Special/Signature Issues » Home Style

Goodbye, Suburbs!

After 25 years in the suburbs, a couple settles into the city — and saves room for the country.

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The clean, modern décor and tight space appear to belong to a bachelor, or maybe young professionals — people with style who haven't had time to accumulate a lifetime of stuff. But it's just the opposite. This is the home of Debra and Roger Young, an interior designer and general contractor, respectively, who decided to leave their home in the suburbs for a new life that's split between this urban spot and a rural getaway on the Slate River in Buckingham County.

"I'm talking it up all I can: 'I'm moving downtown and you should too,'" says Debra, the driving force behind the move. "I'm such a proponent of what's going on downtown. I think it's about time."

Her husband is a little more reserved in his enthusiasm. "Quite frankly, when the condo thing came up I thought it would go away," Roger says. A hunter and an outdoorsman at heart, he didn't mind losing the yard work and home maintenance, but "to live in that setting without having a secondary place to go to — I'm not sure I could do it." But he's enjoying his new natural surroundings, the river and the waterfowl, particularly an osprey nest nearby.

The Youngs have also found parts of the city they never knew existed during their years living off a lake in the Salisbury subdivision of Midlothian. "After living in the area for 25 years, we're now getting around to discovering Richmond," Roger says. "As suburbanites, we just didn't take advantage of what the city had to offer," he says. "We'd only been to the Canal Walk once before; we'd never been to Belle Isle." Now those things are just steps from their building.

Their goal was to get closer to and be more involved in the city in their empty nest years. Debra did her homework, researching homes on the James for five years, regularly visiting the tax assessor's office, going through records, even putting notes in people's mailboxes to see if they were interested in selling.

The Youngs thought they wanted to buy riverfront property and design and build a modest place, but the problem was that most of Richmond's riverfront property was too big or the homes too large or too nice to knock down and start over.

After courting one homeowner for a year with no success, Debra says, a light bulb went on: "We realized we were looking for the wrong thing, and [instead] we should do a small city thing and a mountain place." Because she's always wanted to live in the city and her husband is a mountain lover and hunter (they're both originally from Roanoke), two small places seemed like the best of both worlds.

While it's obvious Debra is meticulous, she's also willing to take risks. And that's just what the Youngs did when they put a contract on one of the Riverside condos sight unseen. They were the fourth set of buyers to purchase a unit in the building, and they reserved a desirable corner apartment with a view to the west on the ninth floor (there are 10 floors altogether).

Today it seems like the best decision they could have made. Debra extols the virtues of decluttering. She estimates they got rid of 50 percent of their belongings. "If I hadn't used it or seen it in a year, we threw it away," Debra says. "I just thought, I don't need this stuff and I don't like it. … It's such a cleansing feeling."

Roger admits it was tricky to pare down. "In our 5,000-square-foot house, you had space for everything you wanted to do," he says. "Here, when I put together a toolbox, I had to be very particular about what I brought."

Most of the furniture went to the apartments of their two adult children. The Youngs' new apartment called for simple furnishings that wouldn't distract from the view — for example, a cream couch that blends with the cream walls and a similar-colored marble coffee table. They kept the concrete floors and stained them dark. Space is tight. The couch had to be taken off its base to fit through the foyer. There is little room for decorative items.

The couple reworked a few things to make the 1,000 square feet more livable and discovered something in the process: They think the square footage in the new space is about all they used daily in their Salisbury home (Debra measured).

Before moving in, they added recessed shelving (which gives them display space for a few prized objects) and extended the kitchen island into a horseshoe shape. The counter is the only spot they have for eating, because a piano sits in the dining nook. Debra says she's looking forward to an unconventional Christmas dinner, with the family sitting along the counter or circulating throughout the apartment.

While the coal trains going by have at times been "a wake-up experience" for Roger, he says he's getting used to them. "The biggest difference in space for me is the lack of putzing-around areas," he says. "You've got to keep things organized."

Debra, the interior designer, did some clever things to save space in the new, closer quarters. She designed a stainless-steel wall with an electric fireplace that simulates the cozy effect of a fire and placed a built-in television set above it. The television can now be seen from the kitchen and the living room, it doesn't take up space and it can be pulled out and angled in different directions. The stereo is also built into the wall, around the corner. The second bedroom serves multiple purposes: as a guest room, a studio for Debra's art and work, and a place to go for morning coffee. Files, the computer and art supplies are all organized in the guest room closet.

Walk into the bright downtown apartment in the Riverside on the James complex on Brown's Island, and you're struck by the incredible views in almost every direction. The corner apartment seems to hang over the James River, poised perfectly for views of Manchester's Southern States building, several bridges, Belle Isle, and the new Rocketts Landing project downriver.

Where there isn't a window, there's a mirror reflecting a window. The sliding glass doors that lead to the balcony are open and a breeze blows in. The occasional coal train rattles by below. It's city living in a setting unique to Richmond, with old smokestacks in the distance and kayakers maneuvering the rapids below.

The clean, modern décor and tight space appear to belong to a bachelor, or maybe young professionals — people with style who haven't had time to accumulate a lifetime of stuff. But it's just the opposite. This is the home of Debra and Roger Young, an interior designer and general contractor, respectively, who decided to leave their home in the suburbs for a new life that's split between this urban spot and a rural getaway on the Slate River in Buckingham County.

"I'm talking it up all I can: 'I'm moving downtown and you should too,'" says Debra, the driving force behind the move. "I'm such a proponent of what's going on downtown. I think it's about time."

Her husband is a little more reserved in his enthusiasm. "Quite frankly, when the condo thing came up I thought it would go away," Roger says. A hunter and an outdoorsman at heart, he didn't mind losing the yard work and home maintenance, but "to live in that setting without having a secondary place to go to — I'm not sure I could do it." But he's enjoying his new natural surroundings, the river and the waterfowl, particularly an osprey nest nearby.

