Zuri-Sizing: Making the most of a
Bonbon-sized Zurich Apartment
The sight is familiar to any ex-pat landing in a new place: towers of boxes and padded furniture surrounded by sterile white walls and bare sockets. At first, a new space can hardly look habitable, much less like “home.” Many newly arrived in Zurich are also downsizing, due to the city’s high real estate prices, which can make settling in even more challenging. Below, relocation agents, designers and fellow ex-pats offer their best tips on adjusting to the city and decking out down-sized digs in the homiest ways possible.
Before moving, it can be important to have realistic expectations and make mental adjustments in anticipation of a different lifestyle, say Micaela Paz and Christa Scheiwiller, world mobility manager and senior mobility manager, respectively, for Crown Relocations in Zurich. “It’s typical for many ex-pats from different countries, especially North and South America, to come from homes that have at least one bedroom and full bath for everyone in the family as well as a large garden,” says Paz. With big properties like this, Scheiwiller says, free time and social gatherings with family and friends are very focused on the house.
In Zurich, where it’s difficult to find large single-family homes for rent, Paz and Scheiwiller help clients adjust to Zurich by emphasizing how much there is to do in the area outside. “We give them lists and guides to show how much you can do outside during all four seasons, even when the weather isn’t nice,” she says. They also stress how much easier it can be to socialize with friends. “When you’re in a city, you can also have more contact with friends who live closer to you, and oftentimes you will see them more often,” says Paz.
Scheiwiller also emphasizes the efficiency and benefits of Zurich’s public transportation system. “For those with older children, we tell them you don’t have to drive them as much, they can take public transportation,” she says. These fringe/unexpected benefits of city life can boost brighten lifestyle be a big boost to a family’s quality of life.
Lighten the load
While it can be difficult to leave treasured items behind because they don’t fit in a smaller place, having less furniture can make it easier to customize a space and make it feel like home, say relo experts and designers. “I had a client once who was very attached to her large 16-person dining table and didn’t understand why she couldn’t bring it. But here, you don’t have living rooms where you need four couches,” says Scheiwiller. Instead of trying to wedge oversized pieces into a small room, she says, it can make more sense to find inexpensive new furniture that suits and even enhances the space.
Nina Spitzer, owner of Harrison Spirit, a design service and store in Hallwylplatz in Zurich, agrees and also recommends that clients generally leave oversized rugs and curtains, which can be difficult to fit into small apartments, at home. Cheaper lights, she says, should also generally be left at home because of the voltage differences and the danger of using converters.
A Swiss native who studied industrial design, Spitzer speaks German, Swiss-German, English, French and Spanish. She helps ex-pats with a range of services at all levels of their integration, including newly arrived ex pats. If they need furniture, sometimes she picks them up from the airport and heads straight to Ikea and other stores. “Many people don’t know where to start, so I help them get organized. I think what’s important is that they feel at home as quickly as possible,” she says.
She also helps them understand how to work with strict tenant rules about installing lights and hanging photos as well as ordering from catalogs, which can be more common in Switzerland where companies do not have the space to house large inventories.
As soon as the furniture is arranged, Spitzer looks for ways to make the space feel homey. She says that this can be a challenge in Zurich, where the climate is not always warm and sunny.
“Because it can be very gray outside, I try to create a warm and fresh environment inside,” she says.
As a contrast to cold gray skies, she finds that warm, soft textiles and colors, in the form of blankets, pillows and rugs can make a space look and feel cozy and comfortable. “It’s usually not necessary to buy a lot of things,” says Spitzer. It can be something her clients already have or something very simple that she buys.
Organic materials in basic shapes, like wood boxes, storage baskets, and linen curtains can also help give a home a natural, lived-in coziness. Firewood, for example, doesn’t need to be hidden, it can be stored openly near a fireplace in an attractive basket. Skins or blankets can be draped over bare chairs to make them feel welcoming as well.
Creating vignettes out of collected items, Spitzer says, can also enhance a home’s personality. A lot of people, when they have a collection or a group of items, make the mistake of lining them up along a shelf, says Sptizer, so that they look “like chickens on a fence.” Instead, she likes to house them under a glass vitrine or artfully arrange them with other items to make the collection more engaging.
She says a good design rule of thumb is the Rule of Threes:
Three pieces in three different sizes on three different layers. For example, three vases would look best in three different colors and/or sizes placed at different angles near each other. “This helps make it feel like it’s not a hotel,” she says. For families that need extra storage cabinets, Spitzer recommends not overloading open shelves with excessive items. For those who need to buy storage units of furniture, she highly recommends buying pieces that can be partially closed. “It’s important to be able to hide things like folders, odd collections, old ashtrays and knick knacks,” she says.
In the end, what creates a homey feeling differs from family to family. For some, like Lori Buchanan who moved to Zurich last year from Texas, bringing as many familiar items as possible helped avoid the cost of buying new furniture. “Having our own items quickly made it feel like home, especially for the kids with their bedroom furniture and comforters,” she says.
Kerry Rees, who moved to Zurich from Shanghai this year agrees. “Our house became a home once we started to put some of our photographs up. For me, I always enjoy starting to cook in my new kitchen,” she says. Others who need to downsize have found new ways to create a home away from home. Kim Chaffin, an Erlenbach resident who moved from a large U.S. home to a small apartment three years ago, had to start from scratch. “All new furniture was required because none of our U.S. stuff fit,” she says.
Once here, she says she has decorated her space to reflect their ex-pat adventure.“I have gone crazy with art. I did not bring anything but have acted like a tourist, buying pieces here. Also, we have a whole wall of pictures, a collage for each place we have visited since moving here,” she says.
Tel: +41 44 920 40 30
If you have any tips on making your Swiss house a home – we’d love to hear! Tell us in the comments section below!
With thanks to Jennifer Lisle for writing this article and to all our contributors. Jennifer is a recently Swiss-sized Zurich-based freelance journalist who has written for The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and Elle, among many others. She can be contacted here.
With thanks to Nina Spitzer of Harrison Spirit for all the photos.
For more information on Zurich and beyond feel free to subscribe to the blog in the box below this article