Downsizing to Downtown

2014-05-18T00:00:00Z 2014-07-03T12:04:22Z Downsizing to DowntownBy Dan Sorenson Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Moving from a “very nice” 2,400-square-foot house in the Catalina Foothills to a brand new, leased, 1,200-square-foot modern flat high above Broadway and Stone Avenue was more than downsizing for Kate McMillan and Bill Krauss. It changed their lives.

They’re not the 30-something yoga and microbrew hipster couple one might expect to occupy a modern downtown flat, rather a couple of retired professionals in their mid-60s. McMillan was a longtime Tucson attorney specializing in trust, estate and probate cases and Krauss, a one-time Proctor and Gamble exec from Ohio, describes himself as a consultant and “serial entrepreneur.” “He’s retired a couple of times,” says McMillan. McMillan has lived in Tucson since 1956 and Krauss moved here in 2001.

McMillan says the decision to downsize, and move down the hill from their former Catalina Foothills home, came after an extended post-retirement trip.

“After I retired in December 2011, we spent six months out of the country,” McMillan says, “to ensure a successful retirement and guarantee that I would not just show up at work. Patterns are sometimes hard to change.

“Of our time out of the country, we spent about 4½ months in Cordoba, Spain. We rented a second-floor apartment in an ancient building on a small square across from a municipal market and a public library in the heart of the old town. No Internet, no TV, no radio. It was virtually a two-room apartment, (with) a galley kitchen. We walked everywhere and developed rapport with people in town. We were doing something six nights a week and made new, lasting friends.

“When we returned home, the size of everything seemed out of scale. We did not walk anywhere. There was no life in the streets in our neighborhood. The home in the Foothills was lovely, but way too quiet. As we are getting older, it seemed a better idea not to be car-dependent.” And now, she says, like magic they’re again in the heart of a city, “downtown living, vibrant — a stroll away from the library and the Y.”

Krauss said it was happenstance that they now live in the two-bedroom, two-bath apartment on the top floor of the new One East Broadway building. They went there to meet with a builder, but about another possible residence.

Krauss said they were taken by the view from the nearly all-glass north wall of the building and outside on the expansive roofed balcony patio. The classic former Valley National Bank Building (now Chase) is just to their left, the blue 20-story Pima County Legal Services Building is just across the street and the new Pima County courts complex is straight ahead, at the corner of North Stone Avenue and East Toole. The high-rise view gives the minimalist modern metal, glass and concrete apartment a big-city feel.

The residential floors of One East Broadway are above the Pima Association of Governments offices and the building’s street-level storefront space.

Krauss and McMillan say sunrises and sunsets are beautiful; they can see both thanks to reflections off nearby buildings, including a view of the white-domed cathedral around the corner. McMillan’s favorite is the medallion on the south side of the new county courts complex. They say the huge mosaiclike square changes minute by minute, reflecting patterns and colors as the sky changes.

While they still have two vehicles, an old pickup truck and a new Prius, one parked in the building, the other in a nearby rented space, neither sees much action. “We cut our driving by 70 percent,” says Krauss.

They find a lot of what they do is downtown within walking distance, and even if it isn’t, McMillan says she likes to take the bus. “People should try it, take the bus,” she says.

“We’ve adopted a planter at the library,” Krauss says. “You can take one, plant stuff.”

“We go over there three times a week and water. Squash, tomatillo, oregano. I think they’re called ‘people plots,’ ” McMillan says.

While they say they welcome the recently announced Johnny Gibson’s Downtown Market set to open a couple of blocks away at 11 S. Sixth Ave., grocery shopping hasn’t been a big problem for them. They do their shopping at the Food Conspiracy Co-op on North Fourth Avenue and the nearby 5 Points Market and Restaurant, and are regulars at the weekly farmers market at Mercado San Agustin.

And that attitude is key to what is making the change work for this couple. “I don’t want to change downtown,” McMillan says, and she insists that includes the noise — to a degree — the traffic, and “even the panhandlers.”

“The way I explain it to friends,” Krauss says, is “when we were working it was great to come home to the oasis” of their large Foothills home. “But when we retired, it was all oasis and no energy.” He said they needed activity and inspiration. Inspired and active they are.

“Last Wednesday was a highlight for us. We were home for a night,” Krauss says. “Usually we’re at the UA, The Fox, Rialto, Stevie Eller, Rogue (Theatre), six nights a week.”

Simplifying their lives has worked well, so far.

“We started with a bed and two $70 Ikea chairs,” McMillan says of their spartan furnishings when they moved in four months ago. “As we decided what we needed we added a piece,” Krauss says. “It accreted over the months,” McMillan says.

Asked if it was hard to part with much of a lifetime’s possessions, Krauss said, “she had a harder time than I did.” Clearly there was a story here. McMillan quickly owns up to her material attachments. “I have rocks from 1953,” she says. “My dad was a geologist. I took some things that I valued.” Others, they said, were sold at a secondhand shop.

They made clever use of space, including in some cases exploiting those 10-foot ceilings. McMillan converted a hall closet into a miniature arts area, taking the door off and hanging a bare bulb to light the space. And Krauss took the door off another closet, this one adjoining the kitchen, attached a full-length mirror to the back wall and used a chrome baker’s rack for shelving. It still works as a pantry, but it’s a visual enhancement now, rather than a blank door.

This repurposing of closets left them short on closet space. Their answer was in the use of the closet in their bedroom. It’s not large by square-footage standards, but by installing two levels of hanger rods and wire racks they made better use of the vertical space afforded by the 10-foot ceiling, greatly increasing the storage space.

A laundry room just off the entrance hall has a compact over-under washer-dryer and storage space for a vacuum and other household odds and ends. The $1,800-a-month apartment also includes some storage space elsewhere in the building, and parking for one car.

The all-electric kitchen, between the entrance hallway and glass front wall, is compact but adequate. McMillan says Krauss is a “terrific cook” — “Bill and I met in the kitchen of a mutual friend eight years ago” — and says that while they had reservations about an electric cooktop, they have gotten used to it. Directly across from the wall with a counter-depth refrigerator, stove top, oven, microwave and cabinets is a dark-stone island with a double stainless-steel sink. There’s room along the opposite edge of the island for casual dining.

The high ceilings, open floor plan, light-colored walls and view through the glass north wall make the place seem larger than it is.

Their art, photos, paintings and prints are all over, as are their books. They sold nearly every piece of furniture they had before moving in. 

Other than the Oriental rugs they brought with them to warm up the smooth concrete floors, the art is all they have of large items from their old home. They hired a local woodworker to build some simple but elegant alder bookcases and some matching rails that hold some of the artwork in the living room.

Making smart and artful use of space includes putting their flat-screen TV on a black, rolling metal rack made for business presentations. Tucked away in their bedroom, it’s almost invisible. If they have guests and want to watch in the entertaining areas, they wheel it down the hallway.

But to date, they say, they don’t spend a lot of time hanging around watching TV. There’s too much to do down at street level.

“It’s like we’re back in college again,” adds McMillan.

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