This is the story of four homeowners who were tired of weeding and fertilizing, shoveling mounds of snow, replacing withering roofs, and cleaning out muck-ridden gutters. Some had beautiful, gargantuan homes full of keepsakes and character—filling 6,000 square feet of space or more—and long expanses of landscaped lawns that demanded manicuring and pruning. These homeowners finally called it quits, proudly thrusting up the white flag and pounding in the "For Sale'' signs. But with that act of defiance came the sometimes-scary reality of trading in the old homestead for smaller condominiums with a rep for being, well, sterile.
The solution: They gutted kitchens, ripped down walls, and even concealed beds behind faux mantels to create the illusion of space. Some have killer views and others have tony addresses, but they've all gone with the "out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new'' approach, discarding Queen Anne cocktail tables, mahogany beds, and Oriental rugs in favor of lighter, and perhaps a little more modern, furnishings. One thing they all say they don't have is clutter, and that has made their move to condominium living all the sweeter.
"It's freeing to get rid of stuff you don't need,'' says Donna DeLorenzo, who now lives with her husband in an opulent waterfront condominium overlooking the Inner Harbor. "You just feel lighter without all of the possessions.''
"I had piles of stuff labeled 'Free' by the curb,'' says interior designer Jan Lupnacca, who downsized to a 1,500-square-foot condo overlooking the North East River after driving truckloads of furniture to Goodwill in the process of leaving behind a four-bedroom home in New Jersey. "It is really cleansing.''
What they've lost in clutter and home maintenance drudgery, these condo converts have gained in time. They marvel at the hours that have opened up to them, and they have taken full advantage of every minute.
"All of a sudden, we had a lot of free time,'' DeLorenzo says. "We never realized how much time is taken up by maintaining a house. Now we have more time for our friends and to go to museums.''
"Here I have time to go out with the girls,'' says widow Audrey Striegel, who sold her 4,000-square-foot home with its sweeping views of the Severn River and U.S. Naval Academy, and snatched up a condo tucked along a cobblestone street in historic Annapolis. "We walk to the State House, to restaurants, to the dock.''
And when they simply stay in, the living's not too shabby, either. That's because the finishing touch was to call in the interior designers, who transformed even the tiniest powder rooms into the grandest rooms in the home and managed to make a couple thousand square feet of space appear impossibly airy, open, and elegant.
Let's take a look.
A fresh start is what Audrey Striegel was after when she left her magnificent home on the Severn River for a modest, 1,900-square-foot condominium in historic Annapolis. Her husband died in 2001, and after three years of going it solo, Striegel grew weary of the responsibilities that came with the high-maintenance property. "And the stairs,'' she says. "I had a front staircase and a back staircase. I used to walk myself silly.''
She zeroed in on Acton's Landing, a red brick condo complex that borders Spa Creek and is just steps away from the Annapolis harbor, and quickly realized she couldn't stuff 34 years of furnishings and accessories into a one-story, two-bedroom pad. "My old home held so many memories,'' she says. "I figured, 'Why not start all over again?'''
Out went five sofas, a Queen Anne dining room set, end tables, needlepoint rugs, and boxes of Waterford crystal. She hired Annapolis-based Fitzsimmons Design Associates to create a new look. "What was so unusual about this client was that, considering her age, she really did not keep much of her old furnishings, except for a few antique accent pieces,'' says decorator Gina Fitzsimmons. "She wanted a fresh look after having the same old furniture for 30 or 40 years.''
Fitzsimmons reused a cocktail table with chow legs in the living room, along with a few small antique pieces and a couple of occasional chairs. But sleek black granite and cherry cabinets in the kitchen, along with a glasstop dining table and Biedermeier chairs, modernized the look. Three de-silvered mirrors were hung in a row to capture light and reflection, creating a distinct appearance. Warm terracotta and honey gold colors on the walls add depth. And the powder room is a stunner, in chocolate strie faux finish with a gold-scrolled stencil.
"I think the most fun that I had with Audrey and designing her condo was how open she was to change,'' Fitzsimmons says. "It allowed me to create a more eclectic look to her condo that is also soft and atmospheric, and warm and inviting.''
Striegel says the downsizing has allowed her more time to stroll the quaint cobblestone streets of Annapolis with her friends. She was the first to host a cocktail party in the building because she was the only one who had furniture. "It's quite a change from what I was used to,'' she says. "And I like it.''
