Step inside Judy Levine's condominium at the Lumberyard in Collingswood, and chances are you'll be at once dazzled and a tad disoriented. Although it's but 1,250 square feet, the space seems sprawling, elegantly decorated, and not at all crowded.
While this former stockbroker and executive for a magazine publisher is not a professional designer, she created a world of mixed colors, periods, arts, and accessories that imbue her home with personality and practicality.
"I've loved making this size work for me, and if there's a secret, it was in shedding anything that I don't love," says this super-organized woman, who was determined to create a vibrant space for herself and a lifestyle with easy access to Philadelphia, a city she loves.
When her husband, Bob, died eight years ago, Levine decided their single-family home in Hainesport, Burlington County, was not the right place for her.
"I had thoughts of returning to Philadelphia — I had loved living in Queen Village years ago — but real estate was just too expensive, " she says.
Then Levine learned of the Lumberyard, a mixed community of condos, townhouses and apartments. "I became like a stalker," she jokes. "I kept hanging around the place asking residents as they came and went what life was like there."
The answers were overwhelmingly positive. People raved about the garaged parking, community room, and no-maintenance life. A wide mixture of ages appealed to her, as did the friendly occupants in this 76-unit community. The complex's proximity to the PATCO High-Speed Line was a huge factor, as well. Although she still has a car, Levine delights in her short walk to the nearby station — and the bargain fares for seniors.
"I'm right where I belong," she says. "I hope I can be a model for other women alone that a full and wonderful life can happen at any stage."
Levine's two-bedroom, two-bath unit also gave her the configuration she wanted. A sprawling "great room" is the centerpiece of her home, and the balcony adjoining her bedroom is a cherished perk. The balcony gives Levine added living space and an ideal site for her thriving herb garden.
The great room houses treasures that passed the "I love it" test. The rest of her furniture, linens, accessories and miscellany was offered to friends at no cost, and then to Habitat for Humanity, which happily moved it all and also earned its owner a tax deduction.
Among the "keepers" is the mahogany dining room table that both her parents and grandparents had enjoyed. Its traditional style is complemented now by contemporary leather chairs — a blend Levine celebrates in other spaces.
Slipper chairs in colorful fabric coexist with a ladies desk that holds an enormous dictionary that belonged to her grandfather. The dictionary records family chronology — births and deaths — like a family Bible.
Art, as eclectic as the space itself, is everywhere. Levine's collection includes ceramic pieces created by one of her two daughters, scenic paintings by a dear friend, and a memorial quilt made of her husband's well-worn jeans, T-shirts and favorite ties. "I look at that quilt every day!"
In the master bedroom hangs a piece of fabric from a visit to France years ago, now framed in handsome gilt. Levine's sky-high classic four-poster bed is another of the room's treasures. How does she manage to get in and out of it? "I leap!"
In terms of daily life, Levine's favorite feature is the condo's large closet. "I've found that a closet can be many things, especially if it's organized," she says.
And this one is.
"My basic rule about clothing is that when something new comes in, something has to go out. I love clothes, but I hate clutter!"
Levine's wardrobe is carefully lined up by season, degree of formality, color, and general logic. Built-in drawers accommodate accessories; back closet spaces are a repository for linens, and, yes, even a working TV antenna. Unlike most of us, Levine isn't afraid to fling open her closets, as all of them are organized.
Her kitchen is equally ordered. Implements such as spatulas are nestled in attractive accessory holders, and the drawers of an antique foyer table, just steps from the kitchen, has become a perfect home for this happy chef's spice jars. "No space is wasted!" she says.
Would Levine want more space? The response is instant — and firm.
"I've lived in many places. But this one is truly my favorite. For me, small is beautiful!"