A designer’s guide to downsizing

How to downsize from a family home to an apartment - in style.
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Downsizing from a house to an apartment doesn’t have to mean a compromise on style. We talk to an expert to find that it’s all in the planning and learn how you can furnish, decorate and style an apartment with every bit as much comfort and sophistication as a house.

How to downsize to an apartment
Everything you need – without the clutter. (Credit: AURA by Aqualand)

There are many reasons for downsizing your home to live in an apartment. A change in your family, finances or lifestyle may mean that living in – and maintaining – an entire house no longer suits you. But there’s a lot to consider before you dive into apartment living.

Rushing in without understanding the scope of such a transition is a common pitfall and it’s important to do your research, talk to others who have made the change and be prepared for a different way of living. “Expecting the size and amenity of a traditional 3-4 bed Australian home in an apartment isn’t realistic”, says Kirsten Stanisich, architect and founder of Richards Stanisich. “Understand the reason you’ve chosen to downsize and embrace all the benefits it has to offer.”

The benefits are many. A reduced cleaning load is the first thing you’ll notice, then, once you’ve settled in there’s less to do across the board. “One of the most exciting things is that downsizing reduces the need for maintenance,” says Kirsten. “Thinking about it and organising someone to do it, or even doing it yourself. It’s very liberating to leave that behind.”

Here are Kirsten’s expert tips on how to downsize from a family home to an apartment. 

compact kitchen with plenty of storage
Keep it compact: pack as much custom cabinetry into your apartment kitchen as possible. (Credit: Photography: Sue Stubbs / Styling: Samantha Torrisi)

1. Your furnished apartment: how to downsize your furniture

Room-for-room, an apartment will almost certainly have a smaller footprint than a house and an assessment of your furniture is the first place to start when you’re considering a move into a smaller space. 

“Downsizing offers a great opportunity to do an inventory of the things you want or need,” says Kirsten. “Make sure you’re not bringing years of accumulated clutter into an apartment with less storage. Vacuum packing clothes, organising cookware and culling junk are all things to help with storage in a smaller space.”

While large pieces like your sofa and dining table are obvious items for consideration, often overlooked is the removal of smaller pieces such as occasional chairs, side tables, coffee tables and freestanding storage. Be realistic about sentimental pieces that have an emotional pull, says Kirsten. “The William Morris quote ‘Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be beautiful or believe to be useful’ applies to various aspects of downsizing, particularly when deciding what furniture to keep.”

“To help me decide, I ask myself two questions; ‘will I ever be able to replace it’ and ‘does it work in this space’?

Kirsten Stanisich, Architect and founder of Richards Stanisich

2. Decorating your apartment: Which paint colours work best in an apartment?

This is where the fun begins so be true to your taste when choosing colours for your apartment. “Personal preference plays a large part in the ‘right’ colour scheme,” says Kirsten. “Lighter, neutral base palettes typically lay a strong foundation to add colour with styling and furniture. This allows anyone to control their ideal colour palette and alter the space over time without ever touching the architecture.”

office nook
Why not make room in the bedroom or guest room for a home office nook? (Credit: Photography: Natalie Hunfalvay / Stylist: Lisa Burden)

3. Apartment layout: How to make the most of your space

Gone are the days of small, boxy rooms with immovable walls and a lack of open-plan living. “The expectation of modern apartments is a suitable blend of communal and private spaces, with an open kitchen/living providing ample space and natural light,” says Kirsten. “To maintain a sense of size and space in a smaller dwelling, it’s crucial to acknowledge you are ‘downsizing’, meaning you cannot cram the contents of a 5-bedroom house into a 2-bedroom apartment!” A practical review of your needs is key and transitional furniture, such as extendable dining tables, sofa beds and nested side tables can offer the flexibility to accommodate guests when entertaining. “It sounds obvious, but sit down with the agent or developer, look at the plans and consider exactly how you will use and maximise each space,” says Kirsten.

Look at possibilities for using spaces for more than one purpose. “With a greater number of people choosing to work from home, making space for a study desk in the bedroom or living room is also a consideration,” says Kirsten.

Take a walk around the neighbourhood for a view into apartment living.
(Credit: AURA by Aqualand)

5. Apartment storage: How to avoid excess clutter

If you are renovating or can plan your apartment layout before you move in, custom cabinetry is the most efficient use of space for storage. A built-in study nook alongside a fireplace or kitchen island can be ideal. The same goes for a built-in laundry. Take stock of what you currently have and what works well and collect ideas from other homes, showrooms and even restaurants for apartment storage ideas. 

Design tip: “Book an appointment with a window furnishing supplier so that you have any blinds and curtains installed as quickly as possible.”

Kirsten Stanisich, Architect and founder of Richards Stanisich

6. Apartment lifestyle: Embrace the difference

With less time spent cleaning and maintaining your home, the apartment lifestyle brings exciting opportunities to enjoy the spaces around you, so do your research on the neighbourhood and visit parks and nearby cafes, local libraries and restaurants for a glimpse into your new life.

“Look for an apartment with great communal amenities like cafes, restaurants or a communal pool,” says Kirsten. “This will help you meet your neighbours and form new connections that make you feel like you’re back at home.” 

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