Donna and Michael DeLorenzo's 11th-story perch at Federal Hill's HarborView proves that you can pack a lot of luxury into a small space. Decadent marble floors, a spa-like bathroom complete with chromotherapy lighting and crystal chandelier, and a top-of-the-line kitchen with elegant, custom-finished cabinetry set against a postcard view of the Baltimore Inner Harbor create a tiny slice of year-round heaven for the 50-something couple.
"My husband told me I could decorate it to my heart's desire,'' says Donna DeLorenzo, "and I went for it.''
Though at first wary about parting with their Howard County custom-built home that boasted nearly 7,000 square feet of space, two master suites, and a wooded lot with a stream running through it, the empty nesters' plunge into condo living has far exceeded their expectations. The view alone from their 1,700-square-foot pad is priceless. Floor-to-ceiling windows stretch the length of the corner condo, capturing water views, yacht slips, and the busy goings-on of the Domino Sugar plant from every angle. At least three times a year, fireworks are shot up over the harbor, giving the DeLorenzo's spectacular, front-row seats from their expansive balcony. With binoculars, the couple often watch raw sugar unloaded from barges in front of the Domino Sugar factory. "It's entertainment all day long,'' says Donna DeLorenzo. "And it's magical when the city starts lighting up at night.''
The couple bought the condo about seven years ago. Owings Brothers Contracting came in and gutted the place to the framing. Debris had to be removed from the job site through the elevator. All new materials had to be hauled in via elevator, except for the 16-inch crown molding, which was transported by foot up the 11 floors through the stairwell, according to Susan Hawkins, marketing and human resource director for Owings Brothers. A large stone fireplace was built for architectural interest and ambience, and the bathroom and foyer were laid with cork under the marble to absorb the sound for the tenants below. During the four-month renovation, a second bedroom became a dining room, teal formica countertops were scrapped in favor of granite flecked with tones of gold, and a 60-inch round tub surrounded by mirrors was installed in the master bathroom. Meanwhile, Donna DeLorenzo decided to decorate from scratch. She got rid of everything—from pots and pans to silverware and linens, not to mention the 13 sofas she had accumulated over the years, and boatloads of other traditional furnishings.
"I was determined to have just what I need, and not one thing more,'' she says. "Why have 10 dishrags when you only need one?''
Designer Tina Wojtal of TLW Interiors in Ellicott City came in to make the DeLorenzo's new home "very comfortable, but very elegant.'' The result is "a monochromatic, Old World look that is very soothing and very calm,'' Wojtal says. The designer selected Benjamin Moore historic paint colors in shades of gold. Striking faux painting graces the walls of the powder room. The furniture is Louis XV in updated styles, and fabrics and window treatments are done in toasty golds, with trims and fringes made of things like Venetian glass beads to reflect sunlight. "All of the colors are natural so nothing fights with the view,'' Wojtal says.
The DeLorenzos love the rich look. "I love the plushness of the style,'' DeLorenzo says. "It's a style I hadn't done before.''
The couple says the move to a condo was a "huge change'' for them. "We were scared to do it,'' Donna DeLorenzo admits. "And the first day, we looked at each other and said, 'What have we done?'" But they quickly got hooked on the lifestyle, eating out four times a week in the summer, walking to Little Italy, taking the water taxi, and meeting new friends at pubs and piano bars. They have cocktails on their balcony nightly, and entertain constantly. Their dry cleaning is picked up and delivered, and they have a doorman. "We sit and watch the boats go by,'' says Donna DeLorenzo, "and we know we're going to stay here forever.''
Interior designer Jan Lupnacca is a master at creating space where there appears to be very little. She has not only managed to pump scads of pizazz into her small, two-bedroom condo that sits alongside the North East River, but she has also made it multifunctional, with each room doing double duty or more. In the process, she has brought a little taste of Manhattan to the quaint water town of North East in Cecil County.
"It was like trying to squeeze 10 pounds of potatoes into a five-pound bag, and trying to make it stylish, too,'' says Lupnacca of the renovation and re-design of the 1,500-square-foot condominium she and her husband bought in 2001, after moving from a 4,000-square-foot-home in New Jersey. "When you are dealing with a small space, you have to think vertically.''
From the outside, Lupnacca's home looks no different than the other gray, nondescript units that wind along the shores of a Susquehanna River tributary. Lupnacca readily admits she was starting from nothing. The unit was standard issue: Berber carpet, white walls, white kitchen.
"The condo is the shape of a shoebox. It does not have vaulted ceilings or a dramatic floor plan. But it does have a nice view.''
