Downsizing with Meaning
Story by Jennifer Bondurant | Dec 28, 2015
Photography by Keith Borgmeyer
The Whitners welcome a change of venue to better suit their needs as grandparents and empty nesters.
Capital City teenage sweethearts Don and Katie Whitener met when Don was 19 and working at Safeway. Katie, age 16, came through his checkout line, and Don asked around until he got her phone number.
One wedding, two kids and 39 years of marriage later, the couple has never dreamed of living anywhere but Jefferson City.
“We love this town,” Katie says.
Today, as empty nesters, their kids are grown but still nearby. Don, a sales manager at N.H. Scheppers, and Katie, a reading specialist with Jefferson City Public Schools, say they planned
to someday downsize their living quarters.
“We thought about it but in the future,” Don says. “If you would have told me a year ago that we’d be in a new home today, I would have said you are crazy.”
Although they loved their 3,200-squarefoot house where they raised their family, which included four bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms, two living rooms and a glassed-in porch, they have recently discovered that reducing and building a home is a new perfect situation.
“Some people dread building,” Don says. “I had so much fun I would do it again. We’re not though,” he laughs, thinking with satisfaction of the final product.
During the fall of 2014, they drove around the west end and traced their way back through Crest Drive, the location of their very first home bought in 1977, when they saw a “For Sale By Owner” sign. Interest was piqued, and they began contemplating renovations. After enrolling a contractor and with plans still formulating in their minds, they stopped short.
“We were about to end up with a $250,000 home in a $150,000 neighborhood,” Don says. As their vision easily shifted to new construction, they began working with Levi Markway at Scruggs Lumber to select an existing home design with personal tweaks. A suitable lot in the Dry Creek area at the edge of Jefferson City toward Lohman was found and custom homebuilder Dennis Eggen was hired.
“Next thing I knew, we were digging,” Don says.
Within a few months of their decision, construction was in process, but planning for the new house was half the challenge. Saying good-bye to the house they had lived in for 29 years was not as simple.
“Thirty years earlier, we had very different ideas,” Katie says when reminiscing about her family’s earlier years. “You can see the kids’ heights measured since age 10 in the garage.”
Although the couple realized they could have stayed put, not using all of the rooms in their prior home seemed like a waste.
“We wanted a space for us,” Don says. “A space where we can be comfortable for a long time and have room for friends and family.”
Over the past few years, both children have returned to town to raise families. Their son, Tom, served the Army in Afghanistan before fulfilling his dream of joining the Jefferson City Police Department. Daughter, Emily, had ambitions to be a teacher in Jefferson City. Today, she teaches kindergarten at Bel Air Elementary. With young grandkids nearby, their new 1,800-squarefoot home is a welcoming space with one-level living, three bedrooms (one currently used as an office) and a master suite designed to their liking. The open floor plan lends itself to large family gatherings (30 were hosted at Thanksgiving) or simply enjoying time with the grandkids.
“The openness between the dining room, living room and kitchen allows me to stand at one end of the house and look through to the other,” Don says.
Katie says that from the beginning, they stayed focused on non-negotiable items on their wish list such as a shorter, flatter driveway and a living area all on one level.
“It’s easy to tack things on that sound like a good idea,” she says about the building process. “We tried to stick to the game plan, which is harder than it sounds.”
Michelle Higgins, an interior designer at Scruggs Lumber, helped the Whiteners through the design process and says they did a good job of staying on budget while developing the home they wanted.
“It turned out beautifully,” she says while complimenting the home’s soothing color palette built in a traditional craftsman style.
“Michelle was wonderful,” Don says. “She was our go-to person.”
Don describes the construction process as “a lot of fun” and admits to the benefits of a great partnership with Eggen.
“Dennis treated our house as if it where his house,” he says.
Among the Whiteners’ favorite features, a spacious master bedroom with big windows and a kitchen with stainless steel features including a farmhouse sink and convection oven are obvious standouts. Under the surface but important, the energy efficiency of a ground-source heat pump, LED lighting and spray foam insulation add to the home’s value.
Moving from a house filled with 29 years of memories to a home half the size is an exercise in careful selection and purging.
“I was slow to start,” Katie says. “At first I was panicky over all that we had to do but then ended up being less sentimental than expected. I was so looking forward to our new home.”
To make downsizing more manageable, they began with easy decisions such as things that weren’t important and then moved to those objects that couldn’t be parted with.
“We jumped in looking at the stuff we didn’t want and what we definitely wanted to keep,” Don says. “There were three sort areas: garage sale, don’t keep and keep.”
Having their kids nearby also helped with the passing along of furniture and decisions regarding childhood keepsakes. A keep pile consisted of family photos and artwork, a German railroad clock from Katie’s mom and dad, a table handmade by Don’s grandfather and special antiques and other family treasures.
“If it is important, they will keep it,” Katie says about letting her son and daughter select. “We don’t want to just sit on things. We want to keep meaningful family things. It comes down to family value and asking, what you use.” she says.
For the Whitner’s, their new home, filled with precious family pieces, is where they look to spend years to come and there’s still plenty of room for family and new memories.