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Downsizing – Do it in style

With advanced health care services, today’s retiring generation is more active and fit and at this stage of their lives they want to start a new chapter close to the city’s buzz where they can meet friends in coffee shops and be part of their community. They want to downsize, but they want to do it in style, writes Bettina Deda.

Chief Executive Officer of Urban Task Force Australia Chris Johnson AM says a new market of older people, downsizing from houses to apartments, often in the same suburb, is emerging. And, the City Futures research group from the University of NSW, says baby boomers (born between 1945 and 1965) will change the normal age distribution in Australia’s major cities and are preferring to downsize close to where they currently live.

The City Futures report notes that many baby boomer homeowners are sitting on valuable assets. They are approaching retirement with a financial position inextricably tied to their home and the asset it represents. As a result of this financial security they are more likely to have substantive aspirations for their post-retirement years. This period, termed  the Third Age, lasts until a more frail old age is reached. The report further explains that, because this period of lifestyle and identity reinvention has not been experienced before, it is a very significant factor. Baby boomers could spend up to one third of their life in the Third Age. (Urban Ideas, May 2013). The process of downsizing can be a daunting one, but there are ways homeowners can overcome procrastination and successfully manage their downsizing project. The main challenges they face are: defining their new lifestyle; decluttering and prioritising what to keep; and optimisation of apartment storage.

These major challenges can be overcome by working with a strategic plan, checklists and practical tips along the way. My latest book Downsize with Style help homeowners have less stress while downsizing, create a stylish and happy home and eventually refine their apartment lifestyle

Here are my top five tips from Downsize with Style.


One of the biggest challenges for downsizers is procrastination and de-cluttering. Starting to de-clutter is the hardest part of your journey. There will always be stuff you can’t throw out, even if you haven’t touched it for years. Therefore, it is really helpful to look at this job as taking inventory and rethinking what to do with each item. Once you have committed to do your de-cluttering homework, do it strategically, work through it step-by-step and tackle one room at a time.

Work through cupboards, wardrobes and drawers. Assuming this is not a favourite task for most of us, use a simple three-step method to get it done: Commit to it, schedule it and do it! Allocate each item to one of these piles: things you want to keep; things you donate (to a charity, to your local school, friends); items to sell; and things that go into the bin. Find creative ways of passing on things that won’t fit in your new home. Free-cycle your collections by passing them on to family and friends to start a new life (check out: Create an “outbox” in your entrance area where you put all the things you offer to donate to your visitors and friends, or your children’s friends. This could be a nice basket or tray from which all your visitors can choose what they like. Remember: what is your trash could be someone else’s treasure!


Now that you have de-cluttered and tidied up, it is time to go on a self-discovery journey. This is the first step in creating your personal decorating style. As American fashion icon Iris Apfel says: “you have to learn who you are first”. So, put your thinking hat on and reflect what you love in life. Sit down with a cup of tea and write down or mind map what is important for you to create a happy home and lifestyle. Go on a self discovery journey!

Downsizing - Do it in styleA fun way of finding or enhancing your own style is departing for a world discovery tour. The good thing is you don’t have to travel far and wide. Start in your home. Walk through every room and note all the things that inspire you: photographs, art, cushions, travel souvenirs, china, books, fabrics, colours, shells, bric-a-brac etc.

Then, go for a walk in your street, your suburb or city. Explore the world around you. Keep your eyes open and your mind excited! Discover and appreciate the beauty, which lies within everything that surrounds you! Find inspiration in nature, architecture, shops, exhibitions and museums. Visit an exhibition or art gallery for inspiration from great artists. Enrol in an art workshop to re-activate your creativity. Buy interior design magazines and start collecting tear sheets of interiors that speak to you.

Once you have gathered all your inspirations from your home plus pictures from your discovery tour, lay everything out on a table and see what pattern emerges. You will find common colours, textures and styles you prefer. This is the starting point for the next step – your mood board.