The Youngs have also found parts of the city they never knew existed during their years living off a lake in the Salisbury subdivision of Midlothian. "After living in the area for 25 years, we're now getting around to discovering Richmond," Roger says. "As suburbanites, we just didn't take advantage of what the city had to offer," he says. "We'd only been to the Canal Walk once before; we'd never been to Belle Isle." Now those things are just steps from their building.

Their goal was to get closer to and be more involved in the city in their empty nest years. Debra did her homework, researching homes on the James for five years, regularly visiting the tax assessor's office, going through records, even putting notes in people's mailboxes to see if they were interested in selling.

The Youngs thought they wanted to buy riverfront property and design and build a modest place, but the problem was that most of Richmond's riverfront property was too big or the homes too large or too nice to knock down and start over.

After courting one homeowner for a year with no success, Debra says, a light bulb went on: "We realized we were looking for the wrong thing, and [instead] we should do a small city thing and a mountain place." Because she's always wanted to live in the city and her husband is a mountain lover and hunter (they're both originally from Roanoke), two small places seemed like the best of both worlds.

While it's obvious Debra is meticulous, she's also willing to take risks. And that's just what the Youngs did when they put a contract on one of the Riverside condos sight unseen. They were the fourth set of buyers to purchase a unit in the building, and they reserved a desirable corner apartment with a view to the west on the ninth floor (there are 10 floors altogether).

Today it seems like the best decision they could have made. Debra extols the virtues of decluttering. She estimates they got rid of 50 percent of their belongings. "If I hadn't used it or seen it in a year, we threw it away," Debra says. "I just thought, I don't need this stuff and I don't like it. … It's such a cleansing feeling."

Roger admits it was tricky to pare down. "In our 5,000-square-foot house, you had space for everything you wanted to do," he says. "Here, when I put together a toolbox, I had to be very particular about what I brought."

Most of the furniture went to the apartments of their two adult children. The Youngs' new apartment called for simple furnishings that wouldn't distract from the view — for example, a cream couch that blends with the cream walls and a similar-colored marble coffee table. They kept the concrete floors and stained them dark. Space is tight. The couch had to be taken off its base to fit through the foyer. There is little room for decorative items.

The couple reworked a few things to make the 1,000 square feet more livable and discovered something in the process: They think the square footage in the new space is about all they used daily in their Salisbury home (Debra measured).

Before moving in, they added recessed shelving (which gives them display space for a few prized objects) and extended the kitchen island into a horseshoe shape. The counter is the only spot they have for eating, because a piano sits in the dining nook. Debra says she's looking forward to an unconventional Christmas dinner, with the family sitting along the counter or circulating throughout the apartment.

While the coal trains going by have at times been "a wake-up experience" for Roger, he says he's getting used to them. "The biggest difference in space for me is the lack of putzing-around areas," he says. "You've got to keep things organized."

Debra, the interior designer, did some clever things to save space in the new, closer quarters. She designed a stainless-steel wall with an electric fireplace that simulates the cozy effect of a fire and placed a built-in television set above it. The television can now be seen from the kitchen and the living room, it doesn't take up space and it can be pulled out and angled in different directions. The stereo is also built into the wall, around the corner. The second bedroom serves multiple purposes: as a guest room, a studio for Debra's art and work, and a place to go for morning coffee. Files, the computer and art supplies are all organized in the guest room closet.

None of the windows has curtains, despite the bright light that comes in day and night. Between the brightness they get from both the sun and the moon, the Youngs barely have to turn on their lights. Debra says she has enjoyed being awakened naturally by the sunlight. "One of the first mornings we could see a different view in each direction without even getting out of bed," she says. And at night, the twinkling lights of the skyline give the apartment an urban feel. Debra installed dimmers on the lights so that ambient light and views can be enjoyed.

But the Youngs haven't given up the country.

On the Slate River property, the sky is pitch black at night. Close to the same square footage as the apartment, the cabin will have curtains to separate the master bedroom area and the upstairs loft at night — otherwise, it's one big room. The cabin is also where the Youngs' few pieces of heirloom furniture and family memorabilia will go.

"The old things and funky things [from the Salisbury house] we can stick around the cabin," Debra says — "that's where you can enjoy those things." All 28 photo albums that track the Young's 35 years of marriage will be brought there, for example. Debra says it goes with the lifestyle; she imagines the cabin being the kind of place where you might flip through an old photo album and reminisce. At their old house, the books just sat on a shelf, barely touched.

While the property will no doubt be a wonderful family retreat when it's completed, the project hasn't been without its headaches. They have discovered what it means to own legacy land — where a group of family members have inherited property — and learned about the difficulties of getting a consensus among those members. Bringing power into their strip of land required them to cut across a corner of the neighbor's lot. They needed seven signatures to get that done. They got all but one, and then spent a year and a half working on one last sibling, to no avail. Luckily, they think they've discovered another way to get power to their property. This setback and a contractor who simply abandoned the job have pushed the project back several times. Despite the setbacks, they hope to have the cabin completed by June.

In the meantime, Roger has traded in his Porsche for a John Deere tractor. And he's enjoyed spending time in the mountains even though the cabin isn't completed. "It's like he's died and gone to heaven," Debra says. "His accent even changes when he's up there," adds daughter, Magan.

"For our situation, I would have to have that other [country] home to find satisfaction," Roger says. "This is great as long as you have that other space. Conversely, you wouldn't want to live up in the cabin either, but between the two, you've got a very good balance. If she's 60/40 condo, I'm 60/40 country, but that's what makes it work."

While the Youngs' two properties seem very different, there is one thing they have in common, Debra says: "When we get out of the car, we can hear the river rushing."



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