Downsizing Early

After trading their super-sized American mansion for a more compact home near Sydney Harbour, Adele and Ian are happy to confirm that bigger isn't always better. Moving a family from one continent to another is never easy. Usually it entails finding jobs, looking for new schools for the kids and, of course, setting up house. And for fitness expert Adele Rancan and husband Ian Sutherland – who returned to Australia after five and half years in the US –there was an added challenge.

Adele sums it up: “We moved from Los Angeles and a 5000-square-foot home back to Sydney, to this place, which was a standard townhouse.” Despite losing a large chunk of floorspace, however, the couple found the experience an invigorating one, and are distinctly chirpy about their new life and home. So how did they do it?

Priority number one was to renovate the main living area to flood it with Sydney sun and fresh air. “The location is fantastic – it's right near the beach,” Adele says, “but we needed to make this a usable, liveable space for us. So we decided to open the whole back of it up and make it more light and bright.” Their architect, Linda Haefeli, was integral in making this happen. “Linda lives up at Avalon so she knows the whole beachy-style feel that we needed,” Adele explains. “She came up with the idea to carry the cathedral-style ceiling all the way through.” With square metres at a premium, it was also vital to make the most of the rear courtyard. “The whole idea was indoor flowing to outdoor – we created an outdoor room as opposed to just having it as a separate area,” Adele says. What this means in practical terms is that the home now has two hubs: the living/dining area and kitchen upstairs, and the entertaining area downstairs. It's a much more effective set-up than they had in LA. “It was a huge house, but we lived in the kitchen and the lounge room. We called it the West Wing, because we never used all the space. The kids were still on top of us, in the kitchen and the family room, so I thought we may as well live like that if that's where they're going to be the whole time anyway!” Adele reasons.

Reduced floorspace wasn't the only thing Adele and Ian had to contend with - there was less room on walls and shelves too, which meant making some hard choices about what would be on display, and what would go into storage. During their travels around the globe the couple have collected many cherished pieces. Adele credits interior designer Sian MacPherson for helping them pick which items would fit in best. And the plan is to rotate paintings and decorations every six months or so. “I guess now that we don't travel as much, and being back here in Australia, they mean even more,” Adele reflects. “You think, ‘Oh, that’s right look at that, we went there’.” As well as all their treasured keepsakes, the couple also brought some decorating ideas back with them. While in many houses the master bedroom is a kind of impenetrable inner sanctum, here the room communicates directly to the rear courtyard, again to create a resort-style vibe. When they want to hide the bed, they can draw sheer curtains around it. “It creates a bit of a barrier,” Adele explains. “We saw that done a lot in Miami and LA in hotels – they used curtains everywhere to create dividers without blocking it off completely.” One concept that may be a first in Australia is the fire pit outside. This is basically a large gas burner mounted in lava rock and capped with heatproof glass. When it’s turned on, the flames dance on the glass. “We had one in our backyard in America,” Adele recounts. “Ian had the great idea to do the same thing in Australia, and it’s been such an attraction.” And before you ask where you put the food ... “Everyone wonders that!” Adele laughs. “You don’t cook on it. It’s purely a visual thing. Some people have a water feature; we have a fire feature.”

Adele and Ian are also revelling in their proximity to the kids’ schools, and their own offices. In Adele’s case, the office is quite often Balmoral Beach! With her sister, Lisa, she runs Rancan Sisters Fitness. If you lived through the era of legwarmers you might remember the duo from their appearances on Good Morning Australia in the ’80s and ’90s. Nowadays the fashions and techniques are a little different. “I do yoga and kayaking sessions outside down at Balmoral so we’re always using the water,” Adele says. And while she helps people get into shape, she’s been able to reflect on her own changed lifestyle. “I’ve done a lot of yoga, and I think it’s easy to focus too much on material things and objects,” she muses. “Now we can’t have everything that we absolutely want because we can’t fit it into a space like this – not that it's that small, but we’re forced to think how much ‘stuff’ we really need. I always joke that we actually downsized before we had to. We’ve still got the kids, but we don't want to have a big house and live further away from the ocean. What we thought we’d try first is doing what we’ve just done – downsizing to this place and working out if we can actually live here.” So far, it seems, they certainly can.


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