The Circle of Life- The 5 Lives of Home

During my years in the world of houses, decorating and design, I have observed that there are typically 5 phases of life that generate changes in our housing and decorating needs. Can you identify where you (and your house) fit?

1. First Apartment- Roommates

With college or grad school behind him or her, the single person launches out on his or her  own and typically rents an apartment with a friend or two.  If they are lucky, their parents donate a sofa, tv and a bed and they might buy a few necessary pieces of furniture from Ikea.  I remember my first apartment in Manhattan and how exciting it was to set up with my roommate, Anne.  This was before Ikea so we bought white particle board dressers from Conrans and assembled them ourselves.  I think we skipped the glue step because if I recall correctly, the drawer fronts fell off after a few months!  Anyway, it was home and saw us through the early years of launching careers and gaining some financial stability due to a steady paycheck.  Then, came a tiny rental apartment on my own. 

Hilary Walker

Hilary Walker

Then I got married and moved on to the next phase...

2. First House Love- Starter House

Google-eyed newlyweds very often want to buy a house and are looking for charm and a place to try out all of the DIY skills they see demonstrated on HGTV.  Budgets are usually modest but kitchens and entertaining space (both indoors and outdoors) are important and I have found that much of the budget goes into the kitchen, decks and patios.  The style tends to be eclectic and spare.  They may bring a few inherited pieces with them but typically they don't have much.  Everything is so new and exciting! At this stage, rarely is a professional brought in to help.  These couples want to do things on their own and believe that there is nothing to creating a beautiful home.  

Greg Stamate

Greg Stamate


Then the baby arrives and the baby stuff starts taking over.

And then baby number 2 arrives and things really get cramped.  This leads to the next phase...

3. The Grown Up House- More Space

This is the phase where an architect and or designer is most frequently brought in.  The homeowners have seen enough and have made a few "mistakes" and want to really get things right for this "grown-up" house.  Kitchens still get a lot of attention but so do dining rooms where family celebrations and holidays will be held. Play space for the kids and retreat-like master suites are important to this group.  Furniture and flooring must be kid-friendly and pet friendly but still look fabulous and stand the test of time.  Quality really matters.  Decor becomes more sophisticated and good basic pieces are acquired.  There is still room to add art and more pricey, fragile accessories as the family creates memories in this home. I have also found that most couples don't really want to go out on a big design limb here.  They tend to stick with the classics.

Meg Braff

Meg Braff

This group sees their home as a reflection of them and where they are in careers and life. The house really matters and they are willing  to spend money to get it right.  The years pass quickly and the children grow.  Then, before you know it, the next phase hits...


4. Down Size House- The Kids Go to College

This is a relatively new addition to the cycle of life for homes.  Driven by the insane cost of private higher education, in addition to the high cost of housing in many areas of the country, many families today decide to sell the large, high maintenance house, cash out some equity to pay for their children' college educations. The kids are away at school, but still come home for at least 4 months a year and need a place to call home.  Typically, these families still like a designated dining room but are happy to forego the formal living room, the large yard, and maybe even a separate bedroom for each child.  They are still working so moving out of the area isn't a possibility at this stage. They keep most of their existing furniture but take this opportunity to change color palette, recover furniture, and update things.


5. The Kids Are Really Gone House- We Can Live Wherever We Want

This is the time to move to the beach, move south or move back to the city.  This phase is all about lifestyle.  Many couples build a new home and use an architect and designer to get things just the way they want. They want space for guests (and children) but their children have their own homes at this point. The beginning of a new adventure, they are open to trying a new more casual style but still want quality.  Casual luxury is the name of the game for these homeowners.

coastal living

coastal living

Many couples find that this phase is the happiest time together.  Health issues rarely enter into the picture and stress is low.  They can really enjoy one another and friendships flourish because of the time available to devote to them rather than to raising children and work.

6. The Easy Living House- The Condo

Typically, at this stage, big design changes aren't made.  Homeowners just simplify and pare down but still keep what is familiar as they have really developed their personal style by now.  Comfort and manageability are key now as is low maintenance.  Todays' phase 5ers still like to entertain so having a stylish space that can accommodate friends for drinks before dinner or to host a small dinner party is important, too.

If you are like me and experienced a sudden change in life circumstances, you might not experience this progression.  I went from a Phase 3 house back to Phase 2!  Then went to Phase 5 as a single woman with kids still in college. So, don't feel bad if your life hasn't followed this pattern.  The point is that different phases of life often require different houses and decor.  It can be helpful to hire someone who has had experience with working with all different ages when you are about to enter a new phase and want to make some changes to your home. 

Happy Monday!