By Stacee Sledge
Whatcom Magazine, October 2007
uncomplicates entertaining and travel
Increasingly, downsizing to a condo is a tempting
solution for retirees who are revving up for the golden
years. After years of tending gardens, paying costly
home repairs, and being tied down to high-maintenance
property, these Whatcom County couples decided to ditch
home ownership responsibilities and move to where the
living is easier.
‘It’s so convenient’
Gordon and Pat Pierson have lived across the globe:
Paris, Bangkok, Tunis, Manila, Jordan, Khartoum and
more. The couple met at the University
where Pat studied sociology and Gordon received a
doctorate in economics. Gordon later taught at the
before joining the State Department as an economist.
born abroad in 1966.
Globe-trotting aside, Western Washington has always been
home. So when Gordon retired 20 years ago, after 25
years in the Foreign Service, the couple claimed Birch
Bay Village as their new perch, in a 2,600 square foot
cliff-side home overlooking water and mountains.
2005, the couple, in their mid-seventies, decided to
downsize. Home is now a 1,900-square foot, two bedroom
condo amidst Fairhaven's foot traffic-friendly
space is filled with furniture and artwork purchased
from the different places they’ve lived. Pat calls their
style “eclectic.” Two red chairs in the living room pop
cheerfully against otherwise neutral furnishings and
walls. Full bookshelves decorate the study and one wall
of the living room.
contrast to the cream and taupe tones of the living
areas, the bathrooms burst with color. A Tiffany-blue
powder room near the condo’s entry shares the same
unique, mottled granite countertop as the guest
bathroom, in a perky pink hue.
Unlike most quickly proliferating condos in the area
volleying for water views, the Piersons' place overlooks
Padden Creek, the interurban trail, and a forest of
trees. "You can just go down below and walk to the water
or over to Fairhaven
Park," says Pat.
view is nice," says Gordon. "But we moved from where we
had 180-degree views of Mount Baker
the Sound. I dearly miss that." Every time he drives
down State Street
sees the water, he’s hit by a touch of wistfulness.
Pat, the positives of condo living outweigh the change
in view. "I got tired of the yard work," she says.
couple also found they weren't doing as many things as
they used to. "At our ages, we thought: It's time. We'll
move before somebody has to move us," Pat says,
Shopping, the post office, bookstores, movies, the
library, and numerous restaurants are just a stone’s
throw away now. “I don’t drive for days,” Gordon says.
"Gordon walks to the grocery store several times a day,”
says Pat. “He's taken up cooking and he's very precise
about his list."
Gordon laughs. "They must think: Poor lost soul, doesn't
have any friends, has to come in here for social
Piersons also like being closer to Seattle. The
drive-time difference between Birch
noticeable enough to make trips to the symphony or
Huskies football games much more manageable.
though they’re days of intense travel are behind them,
the couple still likes the freedom condo living supplies
for simply taking off.
don’t travel as much as we did,” says Gordon. “But we
still do. In a condo, it’s so convenient to just walk
change of attitude’
When asked if there’s anything she misses about the
larger homes she and husband Terry lived in before
moving to their Cordata condominium in 2004, Carolyn
Blocher gives an emphatic “no,” and then laughs.
“They were so much work, compared to this,” she says,
looking around the 1,700 square foot space. “The rooms
you had to clean and dust and furnish. This is so easy
to care for.”
Terry, 63, retired five years ago from 7-Eleven, Inc.,
where he and Carolyn, 69, met working in the corporate
offices. Two years later he went to work for a Canadian
drugstore chain. His second (and, according to a smiling
Carolyn, final) retirement kicked in last March.
it’s boat time,” she says.
fact, the couple’s 36-foot Grand Banks trawler in
Squalicum Harbor does double-duty as extra sleeping
space for visitors.
guests are boat-smart, they can stay on the boat,”
Carolyn says. “If not, they stay here and we stay on the
and Carolyn have learned an important lesson from their
boat and its two small staterooms, which serves them
well in their scaled-down condo surroundings: “You only
need the space that you’re taking up,” says Carolyn.
“It’s really just a change of attitude.”
