Home stagers are the people who sweep through homes going on the market and make them look uncluttered and cozy without a huge investment of time or money.
What’s their secret?
Stagers have a bag of design and organizing tricks that can be useful even to someone who has no plans to sell. They look to make a house or condo desirable to potential buyers and maximize price. They have practical ideas to refresh your stale living room or pump up your curb appeal. Stagers cast a critical eye on everything. They remove things. They group like items together, rearrange bookcases, toss out lumpy pillows and frame children’s artwork previously hanging from magnets on the fridge. They might gather all your scattered framed family photos, edit them and display them on one shelf or tabletop.
Here are six ideas from four stagers to get you started on an intervention in your own home.
1. Create a light and airy bedroom
“Lots of bedrooms are small and have few windows,” says Tyler Whitmore, owner of staging and design firm Ta-da! Homes, who advises people to take a critical eye to every room in the house and “think like you’re going to see the house, even if you’re not.” She suggests painting walls a light color and bringing in a neutral rug. Beds are the largest piece in the room, so linens shouldn’t stand out too much, she says. On a recent job at a Cape Cod, Whitmore replaced a dark navy bedspread on a mahogany sleigh bed with a cream coverlet. The navy one, Whitmore says, “created a big black hole in the middle of the room.” Replacing chunky, mismatched nightstands, she installed matching pedestal nightstands, reusing the existing crackled-glass lamps. She put a pair of framed European prints over the bed as a focal point. “It feels calm in here now,” Whitmore says. “It’s the retreat everyone is looking for.”
2. Give the bathroom a facelift
Laura McCaffrey, a real estate agent and home stager with Evers &Co., sees lots of unusual bathroom tile color combinations in Washington’s 1920s and 1930s houses: yellow and black, gray and maroon, pink and green. Yes, it’s retro, but with age, tiles crack and bathtubs chip. Many homeowners don’t want to shell out big bucks to gut their bathrooms. So to update them, she swears by Miracle Method, a service that sprays an acrylic, usually white, coating that bonds to existing tile and tub in a layering process not unlike painting techniques used in the automotive industry. Broken or cracked tiles can also be repaired and sprayed. According to Mary Ann O’Hara from Miracle Method, a standard bathroom tub and tile surface refinishing costs about $1,900. You can add a new vanity, a medicine cabinet and hardware for an additional charge. New floor tiles can be laid on top of existing tile. And then you don’t have to hunt for yellow and black towels or shower curtains.
McCaffrey started including staging as part of her services as a listing agent about 10 years ago. “When I’ve finished staging a house, so many people say things like, ‘I wish I’d done this three years ago. Then I could have enjoyed it myself.’”
3. Make a good first impression
Your front door and shutters welcome people to your home and should be painted regularly to look fresh and polished. Front doors are traditionally painted colors such as glossy black, barn red, forest green or white. Whitmore also likes the idea of painting the front door in a color that will hint at what is inside.
McCaffrey is fond of giving the front door an unexpected color. She encourages clients not to match the colors of shutters and front doors. In one project, she found a front door and shutters both painted a sage green. McCaffrey chose a darker green to paint the shutters so that they stand out.
4. Upgrade rugs
If your rug needs replacement, don’t just buy a standard 8-by-10 or 9-by-12 and plop it into your room. Kelley Proxmire, an interior designer who added staging to her design business in 2009, suggests buying a wool remnant and getting it cut to perfectly fit your space. She likes to have carpet sized to fit around fireplace hearths or bay windows. This makes your room look bigger and neater, she says. If you can’t afford new carpet, use small Oriental or area rugs you might have stashed in a closet or basement on top of an existing rug to personalize your look. Layering a small rug in front of a sofa can be an especially smart idea if kids eat snacks there.
Proxmire also uses spray paint to rejuvenate lamp finials and rescue old planters. She hunts down soup tureens from closets and fills them with hydrangeas for the dining room.
5. Don’t forget the houseplants
Plants, whether succulents, ferns or rosemary topiaries, add to the look and energy of a room. Yet many people seem to be running plant hospitals, Proxmire says. “I see forlorn sticks in dusty old pots scattered all over the place,” she says. Proxmire advises looking over your plants on a regular basis; she does it every Sunday. “Be brutally honest. If the plant really doesn’t look great, get rid of it.” She isn’t totally heartless: She has created an orchid revival area on a deep windowsill in her home, behind some indoor shutters, where she can keep an eye on dormant orchids without putting them on public view.
6. Separate matching sets of furniture
“Lots of people go to a furniture store and buy matching sofas and loveseats and put them in their living rooms,” says Roslyn Ashford of Ra Redoes Rooms, a Silver Spring, Md., staging firm. “They stay there forever.” Ashford says many living rooms aren’t big enough for two sofas, and a loveseat rarely is sat on by more than one person. She often replaces a bulky piece with a chair that takes up less space and makes the room seem larger.
In bedrooms, Ashford finds sets of matching massive wooden beds, side tables and dressers. Eight-drawer chests with mirrors are often jammed into a corner. “Most bedrooms can’t support that much furniture. Take the chest and put it in a hallway, dining room or an office, or any room you need storage.” She suggests putting a small dresser in a bedroom closet to save floor space.
“When you’ve lived somewhere 10 or 20 years, you have to declutter all the rooms on a regular bases,” Ashford says.