All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for January 2003

Down sizing

Couple shrinks home without losing amenities

January 16, 2003

When Lyn Brown could no longer negotiate the stairs in her former Mountain Brook home, she and her husband Roger knew it was time to downsize.

In classy gray dress pants and trendy athletic slip-on shoes, Lyn Brown's subtle limp is barely noticeable. The blonde 55-year-old suffers from multiple sclerosis, a neurological disease that affects the central nervous system.

The Browns needed to move into a one-story home that was handicap accessible, but the couple wanted to keep the sophisticated feel of their larger, two-story house and be able to entertain guests.

"We have already had two parties, and we had about 80 people at each," Lyn Brown said, looking out at the main living space in her 2,900-square-foot garden home in Liberty Park.

The Browns' new house has the best of both worlds: a small, livable space and an atmosphere suitable for entertaining. Chris Malazzo, of Chris Malazzo Interiors Inc. in Vestavia Hills, worked with the couple on the home from ground up, helping them customize the house from the pre-drawn plans offered by the neighborhood developer.

The Browns started by choosing a plan that had wide walkways and was, of course, one floor with no steps leading up to the home from the driveway or down into the back yard.

The kitchen and master bath were two of the key areas where Malazzo and the Browns were careful to design to suit Lyn Brown's condition. The kitchen has the ever-popular floating island, but the space between the island and the sink on one side and the island and oven on the other is wider than usual.

"We changed the kitchen for two reasons, one because of style, and the second thing was ... we left enough space for more activity in the kitchen," Lyn Brown said.

She said they moved around appliances on the plan to make the refrigerator, stove and sink easy to get to.

The wide spaces around the kitchen island are repeated in the master bath. The shower has a larger glass door than most enclosed showers and is extra spacious with a built-in bench.

One button next to the garage door allows Lyn Brown to turn on all the lights in the home to avoid fumbling around in the dark. And the spa pool on the patio, accessible through a door in the master bedroom, allows Lyn Brown to do low-impact exercises at home. Even in the cold weather, she said she spends time almost every morning in the spa.

While such design choices were necessary for the couple, the Browns did not let that keep them from having an attractive home suitable for entertaining. Even though the Browns lost 700 square feet when they moved in 2002, they were able to keep important amenities such as a large plasma-screen TV set, a wet bar, a large dining area and a spacious patio for parties.

The basic design of the home consists of a large main living area with pyramid-style vaulted ceiling, which is divided by two thick walls and careful designing into dining room, living room, keeping room and kitchen.

Down one hallway from the kitchen are an exercise/play room, guest room, guest bathroom and door to enclosed garage. Down another hallway from the living room are a powder bath, study and master bedroom and bathroom. The back patio wraps around the house to have doors to the keeping room, living room and master bedroom.

Personal touches make the home, built by the same design as several others in the neighborhood, original.

Malazzo designed the tan and cream rugs in the living room and dining room. He sent sketches to a company in Nepal, India, which made the floor coverings.

Sitting on wood floors, the rugs help separate the two rooms into distinct space. The glass-top dining table and intricately-carved wooden chairs sit on one rug. The dining furniture came from the Browns previous home. On the second rug, a cushy couch and chairs in more brown and cream tones face a gas-log fireplace.

A third rug, this one pieced together by Shelby County rug designer Danny Brooks, covers the floor in the keeping room. While the living/dining room rugs are conservative patterns with leaf-bordered squares, the living room rug consists of large waves of red, blue, black and yellow. The furniture matches, with accent pillows in the same four colors and one chair and foot rest covered in a bold red, tan and blue pattern.

The bright colors were inspired by a painting that Roger Brown chose. The Van Gogh-style painting depicts a vase of yellow and red flowers with a blue background, and it hangs over the couch in the keeping room.

"Roger has become very interested in paintings as he has gotten older," Lyn Brown said. "We go to museums, galleries, art shows. He goes to something, and looks at it and says, 'I love it. That's it. We have to have it.'"

Several of his other picks adorn walls in the garden home. One, picked up at Magic City Art Connection, hangs over the couch in the living room. Others, in the dining room, powder bath and his study are of typical European scenes: apartments above a busy Italian street, the canals of Venice, a cafe in Provincial France.

Other walls hold family pictures: Those in the guest bedroom of the Browns as children and each of their parents are particularly notable as are the pencil portraits of old family dogs in the exercise/play room.

Two of the most revered paintings in the home hang in the foyer and master bedroom. The Browns bought the first at a benefit for multiple sclerosis. Birmingham painter Lee Wilson, who also suffers from the disease, was the artist. The Browns bought another of her paintings for their bedroom. The couple plans to commission two more to hang over the master bed.

Other special touches in the home include the entertainment system, planned out by Roger Brown that includes a 60-inch wide plasma screen TV set in the living room, with a 5-foot-tall stack of accessories, surround sound speakers and flat-screen computer monitors in other rooms of the home. Also, Lyn Brown designed some of the stone flooring.

"It took a year to build this place, and I bought magazine after magazine after magazine and kept looking," Brown said. "This stuff was everywhere stone."

The Browns careful planning resulted in an elegant home with the necessities of accessibility. The Browns declined to comment on their budget for the project.

Malazzo said most older couples, regardless of health, want to downsize just before or after retirement.

"A lot of people want to get rid of the big homes, but they don't want to get rid of the amenities," Malazzo said. "People can have both."

Copyright © 2002 Birmingham Post Co.