Downsizing My Past

By Marilyn Davis

Marilyn Davis' dining room in her downsized apartment

I had a charmed life.  And then I didn’t.

I was living in what I believed would be my “forever home”, a classic six room coop apartment on the upper east side of Manhattan.  Sadly, the loss of my companion, along with the stock market decent of 2009, forced me to give my wonderful apartment up and face a major downsizing.

It was a hard pill to swallow considering all the heart and soul I had poured into renovating this prime piece of NYC real estate.  It was a great apartment with two bedrooms, two full baths, two half baths, formal dining room, formal living room, large kitchen, office, and small laundry room.  I had made it into my dream home by adding the traditional details that I so loved, including special touches like doorway arches, mouldings, interior French doors, new entrance flooring, and a beautiful old mantle that I had enhanced with carving and new stain before making it the centerpiece of the living room.  It was a lovely, spacious home that had just the right amount for formality for my taste.  I was heartbroken to suddenly be faced with giving it all up.

Downsized sitting room

A "few" of Marilyn's favorite things in her new sitting room.

But give it up I did.

To Keep or Not to Keep

The transition to my current much smaller home was complicated.  Thankfully I managed to find an unfinished studio apartment right across the street from my home, which sold very quickly.  I transferred only the furnishings that I absolutely needed to the studio and put the rest in storage, still not certain how many of my beloved traditional furnishings I might ultimately have to part with.

Meanwhile, I had my eye on a small one bedroom with one and a half baths (in my old building!) was rumored to be going up for sale or on the market to be sold.  Keeping my fingers crossed, I decided to be pro-active.  I managed to get an architect to look at both my previous home and the one bedroom home in the same building that I hoped to buy.  Actually, I had two architects look at the spaces, sharing my vision of recreating the traditional look and feel of my previous home in a much smaller space.  One architect dismissed my ideas totally saying that it simply would not be possible.  The other architect was confident he could make it happen, so I put my faith in him and he commenced with drawing up new plans.

I had nine months to think about the transition from the studio where I was temporarily living to the new one-bedroom apartment I hoped to buy.  I spent a lot of time thinking about what would make the new apartment feel like home when and if it became available.  The architect and I worked closely together, conquering challenges like changes in building codes, etc. as we developed a vision that would fit into a one-bedroom footprint.

I also had two rooms in a storage facility filled to the gills with a lifetime of accumulated and beloved furnishings.  I had some very difficult decisions to make.  During this period I had to ask myself the same two questions over and over again as I inventoried each and every piece in storage:  How much did I love it?  Could it be repurposed into the one bedroom apartment I hoped to buy?

I had a lot of thinking and soul searching to do – not to mention measuring!  I spent many hours in the storage facility, with plans in hand and a scaled ruler to be sure what I kept would fit into the space.

Ultimately I ended up donating, selling or giving away many pieces of furniture and other belongings. I donated many antiques, including a Bergere chair with beautiful silk fabric, a corner table with a silk plaid skirt down to the floor, small oriental style side tables with carving on the edge, and Raphael Soyer art.  Most of these special pieces, along with office supplies, desks, clothing, and many cooking supplies all went to an organization called Housing Works in NY.  I gave a few other things to friends.

Traditional – Just Smaller

On the bright side my work with the architect was paying off and the plans were taking shape.  I worked closely with him, drawing sketches and communicating my needs.  I was immersed in this process, often working well into the night to reconcile my vision with this smaller footprint.  One of my toughest challenges was how to make a very small dining room and kitchen work within the space.  My solution involved two smaller arches in the kitchen and a breakfast bar as part of the dining room.  Somehow we made it work and the architect implemented my idea into his plan.

Finally, the one bedroom apartment I had coveted became my own.  The owners finally sold and the architect and I were able to see our plans come to life.

As for the furnishings, I held on to some very special pieces that were integral to making my new one-bedroom apartment fell like home:  a French 3-paneled etched glass screen… a carved back chair from my parents’ home…. several small antique tables… an alter table with beautifully delicate carving that I’ve placed in new entrance.

I don’t grieve for the things I gave away, as I kept some wonderful pieces that bring me great joy each day.  And while I do miss the creature comforts of a larger home (extra closets, guestroom, etc.) I’m so proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish.  I now have a lovely traditional (small) space that is an outpouring of myself through my own design sensibilities and the skill and dedication of an architect who didn’t shy away from a challenge.

Marilyn Davis, ASID, is an Interior Designer and Personal Space Organizer in New York City and specializes in elegant small livable spaces. More photos of Marilyn’s work can be seen here at


6 Responses »

  1. I’d like to thank Marilyn Davis for this contribution. I think most of us inevitably find ourselves feeling the need to “purge” our homes (and lives) of the things when the New Year rolls around. It can be an emotional and anxiety ridden task. I am inspired by the painstaking effort Marilyn took to fit the things she most loved into her smaller footprint.

    • Dear Trish:
      Thank you for publishing my article. It was indeed a trying time. I learned however that my inner strength prevailed and although I still long for more closets I do know now know with the right team of people and determination you can move on with positive results to a new and different life.
      Best for the New Year,

  2. Hi I would love to repost this given you full credit of course. It’s a good fit for my niche in the Manufactured Housing industry. I am hit almost daily with Baby Boomers grieving over the downsizing dilemma. This would be a good fit for some real estate blogs I post on.

  3. Dear Marilyn,
    Firstly, I want to congratulate you on a beautifully well written article that I very much enjoyed reading…and more than once. Not only do you possess a handsome array of furnishings and appointments, but you’ve so creatively arranged everything. Yes, you’ve downsized but you very sensitively created a design that, although in a smaller space, is not cluttered and your decorating skills and use of color and pattern have helped to produce a very elegant living environment. And I should mention that it was always a joy working with you Marilyn, someone who maintains a patient and methodical approach to every exquisite detail. It would be my distinct pleasure to have the opportunity to work with you again on future projects.
    Kudos to you Marilyn.

    • Dear Dan:

      Thank you for your kind words. It was my good fortune to have met you and worked with you on this challenging space. With your vision and my determination the end result was a lovely smaller home.
      I would consider my self lucky if the opportunity presents its self, to work with you once again.

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