When Irma and Lou Malissa decided last year that it was finally time to sell their large house in Rydal and move to smaller space and an easier life, Irma made one thing clear:
"I don't want a place that makes me feel old."
Today, the Malissas - Irma is 86, Lou is 87 - have met that goal. Their airy new digs at Rydal Park, where windows reveal a panorama of trees, greenery, and even a waterfall, has refreshed them, they say, and given them a new home to cherish.
"You're never sure how things will turn out," says Irma, who now knows she has gained more than she lost in the move.
"We both loved our Rydal house," says Lou, whose sense of humor is around every bend. "But Irma refused to do the lawn anymore, so we had no choice!"
In truth, it was Irma who was ready five years ago to say goodbye to their five-bedroom home with its decades-old collection of fine furniture, antiques, and Oriental rugs. Lou was the holdout - until a foot injury affected his mobility and he was willing to think about the next chapter.
Rydal Park is close to their children and grandchildren, and for a monthly fee offers independent living, meals, and housekeeping services, with provisions for assisted living and health services as needed.
"And there's a sense of security here. That's priceless," Irma says.
Step inside this apartment and you are bathed in warmth and light. With the assistance of Center City design consultant Adele Fein and her philosophy not of downsizing but "right-sizing with style," the Malissas created a mini-version of their former home in style and spirit.
Cherished pieces moved with them - that was essential. "But we also recognized that we couldn't quite re-create it all in the space available," says Fein, who helped the couple decide which possessions to give to grandchildren and which to keep.
With travel one of Lou and Irma's passions, many things that surround them now are reminders of faraway places.
It's impossible to ignore the huge breakfront in the dining room containing artifacts from around the world. French candlesticks and a delicate French clock mix with objects lovingly carried home from nearly every country in Europe, and some in Asia.
The handsome dining-room chandelier, with arms crafted of rams' horns, came from the old house, and a table once in their living room morphed perfectly to dining use.
Eclectic art they have collected over their 64-year marriage enlivens every wall, and oddities such as a leather mask from an Italian festival add instant interest.
An arresting bust of a male figure sculpted by Irma rests on a pedestal near the living room, while an old lute she spied in a New York store is the central attraction on a living-room wall.
Each piece has a story the Malissas can relate with remarkable detail. This is a couple with a trove of memories, and they live among reminders of them.
One of those treasured memories: their first meeting. "I definitely noticed Irma when I spotted her at a post-World War II party," Lou says. "I was very interested."
After the party, Irma told her mother she had met the man she was going to marry. Less than a year later, that's exactly what happened.
At first, home was with Irma's parents in Mount Airy. Later, the couple moved to a rancher in Wyncote, then an apartment nearby, and then to the Rydal home they loved for more than three decades.
"Home is important to us," says Lou, who owned a company specializing in the manufacture and sale of ventilation devices. To keep up with his interest in investments, he has an office that replicates the one he had in his former home - including the typewriter he uses.
"I'm allowed a tiny space for my computer," says his good-natured wife, an accomplished self-taught sculptor and photographer.
The main living space is divided between a cozy den, where framed illustrations of various aspects of selling reflect Lou's lifetime work, and a living room where not a single new piece is in evidence.
Upholstered furniture, art, and accent pieces all have been given new life in this new space. One highlight: the high-backed chair that suits Lou's 6-foot-6 frame and is his favorite seat, one he tended to overlook before.
The headboard of the Malissas' bed - decked out in floral polished cotton, with reconfigured matching shades - are from the master bedroom past, as is a dainty ladies desk, among other pieces. Only a dresser has been added to the familiar furnishings.
With Fein's help, even the coffee table from their former house has been utilized, now minus its glass top.
But perhaps the most exciting impact comes from the hue that stretches across almost every wall. Irma loves color, especially orange: "My eyes like warmth," she says.
So they now live in a universe of rich, bronzy coral, at once warm and sophisticated, elegant and welcoming.
Irma definitely doesn't feel old in the new space. Rather, she feels energized.