Up With Downsizing: A Rumson Couple Scale Down

Alone in the sprawling Rumson home where they had raised their sons, Stephanie and Frank Picone realized the time had come to feather a smaller nest. Sorting through 31 years of stuff was “traumatic,” but with discipline and the help of a creative interior designer, they emerged in a better place.

With their two sons grown and settled on the West Coast, Dr. Frank Picone and his wife, Stephanie, felt like two pinballs rattling around inside the sprawling 4,000-square-foot house in Rumson where they had lived for three decades. “The house was very expensive to keep up,” says Frank. “We knew we would soon have to put major money into it. The heating bill in the middle of winter could run $700 a month. The pool was a money pit.”

“We said, ‘Why are we keeping this big house?’” Stephanie recalls. It was clear they had run out of reasons. Their search for a smaller footprint took four years. By the time they closed on a 2,800-square-foot townhouse in Alderbrook, a community of 168 homes in Little Silver, “we were ready,” says Frank.

Now came the hard part. “We had to pack up 31 years of our lives,” says Stephanie. Not just pack up. “We had to purge,” says Frank. Parting was not sweet sorrow. “I kept saying, ‘My God, how did we accumulate all this stuff?’” says Stephanie. “We had an attic and a back shed, so the stuff was overwhelming. Plus, it was the middle of winter, so we couldn’t get back there. I eventually hired a handyman to just clean things out and throw them away.”

In the bedrooms, the job resembled an archeological dig. “I uncovered a lot of the childrens’ things that I had cherished, [like] stuffed animals, but I had to get rid of them,” Stephanie says. “I got rid of my son’s college books. No one wants those. But I saved his Boy Scout shirt. I just couldn’t throw it away!”

More than a year after the move, Stephanie describes the process as “very traumatic.” What made it bearable—and the outcome rejuvenating—was teaming up with interior designer Nicole Rice, owner of Coastal Décor, who had helped Stephanie with a previous project.

“I measured furniture and photographed every single piece,” says Rice. “I made all the plans before the move.” Only pieces assigned a specific spot and function in the new house would make the trip. “I gave a whole room of furniture to my son in Portland,” says Stephanie. They listed items on Craigslist, but not much sold. “Two really nice Baker chairs that we just can’t use,” says Frank. “They’re in our basement now.”

Before the move, Rice updated wall colors in the new home, extending the palette with new window treatments and throw pillows. As a result, the townhouse living room, assembled from several rooms of the big house, has a fresh look, even though the furniture was not reupholstered. The addition of plantation shutters and coral accents modernize the master suite. “Everything was already theirs—the bed, the sofa, the chair—but we updated it with pillows,” says Rice. “It’s their new sanctuary.”

Do they miss what they left behind? Yes and no. “I did all the gardening at the old house,” says Stephanie, adding triumphantly, “I don’t miss it!” Frank—who admits “we wanted a small house with a small piece of property”—notes that “we don’t have the use of the outdoors. I enjoyed the pool, even just looking at it. Here you don’t own anything. There are rules and regulations of a townhouse association, and you can’t put anything outside.

“I’m very happy here,” he adds. “It’s home. I’m just not crazy about following rules.”

There’s a lot of the old in the new, and that’s a good thing. “Maybe because we’ve updated everything, or maybe because we kept things we really, really loved, everything looks very comfortable and very familiar,” Stephanie reflects. “Maybe even better. We sit here at night now, and we’re so happy. We’re like two little bugs in a rug.”

Her advice to other empty nesters: “Don’t wait too long. You don’t want to be pushed against the wall. Do it while you’re still physically able.”

Nicole Rice, Coastal Décor and Interior Design,
Fair Haven; 732-842-8244, coastaldecoranddesign.com.

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A Fresh Start
For empty nesters like Susan and Peter Catelli, the preferred rallying cry is “Out with the old!”

On the cusp of retirement, Susan and Peter Catelli decided the theme for their next stage of life would be expressed in one word: simplify. After 10 years, they were ready to downsize from their two-story, 1,200-square-foot house in North Edison. They wanted stair-free, carefree living. A community where they wouldn’t have to lift a finger for maintenance (except to write a monthly check). They found everything they wanted at the Regency, a sprawling, active-adult community of more than 850 homes in Monroe Township.

The Catellis purged virtually everything but family keepsakes. They did this in one fell swoop by selling the North Edison house with all its contents included. “We moved in with only our clothing and our wedding picture,” says Peter. “Everything here is new. The forks, the glasses, the towels.”

The Catellis turned to Thomasville Home Furnishings of New Jersey for decorating help from interior designer Marcia Farley and window treatment expert Kathy Moran. The couple chose traditional dark woods and tailored upholstery. There’s no clutter and few accessories to dust.

“They’re both super neat,” says Farley, “and it shows.”

“This place is the fruits of our adult labor,” adds Peter. “It’s about lifestyle, about what makes us happy. It’s the time to put ourselves first.”

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