Lupnacca and her husband, John, picked up hammer and nails and got busy, doing all of the renovation themselves. Their months-long effort resulted in an interior that is breathtakingly, well, simple. It has been painstakingly designed so that every inch serves a purpose. And you won't find one nautical nod to its waterfront location in the entire pad. "Most of the condos here have beachy styles and pastels,'' says Lupnacca, who is new to interior design after spending 30 years in medical-device sales. "We were thinking more Manhattan than Maryland.''
The kitchen boasts distressed black cabinetry with contemporary molding that complements the Brazilian cherry flooring. Stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, and tumbled marble backsplash add to the sleek look. In the family room, a ventless gas fireplace is framed by barn-red, distressed custom book shelves. The mantle is made from chiseled fieldstone. Earth-tone wall colors allow modern art, a funky rug, and other accents to take main stage. The result is a mixture of tone and texture, a look that's decidedly contemporary, yet soft at the same time.
A small den serves both as an office and a guest room. By day, a long granite desktop flanked by floor-to-ceiling cabinetry is used for home-office work. By night, a stunning stone wall and faux mantel can be pulled down to reveal a built-in Murphy bed just perfect for out-of-town guests. "The thing about working with any condo is that you have what you have,'' Lupnacca says. "What was needed in this case was the actual creation of space. So rooms and furniture had to be multifunctional.''
Lupnacca says the transformation of her new home has made her feel comfortable with the simpler lifestyle. "It's really a big change coming here,'' she says. "But the condo reflects what I think is a sophisticated look that deviates greatly from most beach locations. And its simplicity and low maintenance make for more time on the boat!''
Her design philosophy? "I don't believe you have to fork out thousands of dollars to create a look,'' Lupnacca says. "I truly believe that in the most unusual or ordinary places, you can find just the right thing and it doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg.''
Dr. Raymond and Rosemary Waldron had lived for 23 years in a four-bedroom house on a third of an acre near Perry Hall. Fifty-four stately oak trees dotted the property. The couple had raised their one daughter there.
But when their daughter was ready to move out, Rosemary Waldron was just as ready. "I wanted out of there,'' she says with a laugh. "I didn't need the house. I didn't need to take care of the lawn any more.''
They handed over a deposit on a brand-new condominium just five minutes away, and six years later, they haven't looked back. "I miss nothing,'' Rosemary Waldron says of her old home. And of her new digs? "I'm not vacuuming, cleaning, or polishing,'' she says. "It's easy living.''
Their fourth-floor condo, complete with 15-foot ceilings, is easy on the eyes, too. It's light and bright, with walls in shades of taupe, and window treatments in crinkled sheers with delicate eyelash trim. The master bedroom furniture is ornate with heavy scrolling, but maintains an airy feel with its bleached finish. A large breakfast-room chandelier is made more casual by its crackled finish, and stark white kitchen cabinetry is softened by designer wallpaper in gold, silver, and taupe stripes. A den boasts an entire wall of washed birch cabinetry for file storage. A conversation area is anchored by an immense, ornate mirror. And a lighted curio cabinet in the living room showcases their daughter's artwork and other mementos picked up in the couple's travels.
"This is done in a transitional style,'' says decorator Sharon Imwold of The Decorating Studio, based in Baldwin. "It has all the elements of traditional, but it has a lighter feel.''
Imwold and Decorating Studio co-owner JoAnn Drehoff were handed a blank slate when they were commissioned to design and decorate the Waldrons' condominium. They chose the flooring and paint colors, along with custom furniture, window treatments, and accessories. The only prized posssession the Waldrons brought along from their single-family home was a grandfather clock. "I wanted to clear the whole place out,'' Rosemary Waldron says. "I gave everything away.''
The Decorating Studio went for a look that wouldn't feel dated 10 years down the road. "We wanted it to look timeless,'' Imwold says. "It's a timeless elegance, but inviting at the same time—a way to marry elegance and livability.''
At the same time, Imwold says she was careful to make the transition from room to room nearly seamless. No unexpected splash of color pops out of any room, merely variations of taupe from one room to the next with hints of yellow, gold, and olive. "There's a continuity of flow,'' Imwold says. "That's the name of the game when you're dealing with small spaces. It's important not to have harsh transitions.''
As far as the Waldron's transition to condo life, well, it couldn't be any less harsh. "I'm very relaxed in this house,'' Rosemary Waldron says. "There's very little upkeep. It takes care of itself.''