For young urban couples, the story line often goes like this: Couple gets married. Couple shares a city apartment for a time (and grows increasingly irritated by living in such close quarters). Couple buys a house with a garage, a yard, and plenty of breathing room.
It’s the scenario that young thirty-somethings Amy and Adam Maher followed—moving from a small San Francisco apartment to a big old house north of Denver’s City Park—until they flipped the script. “We just decided we didn’t want to spend every weekend doing yard work,” Amy says.
Fortuitously, Amy already owned a two-bedroom condo in Capitol Hill—600 square feet of quirky historical charm. After the couple spent an evening out near her old haunts (discovering that Torchy’s Tacos and the Metlo had replaced a fast-food joint and a seedy hotel), they decided that downsizing could in fact be an upgrade. “We could spend 20 grand to update the entire apartment,” Amy says, “which wouldn’t have even paid for a new kitchen in our house. It kind of became a no-brainer.”
To refresh the shell of the space, the Mahers made a few simple but high-impact shifts: They stained the original wood floors a darker color; painted the walls white and black; overhauled the kitchen with some fresh tile and cabinets (tearing down a half wall in the process); and removed a pitiful popcorn ceiling. Meanwhile, they turned to Denver-based e-design service Havenly for help with the furnishings. (Amy worked as the company’s vice president of product at the time, which made choosing Havenly another no-brainer.)
The service, which is part of the growing tech-driven-design trend, lets clients work with remote interior designers to furnish a room (or several) virtually—sharing specs, images, products, and feedback via an app. “We work with people who have zero idea of their sense of style as well as people who have a strong sense of style and just need a little professional help filling in the gaps,” says Gillian Grefé, senior manager of brand at Havenly.
Amy fit into the latter category; to outfit her digs, she teamed up with Stafford Bensen, a Boston-based Havenly designer who Amy now calls her design soulmate. “She really just got it from the get-go,” Amy says.
To her point, after reviewing Amy’s design-inspiration board on Pinterest, Bensen quickly pinpointed her client’s style. “It was very ‘[L.A.-based Instagram darling] Amber Interiors meets Schoolhouse Electric’s: industrial, modern, and clean,” the designer says, “but with some fun textiles and colors.”
Bensen helped translate those style cues into a cohesive design, which was key given the size of the space. “When you’re standing in the living room, you can literally see every square inch of the space,” Amy says, “so the design really needed to flow.”
A streamlined mix of furnishings in black or white creates a consistent backdrop, and a collection of quirky accessories, offbeat art, and colorful rugs reflects the Mahers’ fun personalities. “There’s a really awesome mix of textures, patterns, and more subdued elements,” Amy says. “I think it strikes a good balance between being relaxing and provocative. It’s not boring.” Just like the couple’s approach to life, we might add.
Top 5 Tips For Downsizing
- Know your compromises. Homeowners Amy and Adam Maher were willing to live
with tight bedroom quarters in exchange for their king-size mattress.
- Learn to let go. “That’s the most important thing you need to know,” interior designer Stafford Bensen says. “If it doesn’t fit, you have to be OK with getting rid of it.”
- Get creative with furniture. The desk in the home office is an IKEA counter placed on top of two IKEA drawer units. The bar cart in the living room displays accessories and offers extra storage.
- Dwell on the upsides. “Storage is the challenge of living in a small space,” Amy says, “but it is so freeing to clean the whole apartment in 20 minutes.”
- Embrace your inner Kondo. “It’s a bit of a cliché, but that Marie Kondo concept of making sure everything in your home serves a purpose is so important,” says Amy, who admits she even found joy in organizing her spices in magnetic containers.