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Set in stone

When John and Lisa Barnhardt moved from Raleigh, North Carolina, to the side of Lookout Mountain, they had no idea downsizing would be so difficult — or how much they would come to love their new city and their new, smaller space.

When their daughter, Julia, moved with her husband Jared and their first child to Chattanooga, the Barnhardts went back and forth between Raleigh and the Scenic City for a couple of years, visiting frequently. Realizing they could make a mortgage payment with the amount they were spending staying in hotels and vacation rentals, and both having recently retired, the couple decided they were ready to downsize and move closer to their daughter, then pregnant with her second child.

One of Lisa's colleagues in Raleigh had a sister living on Lookout Mountain who offered to show her around. She took Lisa and John to a home she had lived in for 30 years before selling it to her next door neighbor 20 years prior — who was planning to move but hadn't listed the house yet.

John, who wanted to live either downtown or in Riverview near their daughter's family, agreed to look at the home "as a courtesy," he says, but was won over immediately upon walking in the door. The couple liked that the home, located near the Cravens House and Ruby Falls, was "cottage-y and cute," says Lisa, who was also drawn to the boulders dotting the landscape of the spacious yard. "There's not many places, particularly this size, that have a big yard like that," she says.

Stone steps lead up the mountainside to a hot tub and rope hammock nestled among the lush greenery and massive boulders, which remind her of her childhood rock collection now displayed on a shelf on the back patio. Since trading their large dining room table from Raleigh for a four-top in their new home, the couple now hosts many of their dinner parties al fresco, where the table accommodates six.

Transitioning from their 4,000-square-foot home in Raleigh to the three bedroom, two bath home — just around 1,500 square feet — wasn't easy, says Lisa. "It's been a big adjustment. We bump into each other a lot here," she laughs.

Most of the furnishings are pieces they brought from Raleigh, though they did purchase a few items to fit the space, such as the curved sofa tucked into a corner of one of the sitting rooms. They sold many items they no longer had the space for through The Chattanooga Auction House, including a rug Lisa later spotted in the home of a friend. Giving up certain items proved extremely difficult — "I wept until our daughter finally took our dining room table," she says — and there were some things they chose to hold on to, such as their children's childhood toys.

The limited space forced them to be creative in coming up with storage solutions, says John. For example, an old Army footlocker from World War II that belonged to his father now serves as a secure, waterproof container to store wrapping paper on their front porch.

While the transition was at times difficult, living in a smaller home can be easier in a lot of ways (like vacuuming the entire floor without having to change outlets!), says Lisa. "Once you do let go of things, there's a certain sense of freedom about it," she adds.

Shortly after the move, tragedy struck. Their son, who was still living in Raleigh, passed away. Thankfully, Lisa had fallen in with a group of women whom she met through a friend who walks the Cravens House trail near the Barnhardts' home, and who have been an invaluable source of support ever since. "I cannot believe my good fortune in meeting this group of women," she says. "The people of Chattanooga have been incredibly welcoming."

John says retiring in Chattanooga has been the ideal experience, adding that he loves the active nature of the city and being so close to hiking trails on the side of the mountain.

It's been easy to meet people and get involved in the community, such as volunteering with a mentoring program and training as a docent at the Hunter Museum of American Art.

He also likes being within walking distance of the Incline Railway, where he walks with his granddaughters to wave at the passing train cars, further cementing Chattanooga's reputation as a friendly, welcoming place with their smiling faces in the vacation videos and photos of countless tourists.