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downsizing to live your best life yet

Written by Danny Chan

Published: July 22, 2018

Updated: Oct. 21, 2022

top takeaways:

  • if you can't hide something ugly, consider turning it into a feature

  • the sofa doesn't always have to be against the wall


This is my passion project and it will always have a very special place in my heart. It was going to be my parents' forever home. They purchased a pre-sale unit and have been waiting for a few years for it to complete. On July 14, 2016, Sandra and I accompanied her to do the first walk-through as she was also hiring us to design the place for her. A few months later, on Nov, 18, 2016, I presented the design to her, and she loved everything. Sadly, she suffered a massive stroke later that evening and she left us just four days later. We kept the design pretty much the same in honour of my late mother.

English bay view from Trump tower Vancouver
Danny Chan Sandra Dee Interior designer

walk through day

challenge #1:  can we keep our old furniture when downsizing?

For many aging seniors, maintaining a big home can be challenging. My parents were facing the same issue with the upkeep of their big house, so they decided to downsize from their 5,000+ square foot home in West Vancouver to this 1,200 square foot two bedroom apartment in downtown Vancouver. They love having many restaurants and grocery stores within walking distance.

During the initial consultation, they asked if they could keep their existing furniture from their house. Most of their furniture were quite large as they were intended for a bigger home. When downsizing to a smaller home, the scale of the furniture should be in scale with the new space as to not crowd the space. This may not always be easy as there are often emotions attached to certain furniture pieces. I find that it's helpful to focus on what you are gaining rather than to what you are losing.

challenge #2: if you can't get rid of something ugly, turn it into a feature!

One of the most challenging aspects of this apartment is the  massive column right in the living room. As soon as the door is opened, the massive column is at the end of the hallway. But how can you make this eyesore go away? We dressed it up by applying a beautiful wallpaper that has a subtle metallic sheen onto the column and repeated the same wallpaper in the entry hallway for a a sense of continuity. This transformed what would be an eyesore into a beautiful feature.

pillar column design idea

massive column in the middle of the apartment

condo design | Vancouver | happy home design

challenge #3: where can we put the sofa if not against the wall?

The last challenge that having all those windows meant that we had very little wall space to place the sofa to enjoy the wonderful view of English Bay. Most people often assume that a sofa must be placed against the wall. This is what my dad did originally. Because there is a closet door on the right, the sofa was tucked away into the corner. This made the living room layout very awkward.

careful space planning


careful space planning


It's not necessary to always put your furniture against the wall. In fact, it's good to "float" the sofa. In this case, we placed it by the column and effectively defining and sectioning off the living room. The we created two focal points, one being the view on the left, and the other being a built in wall unit to house my parents' collection of things over the year. In collaboration with David Adamian form California Closet, we designed this wall mounted wall cabinet. Over the years, they have collected a lot more than what's shown here. But instead of displaying everything and making the space feel clutter, we encouraged them to choose only a few really special items. It was the famous Japanese organizer Marie Kondo who says to only keep things that "spark joy" when you see them. In this case, the green vase and the bronze woman were very special to them. So we designed two tall and narrow boxes and white background to elevate their importance. The idea was to focus on quality rather than quantity. And by wall mounting the unit as well as creating a backless unit, the space stays airy and spacious while also showcasing the beautiful golden floral wallpaper behind it.

condo design | Vancouver | happy home design
condo design | Vancouver | happy home design
condo design | Vancouver | small space design

colour inspiration is all around you

You may have noticed that there is no TV in the living room and you would be correct. Both my parents were used to watching TV in the bedroom just before going to bed. So we decided that we would turn the second bedroom into the TV room as well as a guest room for the grandchildren. We wanted a room that was gender neutral so all the grandchildren would enjoy spending time there. We created a memorable gallery wall by using the same size picture frames, printed photos of each of their grandchildren, and grouped them into a grid. When printing the photos, we like to make them black and white so not to compete with the colour palette of the room. In this case, the colour is Benjamin Moore's Blue Seafoam (2056-60). It has a light reflective value (LRV) of 70.49, making it a bright and cherry colour for the room. One could say that it's a more youthful green than the green in the living room. The inspiration actually came from the windows across the street as well as the rooftop of Hotel Vancouver.

condo design | Vancouver | happy home design


Benjamin Moore Blue Seafoam 2056-60

Since the second bedroom also acted as a guest room, the clean designed and firm sofa that we chose was not only comfortable to sit on to watch TV, but it also converts easily into a very comfortable sofa bed. It features an orthopedic foam mattress to ensure everyone can have a good night sleep.

condo design | Vancouver | happy home design
condo design | Vancouver | happy home design
condo design | Vancouver | happy home design

where will you take your inspiration from? in this case, it was my dad's suit

The master bedroom is a very important space for us to design because it is the most personal space, If you knew my dad, you would know that he was always very well dressed. So when I was considering the design for his bedroom, I wanted to the room to be "well dressed." Suddenly, I saw the subtle houndstooth pattern on one of his suit and felt that it'd be perfect for him. I chose this golden houndstooth wallpaper from Graham & Brown. On the one hand, the pattern is quite traditional, but on the other hand, the colour modernizes the design.

gold houndstooth wallpaper design inspiration
condo design | Vancouver | happy home design

juxtaposing the old with the new can yield unexpected result

My parents wanted to keep an oil painting with a British hunting scene. It used to be hung above the fireplace in their living room, but with the apartment filled with many windows, there was not a lot of options to hang art work. Adding to the challenge was how this painting has a traditional feel and doesn't quite fit the modern feel of the condo. I decided to feature the painting in the powder room. We painted the ceiling black and wrapped the small space in a stunning faux croc wallpaper from Graham and Browns. By juxtaposing the old with the new, it created an unexpected element and a wow factor for any guests visiting the powder room.

black wallpaper design inspiration


black wallpaper design inspiration

My father has been happily living in this smaller condo, surrounded by a few things that remind of his life with my mother while creating another chapter in his life knowing that this was designed with her in mind. Living in an apartment that I designed for him (and mom) solidify my standing as an interior designer for him. Nowadays, he is very proud to tell his guests that his son was the designer of his beautiful home.

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