An up-scale downsize in Phoenix

Emily Bernhardt and Norman Fisher hadn't envisioned themselves in a manufactured home, but once they saw the Creekside Estates development in Phoenix, with its backdrop of Bear Creek and the Southern Cascades, suddenly their ideas shifted. With the help of some family, they were able to create a sanctuary that suits their eclectic tastes, busy social life and all the furniture and memorabilia they brought from their former home in Memphis, Tennessee.

"They couldn't find a home in Ashland they liked that was in their price range," says Emily's son-in-law Sam Whitford, an Ashland Realtor and retired art teacher who moonlights as an interior designer. "Then we looked at this and it's just a beautiful home."

The secret to a successful downsize

Dreaming of a downsize? As America's population readies for retirement, more homeowners are considering a move into a smaller residence. The benefits are numerous: Money and time become available for hobbies and travel; you may be able to move closer to family and/or other friends who have already downsized; and you may find your quality of life actually increases—easy-to-reach outlets, fewer stairs, nearby assistance, etc.

Of course, big change like a move is never easy, yet there are ways to lessen the emotional impact of leaving "the big house."

First is advance planning. Postponing a move until it must happen means there's less time to find the perfect fit. It can also translate into less money in the bank account, as selling "as is" often delivers smaller returns.

Once you've decided to downsize, the winning formula for happiness is "location, location, location."

"Finding a wonderful location is the only thing that really counts," says Ashland Realtor Sam Whitford, who just helped his mother-in-law and her partner downsize from a grand old Tennessee home to a 55-and-older community in Phoenix.

Contact a local Realtor, gather information about the properties you're interested in, even knock on doors to find out how neighbors like the area.

Finally, be open to solutions you may not have expected—perhaps a manufactured home or a retirement community will provide everything you're looking for. As long as it's in a location that promises happiness, it just might hold the key to a bright future.

It would have been easy to go 'vanilla' with the décor, since the interior of the 1600-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath home was wall-to-wall white. Yet the place had enough interesting architectural details—a pitched ceiling, arched doorways, skylights—to encourage the homeowners' creativity.

"We gave this place some flavor," says Emily, gesturing to the rich earth tones that now embrace a lifetime of mementoes, many of which came from her parents and other relatives who fled Germany during the Holocaust. "Some rooms are caramel, some are toasty, the kitchen's painted 'nutmeg'. And it's all tastefully done."

Whitford and Emily's son, Kurt Bernhardt, lent muscle to the heavy lifting and painting. They started by choosing a palette, inspired by the "furniture, rugs and artwork" Emily already had.

The entry (created by placing a paprika-colored ultrasuede sofa at a 90-degree angle to the front door) and living room walls are painted a toasty oat hue, with "hot box brown" accent walls and white trim, which follows throughout the house. A large picture of bright orange and red poppies hangs next to a black-framed full-length mirror, both facing the front door, visually enlarging the space. A paprika loveseat, black leather armchair, black metal tables with woven grass tops and greenery in large pots sit atop a graphic rug of nutmeg, brown, steel blue, black and white.

"Adding our own carpet really made the house ours," says Emily, who chose to keep the neutral shag carpet underneath. Other personal touches include a copper kettle that was Norman's grandmother's, several Jewish symbols and awards, and three treasured oil paintings in their original frames, brought to the United States by Emily's parents in 1938.

A formal dining room to the right of the entry is a backdrop to a metal chandelier, which hangs over a round, black dining room set. A matching hutch (displaying family china and figurines) and small sidebar make the most of the cozy space, enlivened by a bay window that hosts a long metal bench.

Accessible through the living and dining rooms is a charming country kitchen, happily animated by pigs, cows and "Pierre," who stands on the island inviting guests to have a glass of wine. Existing white cabinets and Formica countertops led Sam to suggest spicy nutmeg walls, which bring warmth to the room; Kurt had the idea to carry the warm shade up to the wells of the skylight.

"We wanted to put blinds up there because you needed sunglasses because the glare was so bright," says Norman. "Now the whole glare is gone and we didn't have to spend $400."

Also off the living room is a comfortable den-cum-office, where Norman likes to watch TV while Emily chats with neighbor ladies. Past a terra cotta-and-floral-print powder room and a hobby room that gets repurposed as a guest room is the master suite.

Colonial blue walls show off the grand black bed frame, wardrobe and dressers. Taupe and black bed linens add to the classic seduction of the room, as does a silk shantung ottoman at the foot of the bed and an abstract metal sculpture—one of Emily's late husband's collected pieces.

"And don't you just love my red bathroom?" asks Emily, who is tickled every time she steps into the saucy space. Deep paprika kisses the walls while matching rugs and a spicy striped shower curtain add more playful drama—to say nothing of the clowns painted for both Emily's sons when they were little, her hand mirror emblazoned with "Queen" and Norman's "naughty" sculpture of two bears fooling around.

"Nothing goes together—it's just all eclectic," says Emily. "And Sam figured out how to use all our things, which makes our new home just really lovely."

A dash or two of flavoring was all this couple needed to sweeten the idea of a downsize.

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