The Big Move to a Small Home

Leaving the five-bedroom Exeter house where they raised their children wasn’t easy, but one couple found home, sweet home intheir new, two-bedroom apartment in downtown Portsmouth.In today’s fast-paced world, where a new job can uproot a family in an instant, few people can make the claim that they’ve lived in the same home for more than half their lives. Among those few are David and Jo Ann Hampson, who moved to the Seacoast from Florida in 1981 as a young couple with two children. They found a home in Exeter where they raised their family, which grew to include two more children.”Our children were so happy and settled in the Exeter community,” Jo Ann says. “During their high school years, three of our children attended Phillips Exeter Academy. We were a little over a mile from the center of town, and our kids could walk home.”Enlarging a house for a growing familyIn 1990, the Hampsons decided to build an addition and Jo Ann looked to a friend for suggestions as to whom to contact. “My friend had interviewed a lot of interior designers,” Jo Ann says, “and had chosen Paul Stone of Paul Stone Interiors of Hampton Falls. We really liked what he had done for her. Not only did he do the interior design work, but he also helped with the construction design. He’s very good at that.”For the next year, Stone remodeled the kitchen; built an addition that included a master bedroom suite and guest suite; and redid finishing touches, such as window and wall treatments that Jo Ann said “had grown tired over time.”But as their children got older, graduated from college and began building lives of their own, the Hampsons grew tired of taking care of a big house-removing snow and ice, making repairs, doing lawn work and gardening, and so on. In 2009, as their youngest child was graduating from high school, the Hampsons were approached by a real estate agent who asked if they would be interested in a one-time showing, as she had a prospective client who was interested in looking at their home. Before David and Jo Ann knew it, this young family with three small children had fallen in love with the house. That was the good news.The challenge was that the family wanted to close the transaction in two months. “Moving was very difficult, but we managed,” Jo Ann remembers. “All the kids came home and helped. When you have the space, it gets filled. But we put some things into storage, the kids took what they wanted, and we gave a lot of things away.”Moving onFor the next year, the Hampsons lived in a small apartment and began catching their breath and collecting their thoughts. They thought about moving away, as David’s job could have provided a variety of avenues in different places, but the Hampsons realized that they had grown to love the Seacoast and wanted to stay. They looked at properties on the water in Maine and in Rye, but kept coming back to Harbour Place in Portsmouth. “This location was attractive to us for a variety of reasons,” David says. “The real appeal was being able to build from scratch, as the space was raw. That is uncommon, and the wide open space forced us to stand back and question what we wanted our lifestyle to be.””We also loved the windows, the views of downtown Portsmouth and being right in town,” Jo Ann adds. “This was a unique building.”Built more than one hundred years ago, the handsome brick building that is now One Harbour Place was once a coal-fired utility owned by Public Service of New Hampshire. The building was converted to office space in the 1980s, two more floors were added, and in 2008, those upper floors became residential space while the rest of the building remained commercial.Creating space to reflect lifestyleThe Hampsons knew they wanted a wide-open space that was conducive to entertaining (the couple enjoys hosting parties and family dinners every Sunday night). They also loved the large windows and wanted to make sure the floor plan didn’t inhibitthe views. “The light in this space is so beautiful, even on a dreary day,” Jo Ann says. “At night, the North Church’s steeple is lit up and the view is majestic.” The Hampsons worked with Dann Batting of Dann Norris Batting Architects in Chester to determine a floor plan. He had helped One Harbour Place’s developers, Two International Construction, with the master planning for the building’s top two floors. “The key for most of the residential units was to concentrate on the views,” Batting says. “We debated about putting a wall in the dining room and turning that room into a den,library or third bedroom,” David says. “But we were concerned about losing the flow of the open space in the kitchen, living room, family room and dining room.” So once again, the Hampsons called upon interior designer Stone, who had been so helpful to them in Exeter. Stone asked them how often they’d use that third bedroom and suggested that for those times children or other overnight guests visited, David and Jo Ann think about options at the Ale House Inn, which is right next door, or other hotels in town. David says the question of adding this additional bedroom was “absolutely the toughest decision we had to make.” But when the couple thought about how many times a year they’d actually use that room, which would take away from the open space they’d enjoy regularly, they were able to make their decision. “Paul encouraged us not to put a wall in the dining room so we could enjoy that open space,” Jo Ann says. “He also suggested putting a fireplace in the corner of the living room, which has become a focal point for the room without distracting from the views.” “We wanted to keep the windows as a central part of each room,” David says. “For buildings in Portsmouth, particularly in the historic district, it’s unusual to have large windows such as ours.”Traditional versus contemporaryOnce decisions were made about the floor plan, things began to fall into place and the Hampsons were able to think about finishing touches. After leaving their traditional-style home in Exeter, David and Jo Ann decided they wanted a more contemporary home. “This would be a new and refreshing look for us,” David says. That contemporary look is evident in the kitchen, which is just off the entry. Centered in the room is the exquisite green Verde Bergogna granite-topped island made by Blue Fish Granite in North Hampton. Stone designed the ten-by-four-foot island to be non-symmetrical; “the narrower end faces the foyer, which is easier on the eye when one enters the room,” he says. Since Jo Ann loves to cook, Stone included seating on the other side of the island to make it a focal point for gathering. “This way, Jo Ann can cook and entertain at the same time,” he says.The apartment’s natural brown maple floors from Carlisle Wide Plank Flooring in Stoddard set off the kitchen’s rich brown walnut cabinets, custom built and colored by Jewett Farms in Dover. (The company also has a showroom in Newburyport, Massachusetts.) Those cabinets continue all the way to the far wall of the family room, where the family likes to sit and watch television. “Everyone can plop on to the sofa when the kids are here,” Jo Ann says. “And if one of them wants to watch a game, David and I can sit by the fireplace and enjoy a glass of wine.” To find furniture for these rooms, the Hampsons visited showrooms and furniture stores on their own; once David and Jo Ann found pieces they liked, they asked Stone to help make final decisions. “There are so many choices with fabrics and styles,” Jo Ann says, “that you get into decision overload. Paul was such a tremendous help in that regard.” The other design challenge was incorporating the Hampsons’ many large contemporary paintings. “In the dining room, we needed wall space for the large painting by Miriam Sawyer,” Stone says. “We also had to be careful not to bring in too much color, which would have been distracting.”Home, sweet homeIn addition to the elegant yet comfortable new space they now call home, the Hampsons are having a wonderful time with their new urban lifestyle. “After living in a single-family home,” David says, “the freedom to walk anywhere is phenomenal. We can walk to The Music Hall, Prescott Park, and to many restaurants and stores. You never really appreciate this until you live it.”After a recent visit to one of their children in New York, the Hampsons returned to Portsmouth, and “it felt so good to be home,” Jo Ann says. “This is home now. It wasn’t easy leaving our house in Exeter, but I am so glad we did.”