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Smart Sizing into the Right Home

by Mike Ellis

With taxes continuing to escalate and college tuition rates as high as ever, many empty-nesters in Hinsdale and surrounding communities are seeking a way to downsize, yet remain in the friendly confines of the western suburbs.

This year’s Hinsdale Cooks! Kitchen Walk will feature a pair of new homes moderately sized, and constructed for homeowners with downsizing on the mind.

Jody Tate of Hinsdale has two sons, and with her younger son going off to college last fall, relocated to a classic farmhouse with a modern twist in southwest Hinsdale about a year ago.

Tate, who operates her own interior design business, JMT Designs, worked with architect Patrick Plunkett and builder Byrne Builders on the design and layout of the home, which is approximately 3,000 square feet and situated on a 50-foot lot.

The family moved just two blocks from its previous home, which was larger and better suited for a household of four; but as empty-nesters for much of the year now, Tate said the move “just made more sense.”

“Still being in this area, wanting our kids to come home, and being comfortable [were] important to us,” she said.

The home features an open floor plan, with rooms being essentially defined by the furniture, as opposed to demarcated by solid walls. The first floor is predominated by an open space that consists of the Tates’ family room, living room and eating area.

“The whole heart of our house now revolves around a ten-foot-long, four-foot-wide island,” Tate said, adding that the concept of an open floor plan has become increasingly desired in recent years.

The back of the home contains a large sliding door to the exterior, which was a popular feature of a new home in the Elm neighborhood on the kitchen walk last year, as some readers that participated may remember.

“When it’s nice, we can open the whole back of our house up,” Tate said.

The door opens to the back patio, which is highlighted by a fireplace in the center. The backyard also features a garage that doubles as an office for Tate on its second floor. While the concept of a sliding door may seem better adapted for a more temperate climate, Tate said her family savors the outdoors.

“I kind of feel like you would see this more often in a warmer climate,” she said, “but we decided that we would go with it, because we like to use our patio area.”

Mel Cooney of Hinsdale also recently downsized to a new home south of the downtown area. Cooney grew up locally, but spent the last 20 summers on the East Coast, and at a condominium in downtown Chicago. She said her large home on Cape Cod was ideal for when any of her 23 grandchildren would come visit, but after her husband died, she “just didn’ t need that big house anymore.”

With her children residing nearby in Elmhurst, Downers Grove and Lisle, respectively, Cooney set out for Hinsdale, but said she was unable to locate a smaller home near the downtown area.

“Condominiums and townhouses are pretty much outside the village limits,” she said.

Consequently, Cooney built her own home with the help of local builder Julie Jordan of J. Jordan Homes. The home is a Dutch colonial, but strongly resembles a cottage you might find on the East Coast. And like the Tate residence, it was built on an open floor plan.

The kitchen was furnished by Laura O’ Brien, and features a floor-to-ceiling pantry. Cooney said the kitchen is the primary room you see upon entering the house, “because it’ s the heart of the first floor.”

Approximately 2,700 square feet, the home features a sunroom that appears as if it were formerly an old, enclosed porch, as well as a built-in “book nook” underneath the staircase.

Perhaps most striking is the television set in the living room, which is built in to a round mirror in such a way that optically makes the TV invisible to the eye when turned off.

“When the TV is off, you’ re looking at a round mirror,” Cooney said.

Cooney said one of the main draws to her location is that she is within walking distance to downtown Hinsdale and the train station, from which she can catch the train to downtown Chicago, where she goes once per week.

“I love being able to walk to everything,” she said. “To me, that’ s a huge advantage. When I was downtown, I spent more time sitting in traffic on the Eisenhower [Expressway] than anything.”

With smaller footprints to work with, both Cooney and Tate said efficiency was a priority.

“It was kind of like building a ship, because [the house is] small,” Cooney said. “We used every inch of space that we could possibly use.”

“With the downsizing focus of this house, we took advantage of every square inch of space,” Tate said.

A three-story condominium development and a large, four-story luxury apartment complex are currently going up locally in downtown Clarendon Hills, while the Foxford Station condominiums are under construction in downtown Western Springs.

Tate said while she prefers having a patio and yard, she could see developments like these as an advantageous option for other empty-nester couples seeking to downsize.

“It would be nice if there were other options in the area,” she said. ... “[People] definitely want to get rid of their larger home and the taxes, but want to stay here.”

Cooney shared a similar sentiment, but said she doesn’ t think Hinsdale will go the same route as some neighboring villages.

“It would be nice if there were some lovely newer townhomes [near downtown Hinsdale],” she said, “but I don’ t see that happening in the near future.”

For anyone considering downsizing themselves, both Cooney and Tate said their new homes are much easier to maintain, while the considerable cost savings can open up the budget for other spending.

“It’ s not all about the family home for us anymore,” Tate said. ... “We see ourselves downsizing mainly for the purpose of not having to maintain such a large house, and having the opportunity to do more travel.”

Cooney said downsizing is ideal “just to make your life simpler, to enjoy time with people, as opposed to spending time worrying about your house.”

“It offers a lot of freedom,” she said, “and not [to] be tied to something that’ s so expensive and so big.”

The Hinsdale Cooks! Kitchen Walk will take place on May 12 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tickets are $40 if purchased in advance, and $50 on the day of the event. For the third consecutive year, a VIP trolley experience will be offered to a limited number of participants for $80. Proceeds from the walk will benefit the Hinsdale Historical Society. For more information, visit www.kitchen-walk.com.

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