A stylist’s tip: Always carry a little notebook and a camera with you in order to be able to capture your findings.


Take your collected objects, pictures, magazine tear sheets, colour samples, fabric swatches and put them together on a mood board for your apartment. You can either use a piece of cardboard or foam core board to fix your objects or you can put them in a box, if that is easier for you. The most important thing is that you find a pattern from all your inspirational pieces. Your board should transport the mood and atmosphere you want to achieve in your space. For example, if you found that you love French provincial style, add elements and objects to your board that translate this mood to your space.

You probably think that this sounds all very time consuming and requires a lot of effort. Well, haste makes waste, and while a good mood board may take quite a bit of your time, it is the basis for your new home. The more time you allocate to this (fun) task, the better your outcome will be. And it will save you a lot of time as well, because you are crystal clear what you want before you start shopping.


Small spaces require clever space management and room layouts. Every square metre needs to be used. Once you have decided on the look and feel of your room, it is time to layout the space. As you most probably are moving to a smaller space than your family home, you may find it hard to visualise how your furniture will fit and how you can make a small space look larger. By drawing up your rooms you will get a better idea of the size and proportion and of the overall look of your new home

This may sound a bit scary, especially if you are not very confident in drawing. But, trust me, it is not that hard and you will see immediately if your interior will work, or if you need to rethink your furniture placement. All you need is a scale ruler and grid paper. Draw the floor plan of your apartment to a chosen scale. Then measure your tables, chairs, lounges, sideboard, console, etc. and draw each piece to the same scale. Cut the pieces out. Now you can place them on your floor plan and move them around to find the best layout.

Another important point to consider is the traffic flow. Plan your home’s circulation and your space will work automatically. Take your floor plan and draw lines on it for the major routes through your apartment. These routes need maximum width, as more people will use them. Make sure that your furniture placement allows for optimised traffic flow and circulation. Don’t block traffic routes with furniture pieces so that people have to walk around them. For less congested routes, provide narrower access.

Always direct your furniture towards the best features of your apartment. For example, if you have stunning water views from my our living area, position your dining table so that everyone can enjoy the view without having to turn their heads. Position your lounge in a way to be able to enjoy the view and watch TV.

As American fashion icon Iris Apfel says: “you have to learn who you are first”.


Decide on the focal points in your rooms. Work with architectural features, like fireplaces, columns or feature walls. Choose a focal point and work around it.

If you would like to inject your personality, mixing and matching is a good way to go. Be courageous and mix styles, price points, textures and pieces from different origins and eras to create your unique interior. An eclectic style is far more interesting and personal than living in a house that looks like a display home.

Mix squares with circles to break the monotony of the square shape throughout our homes. Usually we find a lot of squares or rectangles in our homes: square or rectangle floor plans, square lounges, tables and rugs. Break this pattern by introducing a round rug, a curved lounge, an oval coffee table or organic-shaped pendants.

To introduce a new colour scheme in your home, start with a feature piece. Use artwork, rugs, a lampshade or an occasional chair as a starting point. Perhaps you have found an antique chair that you could re-upholster. Use the colours from your feature pieces in cushions, decor or a rug to link your space. Or consider an artwork as starting point for your interior (colour) scheme. Commissioning artwork is an interesting option if you want a unique and individual piece of art for your home. Just follow the rule that everything you buy has to mean something to you and your interior will work. It is a simple as that.

Downsizing - Do it in styleAbout
Bettina Deda
Bettina Deda is an interior stylist, colour consultant, artist and director of Bettina Deda Colour Design living. Originally from Germany, she moved to Sydney in 2008 and completed several studies including a CERT IV in Colour and Design and a Colour Design Diploma at the International School of Colour and Design (iscd). As a born organizer, she published an ebook to successfully manage DIY home renovations Style to Impress and is currently working on her second book Downsize in style. In May 2013 she launched her first fabric range for soft furnishings inspired by her hand-painted original artworks.

For more information on Bettina and her work, go to

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Alana Lowes

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