How To Downsize: 3 Secrets For A Successful Move From A Larger Home To A Smaller Living Space

Nancy Del SantoToday’s guest post on downsizing comes to us from Nancy Del Santo of

Working with an interior design professional when you’re moving may be the best money you’ll spend. You don’t want to pay to have furniture moved that you won’t be using and it’s hard to know how things will fit and if they’ll look right once you move.

You need someone to think “outside the box” of your old home. If you’ve always had your china buffet in the dining room, you may be blind to new possibilities. Decorators understand scale and proportion and will suggest fresh approaches for your new space.

Through my years as a design professional, I’ve worked with many wonderful clients who have downsized from their larger family home into a townhouse, condo, or smaller house. Usually, the new home has a more open layout and fewer rooms. The question is how to accommodate all the activities of your life and the people in your life in this new, smaller and “all-together” space.

I’ve learned 3 secrets to a successful transition from a larger home to a smaller one. Today, I’d like to share these secrets with you.

Secret #1 Place yourself in the best rooms in your new home.

The best rooms have better natural light, pretty views, higher ceilings, and are more spacious. In your old home, you probably saved a couple of rooms like these for times when you had company. For instance, many people never use their formal living room unless they have company.

Now you are going to be living in a compressed space. Please don’t label certain rooms just for company. Use them for yourself. You’re worth it! I know it may seem silly that I’m bringing this up. Of course you’re going to use the best rooms. But let me share some real life examples. These are things I’ve run into with my clients. Maybe you will see yourself in these stories.

One of my favorite clients was referred to me just after they moved from their larger home into a townhouse. In addition to questions about where to place furniture, they needed my help figuring out where they would do things like pay bills and use their computer.

They had an office in their old home. Their new townhome had an extra bedroom they could make into an office but they thought they’d need the space for visiting family members. My client was thinking about converting a closet in a hallway into an office area. Meanwhile, the room with soaring ceilings, fabulous natural light and a delightful patio breezes was an open floor plan living room/dining room.

What do you think the solution was? Let me give you a hint. This client spends a lot of time in the prettiest room of the house. How did we make that happen?

We created a custom built-in with all the functionality of a separate office space. The built-in looks like a beautiful piece of furniture. It’s an armoire that fills a large wall in the dining area. It’s attractive when the doors are open but hides everything when the doors are closed. It’s next to the dining room table. My clients slide one of the dining room chairs back and forth between the desk space and the dining space depending where it’s needed. The dining room table is used for overflowing papers but it’s rarely needed since the built-in has been specially designed to accommodate all of the papers.

The moral of this story is that you can really live in a room and still have it be beautiful. The trick is to find ways to make furniture do double duty so that you can use the space efficiently.

That brings me to the next secret.

Secret #2 Don’t be afraid to trade out old furniture for better functionality.

Often, that means spending money on a built-in that can provide the storage you need along with desk space. Even though you have something that could work in your new space, it might not be the best thing. For instance, you may have a bookcase that you could use from your old home but it will leave quite a bit of open wall space all around it and you really need the storage space. If you build in a bookcase, you can capture all of the available space.

Let me give you another example. One of the trends in magazines right now is upholstered furniture with straighter lines. This is great news for people living in smaller rooms. Who needs big arms on a sofa taking up a lot of space when the seating area is limited?

You may have had so much room in your old house that you never thought about the arms on your sofas or chairs. But in your new home, you may find things will fit better with smaller arms. Can you change them? Absolutely! An upholsterer can modify seating. Arms can be made smaller or in a different style. The seat back can be raised or lowered. Skirts can be added or removed. There are so many options here that the wise money is to consult a decorator before you do anything.

One of my clients had a plumbing problem that flooded a bathroom and seeped into an adjoining office. As a result, they needed to purchase new flooring, change out wallpaper and recover some furniture. They called me for help rather than trying to do it themselves.

I suggested that we take advantage of the opportunity to change their sofa. It had exposed legs. We decided to add a skirt, change the fabric style and color, and add new pillows. Their old sofa looks completely different now. It was always comfortable but now it’s updated and more beautiful. The homeowners love it.

Secret #3 Just because you’re in a smaller space doesn’t mean that everything should be small.

This is a problem for most people, whether you are downsizing or not. Small items tend to add to a cluttered look. Over a lifetime of accumulation, many people end up with too many small things. It takes effort to limit your inventory but if you select a few special items to showcase, you’ll really see and enjoy them.

I love Mitzi’s vlog where she shows off treasured items that she displays on a couple of shelves. Of course she’s accumulated lots of things over the years but Mitzi prioritized all of them and narrowed her inventory down to those that meant the most.

It reminds me of what they say about the closets of chic women. They say the best dressed often have the smallest closets. They edit their clothing and are more selective about what they buy and wear.

We should do the same thing with our homes. Edit what you display. If you have a bunch of small items that mean a lot to you, try grouping them on a tray or on a wall together. But make an effort to limit the smaller items. Don’t be afraid to buy one larger item that will make a statement in your new home instead of a bunch of small things.

This applies to seating. A bunch of small chairs placed next to a small sofa looks cluttered. A tailored sectional may take up the same amount of space, provide the same amount of seating, but look better in your space.

Of course, it’s important to check the scale of things before you make a purchase. Don’t trust how things look in the furniture store. Your room is very different from the huge furniture store with high ceilings.

If you’re moving, I hope you find these ideas helpful. If you have friends who are moving, please pass this blog post along to them. Happy decorating from askDECOR.

Nancy Del Santo is the founder of askDECOR, a full service interior design firm with offices in California, Colorado and the world wide web. Learn more about Nancy at


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