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Diablo’s Essential Guide to Efficient Living

Moving from suburbia to an urban apartment? Here are our top tips for the downsizing empty nester.


Ascent // John Swain Photography

More than 600 new luxury apartments are opening in downtown Walnut Creek, and they’re not just for San Francisco millennials looking to live along the BART line. Empty nesters in cities like Danville, Clayton, and Moraga are touring these chic apartments that feature rooftop pools, workout rooms, and a Starbucks right downstairs.

After all, the concept is appealing: no more lawns to mow or commutes to navigate, and fewer things to clean. Then, there’s the undeniable appeal of living within walking distance of shops, restaurants, and theaters—not to mention never having to search for a parking spot in downtown Walnut Creek again.

But transitioning from a spacious house to a minimalist apartment is a challenge even for the most adventurous of baby boomers. We’ve checked out the apartments, measured the closets, and talked to the experts so you can see whether downsizing to one of these urban hot spots makes sense for you.


Agora at South Main // Michael Kern of Essex Property Trust

The Closet Question   

Storage is a major concern when downsizing. Although quarters are (deliberately) tight, you can maximize space. Even one-bedroom units feature walk-in master closets; most units have a coat closet, and some offer a linen closet as well.

To make the most of what you’ve got, start by treating yourself to a healthy closet purge. Definitely hire a custom closet organizer who will measure your space to help you maximize every square inch with adjustable shelves.

Next, consider reinventing old storage tools for new purposes. Have an entertainment armoire that won’t work in a modern living room? Consider using it in the bedroom to stash shoes, bags, and out-of-season clothes. Take advantage of floor space in the bathroom by adding shelving units to stow spare towels.

Wall storage is also a great space saver: Go vertical to organize jewelry or extra toiletries in the bathroom. If you’re still strapped for space, consider repurposing your coat closet for your off-season clothes, then mount wall hooks near the front door to hang coats. When all else fails, most complexes offer on-site storage units for reasonable rates, and bike storage is often free.


Kitchen Confidential

First, be realistic. If you know you won’t be hosting more than four to six people for dinner, perhaps it’s finally time to let your daughter inherit your wedding china. Ditto for ditching that graveyard of rarely used small appliances. (When’s the last time you cooked with that wok?) Pare down to your favorite, most-used pieces, then try cooking with only those items for a few weeks. What do you miss? What did you not even notice was gone?

Next, start thinking like a pro: Ditch the decorative canisters, and opt for commercial-grade stackable food storage bins. Use a wall-mounted magnetic knife rack, and install undercabinet racks for wineglasses and coffee mugs. Maximize cabinets with shelf dividers that let you store salad plates and dinner plates on the same shelf.

Take advantage of a modern, open floor plan, and add a wheeled kitchen island, which provides additional prep space plus lower shelves for storage, but can easily be stashed in a corner when company comes. (Or it can double as a landing spot for bartending or snacks.)


Ascent // John Swain Photography

Entertaining 2.0

Speaking of company, how can you make friends feel welcome in a tight space? Don’t worry. With an urban pad that’s close to all the action, your social circles will likely be toasting to you. The hardest part is changing your own expectations. Instead of hosting dinner for 12, invite friends to join you for appetizers before a show at the Lesher Center for the Arts or predinner cocktails before strolling to a favorite restaurant.

Open floor plans are the norm in new developments and are incredibly conducive to mingling. In fact, even one-bedroom apartments can accommodate 10 to 12 guests for cocktails—no formal dining room required.

For larger events, the new complexes have well-appointed entertaining spaces that can be rented for a small fee. Many have communal rooftop decks with sweeping views, fire pits, and barbecues. Looking to stay inside? Most have enviable indoor spaces as well. Agora at South Main, for example, offers a space that boasts a cozy living area with a fireplace and a spacious, well-equipped open kitchen. At Brio, you’d have access to the Loft complete with a supersized TV and pool table that’s perfect for game day.

Worried about guest parking? Most buildings offer 10 to 25 guest parking spaces on a first-come, first-served basis, and are typically within a block or two of hourly parking structures.


Park and Ride

Speaking of parking . . . you’re probably wondering, What about my car? Apartments typically come with one guaranteed space, and most buildings offer a second space for an additional fee (subject to availability). But remember: The point of all of this is downsizing. So give single-car life some thought. Not only is it the eco-conscious thing to do, but getting rid of a car can save you a bundle. So do the math: If you’re within walking distance of BART, can you ditch that commuter car? Could you get both exercise and enjoyment out of biking, if your errands are within a one-mile radius?

After all, getting to know your neighborhood—and your neighbors—is part of the urban adventure, and being on foot puts you one step closer to making exciting discoveries about your new digs. In fact, it’s the perk downsizers say they love the most. But do take a hard look at the specific location of your preferred complex. Will you be happy walking home from dinner after dark, if your building is a few blocks off the beaten path?


Agora at South Main // Michael Kern of Essex Property Trust


Every building has perks and privileges all its own (hello, dry cleaning valet), and it’s worth visiting a few different complexes to find the best fit.

Will you miss your outdoor living space? Consider a lower-level unit at Ascent Walnut Creek, which boasts a slightly larger patio and direct access to the courtyard (including access to the dog run). Hoping to take up swimming, or dying to hit the gym before work every morning? Do a thorough walk-through to ensure the gym has all the lap lanes and cardio machines your heart desires. Worried about noisy neighbors? Get specific—ask the leasing agent about the thickness of the walls and what type of soundproofing has been done on the building.

And don’t be shy about asking to speak to a tenant to get the lowdown on decibel levels or how hard it is to nab a treadmill after work.

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