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Making minimalism work, together

  • Tiny plants line a stairway windowsill and echo the green outside. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kim Hutt's father designed custom baby gates so the cat. India, can get through but Levin Mayhew, Hutt's and and Jesse Mayhew's 14 month old son can not. The family live in the Pathways Cohousing in Northampton. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kim Hutt Mayhew cradles her 14-month-old son, Levin, on the screened-in porch. The family has accumulated so little “stuff,” she says, they don’t even use their attic. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Master bed room of Kim Hutt, and Jesse Mayhew at their home where they live with their 14 month old son, Levin Mayhew at Pathways Cohousing in Northampton. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • In the nursery, this wall hanging made of pompons hangs above Levin’s crib. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Nursery in the home of Kim Hutt, and Jesse Mayhew at their home where they live with their 14 month old son, Levin Mayhew at Pathways Cohousing in Northampton. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Nursery in the home of Kim Hutt, and Jesse Mayhew at their home where they live with their 14 month old son, Levin Mayhew at Pathways Cohousing in Northampton. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The master bedroom’s low-slung furniture emphasizes the room’s high ceilings. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kim Hutt's father designed custom baby gates so the cat. India, can get through but Levin Mayhew, Hutt's and and Jesse Mayhew's 14 month old son can not. The family live in the Pathways Cohousing in Northampton. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The game room in the basement gets used by the couple and their friends nearly every week. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kim's father designed custom baby gates so that cats can get through but toddlers cannot. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kim Hutt Mayhew and Jesse Mayhew moved into their home at Pathways Cohousing in Northampton two years ago. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kim Hutt and her 14 month old son, Levin Mayhew, at their home where they live with Hutt's husband and Mayhew's father, Jesse Mayhew at Pathways Cohousing in Northampton. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kim Hutt and her cat India in her home where she lives with her 14 month old son, Levin Mayhew, and Hutt's husband and Mayhew's father, Jesse Mayhew at Pathways Cohousing in Northamtpon. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The dining room and kitchen in the home of Kim Hutt, and Jesse Mayhew at their home where they live with their 14 month old son, Levin Mayhew at Pathways Cohousing in Northampton. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS



For the Gazette
Friday, September 14, 2018

‘The attic? We don’t need it,” said Kim Hutt Mayhew, of Florence. She and Jesse Mayhew, her husband of 3 years, moved into one of just six freestanding single-family homes at the Pathways Cohousing development in July of 2016 after a 9-month search for a home in Northampton.

Their family, which already included two feline fur-babies, has expanded to include son Levin, now fourteen months old. But their footprint remains small, with spaces like the attic going unused and areas like the screened-in porch featuring only the most inviting essentials (like a hanging chair).

I asked if the Mayhews had been nervous about purchasing a unit in a co-housing development. “I was more nervous about homeownership in general, but when I walked in, I said ‘This is my house’,” said Jesse, a Sales Director at Machine Metrics in Northampton.

Co-housing, where individuals own units such as townhouses, duplexes or single-family homes, offers benefits like shared tools, children’s play areas, common meeting rooms, and of course, community. A condominium association manages common finances, maintenance, insurance, and other activities.

Pathways, built in 2000, contains 27 units. Just three miles from downtown Northampton, the community was designed to situate living spaces among a network of trails — thus, “Pathways” — that are surrounded by mature mountain laurel, tall trees, and other plantings.

A winding road, narrower than those found in a traditional new subdivision, leads to a compact parking area with a view of a playground and green space. A simple sign asks visitors and residents to “park and walk in.”

This gives the community a campground-feel, and the required walk to a house or unit makes residents and guests connect — even for just a few yards — with the landscape. It’s a shift from the drive-inside-the-garage-and-walk-into-the-mudroom model that can limit chance interactions with neighbors, sightings of birds or other wildlife or peaceful tromps through fallen leaves. 

In fact, there are no garages at Pathways (though there are bicycle sheds).

The Pathways community now includes approximately 60 people, and about five families are raising small children on the property. For the Mayhews, who weren’t seeking out a co-housing lifestyle, the setup has been gratifying. Pathways was conceived and built to enhance neighborly activities “before it was a vogue thing to do,” said Kim, a Senior Account Manager at PURE Branding, Inc. in Northampton. Sharing rides, dinners, and tools or equipment is all part of the day-to-day at Pathways.

This has allowed the Mayhews to be intentional about prioritizing relationships, experiences, and creativity over the accumulation of material items. They have pared down their possessions, borrowing items like a co-sleeper only when needed. “We try to be vigilant about ‘stuff’ especially with a child,” said Kim. “We’ve had to find creative ways to have a baby and toys but maintain an aesthetic we like.”

Their vigilance to resist the urge to buy new items — especially baby-related ones — was aided by Kim’s father, who designed and built several custom baby-gates and small storage units throughout the home. This allows for a sleek profile while creating safe spaces for Levin to explore.

Their great room features an extra long, low-profile sofa, a cozy side chair, narrow coffee table, and modern sideboard with numerous shelves and storage bins. It all sits on a large white shag rug with a simple black geometric design. The absence of a television there affords a view of the screened porch. Once a deck, prior owners built a fully-screened enclosure, which, as Kim puts it, “is basically a giant playpen.” (This is a plus for the baby, and for the two cats.)

One area of the house where a small collection of items is carefully stored is in what Jesse calls the “board game dungeon.” The partially-finished basement contains one Scandinavian-style teak hutch, one simple Ikea cube storage unit, and a custom-made game table (made with help from Kim’s dad). The area is designed not as a museum of dusty boxes, but to enable near-weekly group get-togethers with friends.  

To give their home a spacious feel, the Mayhews repainted most rooms Benjamin Moore’s Navajo White. Personal touches, like a grid of eighteen framed square photos of special places in Northampton and elsewhere, are paired with simple decorative touches, like a vintage meter of Marimekko fabric printed with a bold raspberry pink motif. Kim sewed rod pockets at the top and bottom to transform the fabric into a bedroom wall hanging.

One lucky find for the Mayhews was the well-designed closet stretching the length of the master bedroom. With ample shelving and bars for hanging garments, they don’t need chests of drawers or other furniture in the room. Vaulted ceilings and skylights amplify the spaciousness.

Between the master bedroom and the baby’s room is Kim’s hobby room. Painted pale blue-green, the room has one substantial storage piece and an uncluttered desk. It wasn’t always this way. Kim says about 7 or 8 years ago she, like many of us, had “a ton of stuff.” Reading about consumerism and sustainability led her to scale back on purchases, a trend she encouraged in Jesse. Kim says she, “would rather have an unfinished space” than a space filled with unneeded items.

Tucked beside the first floor bathroom behind a closed door is one of the few spaces that isn't painted a soft white, in fact, it's black.

Jesse converted the small room into a soundproof recording studio and music area. A drum kit fills ones corner, and an L-shaped workstation served as the recording location for Jesse's popular podcast, “Chairmen of the Boards.” Like many parts of the house, the room's main purpose is to allow creativity to flourish, providing a platform for a unique experience.

Engaging with the “shareconomy” makes a mindful and minimal lifestyle possible. Indeed, Kim is an avid reader; a slim metal-and-glass second-floor bookcase holds classic titles. Her Instagram feed, however, showcases a seemingly never-ending stream of books she’s borrowed from the Forbes library. It’s a refreshing digital reminder that much of what we want can be borrowed instead of bought, and that showing up for our neighbors, our friends, our families, and the land we live on matters most.

Tess Perrone Poe of Northampton is the Founder of Beehive Sewing Studio.