Small-space experts Ross and Christine Endicott candidly deliver their top five tips.
(excerpted from Down East's Maine Homes Newsletter)
Four years ago, a widow in her 70s — let’s call her Gail — went furniture shopping for her new condo in the Riverbend Woods community in Wells. She selected a sectional and pair of upholstered armchairs from Scarborough’s Endicott Home Furnishings, but met with resistance from Ross Endicott, who owns the store with his wife, Christine. “I said, ‘did you do track in high school because you’re going to need a pole vault to get over that sectional,’” Ross says, noting that the piece would largely cut off access to the condo’s other rooms. (He sold her a three-seat sofa instead.) As for the chairs, “I said, ‘I’ll sell you one chair,’” recalls Ross, who convinced Gail to match it with a smaller side chair she already owned, a choice he maintained would fit better in her compact space. “Now she tells everyone in that community that I won’t sell furniture,” he says with a laugh.
After 14 years in the small-scale furniture business, catering largely to downsizers over 50 (and, lately, millennials drawn to smallish homes in walkable city and town centers), “I am familiar with the communities where people retire. I know the layouts; I know what fits in the rooms,” Ross says. And he knows his customers, many of whom are going through the emotional process of parting with a beloved larger home and several decades worth of possessions. Most appreciate his decisiveness and forthright recommendations. “Ross has a lot of girlfriends,” jokes Christine. As it happens, the tips the pair pass on to their customers add up to good advice for anyone looking to pursue their next chapter in cozier quarters.
Shed it and forget it. Maine has the nation’s oldest population by median age and its highest concentration of baby boomers. That’s about 260,000 potential downsizers who may also be looking to unload their antique breakfronts and bedroom sets. “Accept that the younger generation may not want your cherished heirlooms and prepare for low appraisals,” Ross says. “They reflect the high supply and low demand dealers see.” He and Christine recommend taking as little as possible to your new digs (put what you’re not ready to part with in storage) so you can get a feel for how you want to use the rooms. Your space, and the activities you want to perform there, should dictate how you live in the home — not your stuff, Ross says.
Live on patio furniture for a while. The same clean-slate approach applies to bringing in new furnishings. “A lot of people want to buy everything for their house at once,” says Christine. “There’s this sense of just wanting to get past this stressful moment,” adds Ross. But particularly in a small space — where every square foot is precious — it’s important to think through your purchases. The Endicotts advise buying a few anchor pieces to start and supplementing with lawn chairs and card tables while you figure out what else you need. Before letting customers shell out for large items like media cabinets, Ross has been known to deliver cardboard prototypes to their homes. “I say, ‘live with this for a week and, if you think it works, I’ll order it.’”
Find the right fit. For maximum comfort and support when sitting, your legs should form a right angle, with your knees hitting the edge of the seat cushion. “Most of our customers don’t want to be loungey,” says Ross, who recommends firm cushions for additional stability. If you love a piece but the dimensions don’t suit you or your space, customizing is a great option — and it’s not as pricey as you might think. Modifying a sofa, chair, or loveseat in the Endicotts’ Condo Furniture line adds 10 to 15 percent to the cost, and about two weeks to the typical eight-week delivery time. “We customized the same chair in matching fabric for a husband who is 6′ 3″ and a wife who’s 5′ 2″,” Christine says. “They have them side by side in their living room and they look like Mama Bear and Papa Bear chairs” — in other words, just right.
Eschew flame-retardants. In an effort to shrink their ecological footprint and control heating costs, many older Mainers are seeking out highly efficient small homes. “Now, imagine exploding a toxic furniture bomb in your airtight rooms,” says Ross, referring to the carcinogenic flame-retardant chemicals commonly used in upholstery cushions. The Endicotts stopped selling cushions containing such chemicals in 2011 and were vocal supporters of a new state law banning their use in residential upholstered furniture that takes effect on January 1 of next year. (Learn more about the health risks associated with flame-retardants here.) Until then, of course, dealers can continue to sell treated cushions, “so you should always ask what’s in the furniture you’re buying,” says Ross, who tells customers to avoid fabrics treated with stain-resistant chemicals, too. As an alternative, he recommends Revolution Performance Fabrics, materials made from plastic drink bottles that are durable, easily cleanable, and naturally stain-resistant.
Invest in multitaskers. Sleeper sofas, storage ottomans, nesting tables, beds with built-in drawers, a desk that doubles as a dining table, a coffee table with a top you can raise to a height comfortable for dining or using a laptop (“because people confess to eating in front of the TV,” Ross says) — these can be clutch pieces in a tight space. With every item, the Endicotts ask customers to consider how they might use it in the future. Ross recently designed a media center for a family that houses a flat screen and vinyl collection now and can be transformed into a display case for the wife’s china later. Sometimes thinking ahead has caused the couple to lose sales. One client requested a cherry wall unit to hold his 5,000 CDs. “I introduced him to someone who could transfer his music to a computer instead,” Ross says. “I lost $10,000, but I gained a great friend.”