5 Decorating Tips for Your New Suite

in Independent Living

Written by Sheila Hansen

As moving day approaches, you might be thinking about how to decorate your retirement residence suite. You’ve de-cluttered your current home, and look forward to a fresh start in your new but smaller space. Just because you’re downsizing doesn’t mean your quality of life has to change.

Resident hanging a picture on the wall

As Danny Chan and Sandra Dee, the husband-and-wife team behind Vancouver’s Happy Home Design, say: “It’s not bigger, but better.” Here are their tips for creating a comfortable and appealing home.

Explore less-is-more decor

Leaving most of your traditional furniture behind, you’ve still saved some pieces and knick-knacks. Instead of taking several items, advises Chan, try narrowing them down to a few favourites. Citing the love-it-or-leave-it design principle of Japanese organizer Marie Kondo, Chan says to ask yourself: “Does that object spark joy? If it doesn’t, then it becomes a burden.”

Perhaps it’s a cherished painting, sculpture or vase, says Dee, or “maybe a collection of items from a trip that means something to you, that you can display in a prominent place…it makes you happy every time you see it.” Decorating with pieces you already have, she adds, makes the process more affordable.

Find the perfect fit

Faced with smaller dimensions in your suite, you might need one or two new furniture pieces for a better fit. That three-seat sofa and ottoman that graced your former larger living room will take up a lot of physical and visual space in your new home. “We like to encourage our clients to invest in new furniture pieces that are smaller scale, more streamlined, to enjoy in the years to come,” says Chan.

Add colour and warmth

Go for grey, beige or other neutrals in sofas, club chairs and the like. Then add pops of colour with accessories like throws, cushions and bedding – they’re much easier to replace should your tastes change.

For big impact and a small amount of money, step things up by changing the wall colour.* Don’t be swayed by trends, says Dee, but rather choose a colour that you like and makes you happy. “We suggest going with an inspiration piece. If there’s a cushion that you really love, then pick up from that cushion as a jump-off point, choosing a shade that is lighter for the walls.” While an accent wall suits strong colours, she adds, “it’s good to surround yourself with a soothing soft colour, like in a bedroom.”

But certain colours, cautions Chan, can affect your mood and well-being. For example, you might like yellow for your bedroom but its brightness could disrupt your sleep, or a dark blue east-facing room might feel gloomy in Vancouver’s rainy climate. In both cases, go for a lighter shade instead.

A well-decorated living room in blue

Create a gallery wall

A collection of wall-mounted photographs also makes for a comfortable and warm home. Choose a personal theme like grandchildren, a memorable holiday or hobbies – the images will add personality and serve as conversation starters when friends visit.

For a clean, updated look, Chan suggests forming a 3 x 2 or 3 x 3 grid of photographs in the same type and size of frame. “Grouped together, it reads like one big work of art,” he says, advising against the far more challenging task of assembling mixed frames into one display. Start by visiting IKEA, Michaels Craft Store and Chapters Indigo for attractive but inexpensive frames.

Gallery wall consisting of two rows of four frames of the same size

Find simple ways to add interest, texture and light

There’s much in the way of details to beautify your home too. Try stacking your favourite books, crowned with a vase or photograph, on the coffee table. Or create a beverage station in the kitchen, with your favourite tea cup and pot sharing a tray with potted herbs. Use other plants to break up your suite’s straight rigid lines, as well as to clean the air. (Don’t want to water? Spring for a high-quality faux variety for that same feeling of freshness.) Add floor and table lamps for cozy, layered lighting, even switching out the ceiling fixture with one you love – Home Depot has a great selection.

While your unit has blinds, don’t forget to dress up your windows. Not only do curtains soften the space with colour and texture, says Dee, “they also help absorb noise from the outside, and insulate the space too. So they’re functional and aesthetically pleasing.” As is a round, glass-topped dining table. Perfect for compact homes, it takes up little visual space and has no sharp corners.

As you settle into your new and, yes, smaller home, it might please you to know you’ve got science on your side. “Bigger homes don’t make you happier, it’s the social interactions,” says Chan, pointing to the work of UBC psychology professor Dr. Elizabeth Dunn. Having many people around you in a retirement residence, he says, is a great way to keep happy as we age.

*PARC residents are asked to obtain approval from their building manager before making alterations to their suites (including painting), and to return the suite to its original state upon vacating.