, which is created by placing a 40-inch top on a tea table, then draping it with white linen.

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A bow-front chest-of-drawers in the vestibule holds scarves and linens. Photograph by John LewisThe dining area looks out on a metal-floored balcony with matching steps that lead to a courtyard, where Graves has placed her wrought-iron furniture. “This is so very, very special,” she says. Soon after moving in, Graves—whose former home was often on garden tours—planted early blooming spring bulbs, azaleas and peonies. The fountain that her mother gave her for Mother’s Day 15 years ago awaits a spring installation. In the owners’ nearby greenhouse, she’s stored potted azaleas and plants, which were gifts from her parents.

Though charming, one aspect of the house was almost a deal-buster. “My brother saw the place and said, ‘Take it! Take it!’” she recalls. All she could picture, however, was the single rod in the small bedroom closet. She brought in professional closet organizers to optimize the space with shoe cubbies and built-in drawers. “I knew I needed this for my sanity,” says Graves, who nevertheless had to ruthlessly prune her wardrobe.

The bedroom is perhaps her favorite spot in the new home. The deep-set window next to the bed overlooks a field punctuated by teardrop-shaped cypress trees. “My friend said, ‘It looks like Tuscany,’” Graves says. She relished the view after the first snowfall, when deer delicately picked their way past the row of trees.

“I just feel so lucky to be here,” she says. “I love it.”


The Joy of Downsizing

  • To downsize, sift through your items to determine what to save and what to give away. Hold garage sales or privately sell items you no longer use or want. Meredith Graves had a house sale and a yard sale, and she sold items on consignment.
     
  • Rent a storage space to stash items until you’ve decided if you can accommodate them. Heirloom pieces can also go there until you decide to give them to family.
     
  • Use laundry baskets and Rubbermaid containers to carry pieces to their new home. Graves put carpet samples between dishes to protect them during the move.
     
  • Realize the benefits of downsizing. Graves’s heating bill, for instance, dropped more than $700 a month. There is also a time savings. In peak gardening season, Graves spent at least two hours a day watering, raking and tending the garden at her old home.
     

 

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