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The simple life

Couple downsizes, discovers new space

Created date

July 31st, 2009
MD_0809_LEAD_two bedroom
MD_0809_LEAD_two bedroom

In her bedroom-turned-art studio, Jewell Brenneman is free to create pieces like her Pear Jammin series, which won multiple prizes in Charlestown s Visual Art Show. In spring 2008, Jewell and George Brenneman decided to trade in their Elkridge house for a maintenance-free 1,100-square-foot apartment home at Charlestown, the community by Erickson in Catonsville. But what they sacrificed in square footage, they made up for in creative reorganization.

Mrs. Brenneman is an artist/art teacher and Mr. Brenneman is a pediatrician, so space was vital to continuing their professional pursuits. As a result, one bedroom was set aside to include a painting area for her, and the dining room was converted into a home office for him.

Multipurpose space

Living on Charlestown s 110-acre campus, the couple was sure they would always have room to grow. "We looked at a lot of places for a long time before choosing Charlestown," says Mrs. Brenneman. Ultimately, she explains, they chose Charlestown for its continuum of health care, beautiful natural environment, and proximity to their friends and family.

In their first year living at Charlestown, Mrs. Brenneman reports that she has become an eager member of the fitness center, visiting two to three times a week at least. She also works in her garden patch on campus. Mr. Brenneman, an avid bicycler, spends time cycling and walking in nearby Patapsco Valley State Park. "Our apartment is next to the woods," says Mrs. Brenneman. "We love the wraparound view of a wooded area that is lush in summer and poetic in winter."

Indoor space was equally important to the active couple, who wanted room for a home office, art studio, and library. "We chose our apartment because it had the biggest bedrooms," says Mrs. Brenneman. "I think we ve made excellent use of the space we have. It doesn t feel crowded at all."

The dining room-turned-home office is the launchpad for Mr. Brenneman s consulting and clinical field work at the Lakota Sioux reservation in South Dakota. Every other month, he travels to the reservation to work as a clinical pediatrician and spend any free time photographing old buildings.

Inside the apartment home, Mr. Brenneman s library fills part of one bedroom. Mrs. Brenneman shares the space, using the rest of it as her studio. While she paints in her apartment home, she also keeps up with galleries in the area, where she occasionally teaches art and drawing.

Natural shifts

Mrs. Brenneman has spent her life immersed in art. She earned three art degrees (two in ceramics) and taught many levels while the couple spent 23 years in Alaska. During that time, her husband served Eskimo and Indian populations in the U.S. Public Health Service with an amazing group of cohorts, many of whom became lifelong friends.

Moving to Charlestown provided a natural shift for Mrs. Brenneman s work, away from ceramics. "I always knew I would draw and paint more once I moved to Charlestown," she says. "I used to do a lot of oil painting, but the fumes and the mess are too much so I started using acrylic. It s actually brought me a lot of great new opportunities."

One of those opportunities was entering the Charlestown Visual Art Show, where she earned multiple prizes for her "Pear Jammin " series (pictured).

"I usually paint for a stretch of time and then take off for a period," says Mrs. Brenneman, who joined the Charlestown wood shop to make frames for her paintings. "Right before the art show, I was busy with painting and various other things like wiring the back of the paintings and creating color postcards to advertise my art."

The sky s the limit

Charlestown Retirement Counselor Steffany Byers helps people like the Brennemans simplify their lives by eliminating the constant upkeep that comes with owning a large home.

"There s a misconception that the mere act of staying in your house makes you independent," says Byers. "But in reality, that couldn t be farther from the truth. By eliminating all of the obstacles and limitations your house places on you, you re free to pursue the things that matter and interest you most whether that s traveling the world, volunteering, creating art, or simply spending more time with your grandchildren."

Byers also says that just because you re scaling back, don t be fooled into thinking you ll have to sacrifice the details that make your house your home. "When you choose an apartment at Charlestown, the possibilities of how you design and decorate are limitless. Whether it s crown molding, hardwood floors, custom painting, or granite countertops, the choices are endless," she says.

As for the Brennemans, living at Charlestown has allowed them to continue their relationships with groups they had before they moved and has opened the door to new opportunities and friendships within the community itself.

"I think contributing to people s lives is what life is all about," says Mrs. Brenneman. "Over the years [as a teacher], I ve watched people grow and learn so much about themselves through art. The same is true here at Charlestown. Art gives people an outlet and an opportunity to enrich their daily life instead of relenting to the TV."