Credit: Photo by Darren Higgins

Penthouse with a View

Alan Abrams and Janet Kinzer, Silver Spring

When Janet Kinzer and Alan Abrams moved into their first condo in Silver Spring’s Parkside Plaza eight years ago, they had different ideas about how to refurbish it. Both were leaving behind previous marriages and separate single-family homes to make a new life together.

“I wanted something glamorous. Alan wanted something energy efficient,” Kinzer, 57, says of Abrams, 64, a green building expert who owns Abrams Design Build in Takoma Park.

“[He] asked: ‘What does glamour mean to you?’ ” she says. “And I sputtered because…I wasn’t sure. To me, it’s about sophistication, a unique space with unique, carefully chosen decorations, attention to details….and, of course, a big view.”

She wasn’t thrilled about the idea of spending a chunk of their renovation budget on reducing the amount of energy the condo needed to operate. “I mean: Where is the glamour in that?”

High-rise apartment living, which packs more people into less square footage, generally has less environmental impact than sprawling single-family neighborhoods. But there are limits to how “green” you can make a condo in a 1960s-era building like the Parkside. That didn’t deter Abrams. Every project has the potential to be more environmentally friendly, he says. “That’s all green building is: site-specific stuff” that works with what’s already there, he says.


The couple ultimately replaced windows, balcony doors and made adjustments to the heating and cooling, while letting eco-stylishness guide the rest of their decision-making.

They found creative ways to recycle: installing shelves made of old cedar instead of new kitchen cabinets. A pine rafter was repurposed into a countertop. Other fixtures, decorations and furniture were commissioned from artisans who specialize in salvaged wood and scrap yard metals.

Eventually, the couple—who married in 2008—decided they’d downsized a little too much. So last year they sold their 1,200-square-foot unit on the fifth floor and purchased an 1,800-square-foot penthouse in the same building. They reluctantly left behind custom-made pieces such as a “floating desk” that had been built directly into a wall by Kensington artisan Marcus Sims of Treincarnation. But they found that setting up house in the penthouse was easier since they’d already purged themselves of previously accumulated possessions.


A librarian for the Congressional Research Service, Kinzer says she happily ditched just about everything but her mother’s fancy china and a trove of photo albums. She misses the garden of a single-family home and the tiki lights she used to put out for the occasional late-night party. But she doesn’t miss the yard work. And the smaller, more intimate gatherings that she and her husband now host are more conducive to dinner conversation than large parties, she says.

Floor-to-ceiling windows in their 18th-floor penthouse overlook a sea of treetops in Sligo Park. With their free time no longer spent on housework and gardening, Abrams and Kinzer like to hike the park’s trails. There, they keep an eye out for nighthawks and great blue herons before returning to their cozy home.

—Christine MacDonald


A Downsizing Primer

Bethesda-area professionals tell how to make the process easier

  • Start six months to a year ahead of time. “Downsizing takes time, and all of the decision making can be mentally tiring,” says Helen Montfort of Making Space for Life in Glen Echo.  “This is not a process you want to rush through.”
  • Make a game plan. Set aside time each week for the process. If you skip a week or session, find time to make it up during the next week.
  • Ask a trusted friend or family member to help out. Someone who’s not emotionally attached can provide a reality check sometimes.
  • Consider hiring a professional organizer to get you started. The saved time might be worth the money (typically $50 to $90 an hour).
  • Get rid of bulky items that obviously won’t fit in your new space. That might mean lawn mowers, holiday decorations, large tools and barbecue grills.  
  • Inventory what’s left. Then make more cuts. “It’s like a great party invitation list. …You want everybody to come but, in truth, there is only a select group that you really, really want to be with,” says Meredith Tapley Gordon of Gordon Organizing in Bethesda.
  • When considering furniture, ask yourself if what you have will fit in your new home, if it needs to be upholstered or if you want and can afford new items. Have the measurements of your new space on hand.

To off-load nicer pieces, Gordon suggests calling auction houses. Keep in mind that most donation centers will not accept mattresses and large, upholstered furniture.

  • When considering the small stuff, remember that the more you move, the more it will cost. Go room by room and ask: Do you use it, need it or love it? If it’s no to all three, let it go. If you answer yes to one or two of the questions, an impartial friend can help make the final decision.  
  • Schedule a weekend to have friends and family claim your castoffs. “Then schedule a donations pickup within the next week,” Gordon says. “Don’t hang on to items that Uncle Joe says he needs, but can’t pick up for a month.”
  • Digitize as much paperwork as you can. Sign up for digital bank statements, and scan hard copies of things you need to keep into the computer. Montfort suggests dedicating a half hour of your weekly sessions just to sorting through paperwork.

—Theresa Sintetos