For Ann O’Farrell, moving to a new apartment was like starting over. After losing John, her husband of 62 years, in 2015, she had plans to stay in the home they had built together. She loved the neighborhood, has a close group of friends, and is extremely close to her family, which includes two sons, two daughters, and their families. To say Ann wasn’t alone is an understatement, but she was lonely. “It’s true that loneliness can cripple you, and the nights are always the hardest,” says Ann.
When she heard about new apartments being built at Still Hopes, she decided to consider it. “I was very trepidatious about moving. It was such a difficult decision, but I had heard that living at Still Hopes was like being on a cruise. I had cooked for a large family for a long time, and when I heard about their dining area, I was sold. I was tired of cooking. I said, ‘I’m done,’” she says with a laugh.
After waiting two years for the two-bedroom apartment to be built, Ann was excited to move into her new home, realizing that staying put would have been the easy thing to do. Ann’s children were by her side the entire time and were very supportive of her decision.
Upon entering this new phase of her life, Ann decided she also wanted a clean design slate. A fresh start. A look she knew only Linda Burnside, well-known Columbia interior designer and Ann’s long-time family friend, could give her. Linda designed Ann’s previous home, and Ann quickly called on her expertise to help with her new space.
“When I met with Ann, she said she was ready to make a change. She wanted input on what to keep and what to give away. She shared her vision; she wanted her new place to look like a New York penthouse. I said, ‘You’ve got it!’ To be 90 years old and want a New York-style apartment — I knew this would be a fun, special project!”
Ann shared photos and inspiration with Linda along the way, ensuring Linda was able to make Ann’s vision become a reality. While her previous home had been traditional, Ann wanted her new home to evoke a more modern feel. “I wanted to live in a place where you just felt good. The look of a New York apartment really appealed to me,” says Ann. “I wanted something open and light, which was very different from my previous home. I loved my home, but I felt I needed a change. I’ve always loved the color white. I could live with everything being white! I wanted to feel like I was on vacation. And now, I do!” Ann gave most of her old furniture away, save for a few special pieces. Out with the old, and in with the new fabulous white sofa and white chairs.
Before beginning the design plan, Linda and Ann took a full inventory of all that Ann owned to decide which pieces would work in the new space. One of Ann’s prized possessions is a beautiful sepia-toned photo of a boat. Ann’s husband was a boater, and the photo has always held a special place in her heart. It was important to her that the piece be the home’s focal point. They kept all of Ann’s artwork, two love seats from her master bedroom, two secretaries, a console, and certain accessories. “We kept things I felt could mix in well with the new design of the space,” says Linda.
She then used the look and design of a modern New York apartment as her inspiration for Ann’s new home. Like a New York apartment, the view is everything. As it is at Ann’s new apartment, which has floor to ceiling windows. Linda wanted to ensure a minimalist off-white ambiance — nothing to take the eyes off the glass. “I wanted the space to be very calm, very Zen,” says Linda. “Everything in the 1990s was so dark and heavy, so carved. People really want to get away from that, especially now in the current environment. People want to feel lighter. They want the weight off their shoulders.”
Linda is finding that many homeowners are now taking the less-is-more approach. They’re getting rid of heavy accessories and keeping the things that really mean something to them. “Everyone is staring at their space now and thinking, ‘If I have to be here so much, I really want to feel good here.’ Some people are changing the design of their entire home — even if that means they just have a nightstand and a bed for now while they decide what they want to do with the space. I’m also feeling it, so I’m stopping to make sure I feel good about my home. I’m getting rid of anything dark, just like my clients are!”
A good approach for today’s redesign is to focus on special pieces but not to hold onto others just because you feel you must. “Don’t spend $25,000 to $30,000 designing around a piece that Grandmom gave you, and then when it’s done you don’t like the space. Unless you absolutely love it, you shouldn’t keep it,” says Linda. “You have to get the look of the room you want and if a piece fits into it, great. If not, get rid of it, or paint it, add new hardware — give it new life. It’s like buying a new outfit because it’s 50 percent off. The same concept goes for furniture and design. Would you gravitate towards a piece and buy it at an estate sale? If so, then heck yes, keep it!”
As it is with all client/designer relationships, trust is key. The trust Ann had in Linda was critical for their successful end result. “Ann trusted me with her vision,” says Linda. “Some clients will try to take over the design, and that’s not why you hire a designer. You have to have open communication in which you can visualize the space together.” That’s the approach Ann and Linda took, and the end result is just what Ann wanted.
The sleek, modern design evokes the New York apartment Ann had envisioned. Juxtaposing the contemporary white design, Linda was also sure to introduce some unique elements that brought added interest to the space.
Linda added drama to the elegant apartment by painting one wall of the kitchen black. Ann was originally a bit apprehensive about what is now her favorite part of the entire home. “I flipped out when I saw the black wall,” says Ann. “It makes the whole room pop. You would think it would be drab, but it actually brightens up the entire space. I would have never thought to do that, but I love it.” While the kitchen isn’t large in size, it opens up to the rest of the home. The addition of the feature wall provides a striking contrast to the surrounding rooms and draws attention to the space.
The walls in the entry were covered in Kravet grass cloth, which provides an iridescent almost pearlized effect to the space, further showcasing how a monochromatic look never has to be dull.
The two love seats that were originally in Ann’s master bedroom in her former home were repurposed to create another seating area as opposed to having a formal dining room. This space provides an intimate place for Ann to visit and have coffee with family and friends. She also added a small two-seater dining table, while an eat-in bar provides additional dining and entertaining space.
In keeping with the New York character, the living room and bedroom are all white — furnishings and upholstery — with different fabrics providing additional appeal to the space. Ann still maintains some of her late husband’s business and uses additional areas in her apartment as her office, providing form and function to the open, airy space. A favorite spot for Ann to relax is the balcony overlooking the courtyard with its beautiful shrubbery. While moving from her home was bittersweet, Ann feels like God made that decision for her. “Although I miss John, I feel like he is here with me,” says Ann. “I’m very fulfilled and happy at this age, but you have to make it happen. It’s not going to just fall into your hands.”
Ann doesn’t feel 90, and her lust for life is an inspiration to many. “Ann has amazing spunk. I was honored to help design her space. I wish everyone were brave enough to just let go of all of the stuff that weighs them down,” says Linda. “Add to that Ann’s love for her children and her love of the Lord, and we should all aspire to be like her.”
For Ann, age is but a number. “I feel young, and I think young, and that’s what’s important,” she says. “My son says to turn the 90 upside down and you’ve got 60,” she says with a laugh. “But 90 is a great number. We keep our eyes fixed on our faith because with a strong faith you know where you are going. This isn’t our forever home. My citizenship is in heaven.”
Until then, Ann is going to live her earthly life to the fullest, attending her Bible study, visiting her family, and taking in the beauty of her New York penthouse right here in Columbia, South Carolina.