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Family & Relationships

How to Fill an Empty Nest with Your Own Style

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As an interior designer, Erin Marshall meets empty nesters all the time, and helps them work through the transition.

“It can be a really happy time,” says Marshall, who owns Kismet Design in Portland, Oregon. “It can also be a bummer.”

Marshall strives to help parents look on the bright side of a less-populated residence and gives them tips on how to transform vacated spaces into rooms they love. She shared these design tips on how to make an empty house into your own, personality-filled home.  

Add a splash of color to your life. Use this transition time to make your home feel fun, without breaking the bank says Marshall. “The least expensive thing you can do for a major change, without a doubt, is paint. It’s the biggest bang for your buck,” she says. Whether you paint the entire home, or simply a room or an accent wall, a splash of color can brighten your day. She encourages her clients to have fun with paint: “Pick your alter ego color,” she says. “Be more playful. Let your inner kid come back out.”

Avoid creating a shrine to your children. Marshall has had a number of clients who wish to keep their children’s rooms just as they left them, or who create a photographic shrine by placing pictures throughout the house. Instead, she encourages them to turn the room into a place they’ll use (more on that below) and make those photos into a small but meaningful collection in one place. For example, she suggests arranging a cluster of photos in silver frames lining a hallway with them. “There’s a difference between having a lovely curated little collection and having a shrine,” she says.

If you have an empty room, transform it into a place you’ll love—and use. Your kids are gone, and now you have an extra room or two on your hands. Consider how you spend your free time, says Marshall, and design that space accordingly. If you have a hobby or a collection, you could store it here. Depending on your interests, Marshall suggests turning the room into an office, an art studio, a crafting cave or even a gym or meditation room. If you anticipate having guests—including those children who flew the coop—it’s also a good idea to put a sleeper sofa or Murphy bed in there so it’s ready (but only when needed).

Lighten your load. Books on minimizing our stuff are popular for a reason: a well-organized home has a way of inspiring a sense of peace and calmness in its residents, says Marshall. She encourages people to go through their house and sell or donate what they’re not using. She says that is contrary to what many parents think; their children may not be interested in keeping family heirlooms. “Most children don’t want their parents’ old stuff. They don’t want dishes, they don’t want crystal, they don’t want any of the formal stuff they used to want,” she says. When paring down on belongings, she frequently reminds clients that it’s not the actual “stuff” they’re attached to—it’s the memories they associate with the items. Knowing that can often help them release the attachment and let the items go.

Ask for professional help. Home design professionals may bring a fresh perspective to your abode, says Marshall. “They’ll bring you, hopefully, an unstuck opinion,” she says. “And they’ll listen.” She says that some people may benefit from a professional organizer, who can help un-clutter a home and encourage you to let certain items go. She adds that an interior decorator can help pull a room together through furnishing, coordinated colors and decor, while an interior designer can advise on structural changes (like how to bring more light into a room by adding windows or reflective paint), art selection, furniture arranging, color consulting and more. 

Have you transformed an empty nest? Tell us what you did; we’d love to share your ideas.

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