Their detached condo is snuggled amidst 21 others, yet
the charming structure, overlooking a tree-lined runoff
stream and surrounding protected area, feels very
home was built with two bedrooms and a small office, but
the couple converted the second bedroom into a TV room
for Terry. A flat-screen television is built into a wall
of bookshelves and cabinetry.
Carolyn spends most of her time in a sunroom addition
completed last year. The light-filled space adds 200
square feet to the home. Carolyn uses it for reading,
writing, and enjoying java made in the kitchen’s sleek
built-in espresso machine.
Downsizing can be tricky, but the Blochers made an easy
transition. “When we moved we had two storage units,”
says Carolyn. “We put all the extra stuff there, and
then gave it to the kids. Now we go visit our
opposed to larger homes with formal spaces that often go
unused, the couple lives in every room now. “We love
that,” Carolyn says. “I also love having the kitchen,
dining room and living room all as one.”
everything on one floor is another feature new to this
couple who have owned many homes over the years. “There
isn’t a single step in the house,” says Carolyn. The
home was built for seniors, so there are extra wide
hallways and levers instead of doorknobs. “And I like
the idea of a wider hallway. It’s just more comfortable
special touch appears above tall shelving in the dining
room. Hand-painted onto the wall is a quote Marilyn saw
11 year ago in a magazine; she clipped the photo and
held onto it, waiting for just the right spot.
you accept an invitation to dinner, you have a moral
obligation to be amusing,” the quote reads, attributed
to The Duchess of Windsor. It’s a fitting site, as
Marilyn and Terry like to throw dinner parties – but
only small ones. “I like to have no more than 6 guests,”
says Carolyn, “because it makes the conversation
‘Just completely different’
For John and Marilyn Mulhern, downsizing to a condo
actually meant upping the square footage from their
previous home in Woodinville. It also meant eliminating
all outdoor chores, freedom to travel with their
Airstream trailer at a moment’s notice, and a
breathtaking view of Puget Sound.
is a big house at 4,700 square feet,” says Marilyn, 67.
“But essentially, we just have the two bedrooms, so we
had to get creative.” The guest bedroom boasts a Murphy
bed and the downstairs office used by John, 69, doubles
as extra sleeping space.
couple retired in 1999 and moved here after an extensive
search for just the right property. John had been
president of AT&T Wireless Network, while Marilyn was
marketing director for a Bellevue financial planning
Originally from the east coast, the couple moved to
Washington state in 1982 when John was transferred. “We
never looked back,” says Marilyn. “This is a great place
to live and we love everything about it.”
Their Woodinville home was 3,800 square feet, surrounded
by trees. “And because we were there for 20 years, we
had to re-point the brick and put on a new roof,” says
of her favorite things about condo living? Washing her
hands of all yard work and outdoor maintenance. "We took
care of the yard ourselves," she says. "That can be a
back-breaking occupation, especially if it's not your
condominium's astounding water view was a huge selling
point. "It's the most astonishing thing, to have that
big of an expanse," Marilyn says. "We came from a
fabulous house, right in the middle of a growth of huge
firs. It was fantastic, but I personally like the open.
This is just completely different."
condo’s interior was also a big draw. Marilyn loves the
layout. “It’s probably the best I've ever seen. It feels
really open,” she says. “I think this has a lot of star
Marilyn makes all the decorating calls in the home. "I
don't like anything overly decorated-looking, so I
prefer to do it myself," she says.
far as color, she keeps it mostly neutral, with splashes
of rich color in the kitchen and master bath. "I didn't
want to have any competition with the view — it's why we
bought the place," she says. She was a touch nervous
about the deep red walls in the master bath: "I wasn't
sure I'd like it, but then I thought, So what? I can
always paint over it."
Relaxing in the kitchen's cozy seating area, a popular
spot for sipping coffee or wine, Marilyn looks around
and smiles. "It's all about ease and convenience. It's a
totally different feel from anyplace we've ever been."
Many of the couple's friends have second homes, but the
idea doesn’t appeal to the couple. “It would be hard for
anything to top this.”
Stacee Sledge is a
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