November 13th 2014

downsize matters

The following article, written by Courtney Kershaw, appeared in the November issue of MADE newspaper, an independent publication based in Montgomery, Alabama.  It is reprinted here with their kind permission.
2014-11-12_0007I’m walking through the sun-drenched courtyard of the A&P Lofts, manicured grass I’ve crossed countless times. I used to live in this building, but as I ascend the stairs I’m not headed to my old apartment on the right, but to the one on the left. Before today, I’d experienced the apartment on the left only through furtive glimpses through half-opened doors. Today, my former neighbors and most charming hosts, Greg Tankersley and Mary Robin Jurkiewicz, have invited me in to fully experience their home.

Two years ago, this architect couple lived in a 5,500 square foot historic home on South Perry Street. Now, they’ve downsized to this 1,750 square foot condo. Many of Greg and Mary Robin’s friends and neighbors wonder why, and how, the couple and their teenage daughter went from a sprawling homestead with vast spaces for entertaining to a two-bedroom loft with one large common area doing triple duty as a living room, dining room and kitchen. “Why” boils down to one common theme: this couples desire, at their current age and stage, to edit their collection and prioritize their life. “How” springs from a few strategies they’ve learned along the way.

First, the “why.” According to Mary Robin, “having a small home base, where we can ‘camp out’ beautifully, allows us so much extra energy to go out into the world and [for instance], make a difference through more volunteer work because I’m not slaving away in my yard. I loved my yard, don’t get me wrong, but I check it off my list, ‘ok, I explored that, I loved it.’” Having less house has given Mary Robin a lot more time to focus outward rather than spending time being a steward of her property. Or, as Greg chimes in, “with my business I travel so much, work all over the place, and it’s so much easier to come home to a door than eaves that need to be painted, gutters that need to be cleaned… you come in and the house says, ‘welcome home, I’m so glad you’re here,’ as opposed to a house that says, ‘where have you been all day? I need you.’”

The move to the loft apartment is only just the beginning for Greg and Mary Robin, as they will head to an even smaller apartment in New York City next year where McAlpine Tankersley Architecture plans to open a new office. “We are about to go to something two-thirds the size of this. We are having to get rid of even more. It’s kinda of fun, because it’s sort of like, the older you get, you just keep your best friends,” Greg laughs, “and so it’s sort of like that with furniture, you think, ‘ok, who do I want to spend the next 10 years with? Not her, she’s annoying’ and so on.” Of course, there are still those items they don’t have a place for, but can’t bear to part with, and those will have to go in storage until they can decide what to do. Even the best planners have a sentimental side, all you pack-rats and hoarders (myself included) will be relieved to hear.

As far as “how,” Greg and Mary Robin stressed the importance of functionality. As Greg explained, “I tell people now we are living in square inches rather than square feet. And I’m joking, but not really because function really does reign supreme; every square inch has to work, HARD, to fulfill all of your life functions.” Greg continued, “When you live in a large house you can be a little fat and slovenly with your function because it can be taken care of somewhere, but when you start editing your life down it’s almost like going into a travel trailer. Everything has to have a certain function by the way the machine of your life operates; the challenge is making sure each one of those daily things that make up the path of your life is all taken care of.”

Planning is key. Before each move, the couple lays out a master furniture plan to know beforehand what new items they need to fill their space. Greg explained, “we knew what we had, so we could say, ‘ok, that goes there, that goes there, we need that,’ and so there was a progression of beginning to collect things because with every move our square footage needs were going up.”

Planning only goes so far, however, and eventually you have to start cutting. When asked how they started, Greg quickly replied, “By getting rid of ½ our stuff! Seriously, we had a full basement, full attic, and a full garage.” They started by throwing away things that had no value, and donating as much as they could. Mary Robin explained, “I gave away as much as I could because I hate putting stuff in the landfill.” She also emphasized how modern technology allows for more multi-dimensional spaces. Mary Robin pointed out that instead of a cabinet of home entertainment equipment and stereo equipment, they have a flat screen television and a Bose iPod dock that serves their entertainment purposes perfectly in a small living area.

To say that Greg and Mary Robin have a knack for putting a room together is a gross understatement, considering they are design professionals who have probably forgotten more about designing a space than most of us will ever know. Despite their obvious credentials, their home does not feel contrived or over-styled; rather, it feels like walking into a place where people actually live, filled with interesting mementos collected over the course of their interesting lives. From Greg and Mary Robin’s perspective, downsizing has allowed them the freedom to rid themselves of less important things, and to enjoy what they have come to love and value. Anyone currently teetering on the precipice of downsizing, but who thinks it’s an impossible task, can take inspiration from Greg and Mary Robin. Your new home may not look exactly like these pro’s, but at least you too can be surrounded by only your “best friends.”

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3 comments

  1. Nancy Norelli says:

    Loved this article! We want to downsize — leaving our “Bobby House” is hard, but perhaps if we engage this firm suddenly a splendid new chapter!

    Best regards to your team.

    Nancy

  2. Betsy Nolan says:

    Gets busy around the Holidays, so i somehow missed this blog post that EVERYONE I KNOW needs to see!!!
    My design team included!
    After spending a year and 1/2 designing and refining “our” perfect Waterfront home for the Gulf , and finding THE builder, it seems the home is scheduled to be complete the month my youngest graduates from High School… hmmmm… 4000sf plus outbuildings for the 2 of us…?
    Do we say “Halt, don’t cut down a tree! ” today, toss out the plans and the $$ spent, and regroup? My heart says “YES”, while my husband and builder and bank say “NO, they are ready to go… “.
    Thank you pointing out the very sane reasons a downsize is a sound idea for some, if not many!
    Best Regards,
    Betsy

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