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Remodeling and Home Design


Home Staging

Anatomy of a Vacant Staging

I completed the staging of a vacant home a few days ago that illustrated many of the challenges faced in our industry. To the uninitiated, vacant staging refers to the process of furnishing and accessorizing a home in such a way that it reflects a certain universal ideal of what home buyers aspire to, highlighting the home’s best features while minimizing those that may be deemed less desirable. The goal is to evoke an emotional response from a potential buyer, allowing them to picture themselves living their ideal life in THIS home.


The first problem faced when staging a vacant home is cost. While it is not necessary to bring in all the furnishings needed to reside comfortably, you do need enough furniture to suggest comfort, and to illustrate how spaces might be utilized. Whether renting or purchasing, furniture is expensive. Few people realize that most rental furniture companies require a 3 month minimum charge, and pricing is structured so that they recoup the suggested retail price of rental furniture in about 6 months, meaning that when renting, you are typically paying a minimum 50% of suggested retail, plus tax, delivery, and often an insurance surcharge. Professional Home Stagers usually qualify for some type of discounts from these rental furniture companies, but the savings are minimal. Also, selection is limited, and the styles usually skewed to serve a lower end market. Then there is also the cost of accessories, art, lamps, rugs, towels, bedding, and staging services to consider.


Many home stagers carry their own inventory of furniture, but this requires a larger operation able to provide the logistics and staff needed for warehousing, delivery services, insurance, etc., all of which is reflected in pricing as well, although often less than that of rental furniture companies.


My company falls under the category of stagers who inventory smaller furnishings and accessories used to augment rental or purchased furniture, which I offer at a flat monthly rate. This allows me to stay lean in my pricing, and to save my clients from having to rent or purchase many of these kinds of items at a much higher cost. Often, rather than renting furniture for my clients, I assist them in purchasing quality used, clearance or discount furniture suited to their property’s unique needs, and then fill in with my own inventory. Frequently, this furniture sells with the home, and what does not sell can be sold to used furniture stores or on Craig’s List, somewhat reducing the overall cost of staging. Yet other times, in much the same way as with Occupied Staging projects, clients will want to use furnishings they already own to save some cash, and this can be the most challenging for the stager, because the items may not be the ideal in style, color, condition or quality. As a stager, I work with what I must, and such was the case with this project.


Below are photos of the furniture they wanted to move from a small investment condo they owned to the vacant home. These are all inexpensive items from IKEA, most of which had seen better days:

ikea-sofa bed-and-chair table-and-bookcase ikea-media














Here are some before photos of the property:


dining great-room great-room-2 gr-niche mbr mbth gbth













In addition to the existing furniture items being of substandard quality and condition, they were also not the appropriate style for this more luxurious and traditional home. Accessorizing and augmenting with higher-end, more traditional furnishings would be key to presenting a home that would appeal to buyers. I had my work cut out for me.

First, I would need a nice dining set for the large dining room. Also, there was a large recessed area in the huge great room that needed a purpose. Counter stools were needed, and a nice entry table. Thankfully I was able to convince the homeowners that the tiny IKEA table and chairs were not going to work in the breakfast area. Off I went to scour my favorite used, clearance and discount furniture stores. Below are the photos of what I found:

breakfast-set dining-set server-and-hutch entry-table bar-stools















Finally, with the magic of accessorizing, the finished and staged product:

entry-and-niche dining-rm dr-and-gr gr-2 breakfast sofas kitchen mbr2 mbr3 mbth2 mbth3 gbth2




























Note the use of numerous decorative pillows and a beautiful faux fur throw to punch up the look of the sofas. The iron scroll base of the floor-model clearance breakfast table set coordinates beautifully with the chandelier and the style of the home. The $299 bargain-of-a-lifetime sideboard and hutch is the perfect solution for the recessed niche in the great room. Beautiful accessories and a balanced arrangement give the IKEA bookcase presence. The $899 dining set and chairs looks much more expensive, and showcases how spacious the dining room really is. This staging job resulted in an immediate referral from another Realtor in need of staging services.


Barbara Corcoran on the benefits of staging to sell

I am only a recent devotee to the show “Shark Tank” so I have to admit that when I first watched this interview by Shell Brodnax, CEO of the Real Estate Staging Association, I agreed with everything that Ms. Corcoran had to say, but failed to appreciate the power of her statements due to her success and celebrity status. For those as uninformed as I was regarding Barbara Corcoran’s background, she currently appears as one of the savvy investors on ABC’s popular show Shark Tank. She began her real estate investment career in 1973 with a $1000 loan, and sold her Corcoran Group empire in 2001 for $66 million. She also happens to be my favorite of the Shark’s, due to her reasonable and compassionate demeanor on the show. Watch this video to learn Barbara’s views on the importance of staging.

5 Hot Tips For Staging To Sell!

living room


Spring is here, and the market is HOT! Just a few simple design tricks can help give your property the competitive edge and help close the deal at the highest possible price. Remember, staging to sell is a form of marketing, and you are preparing your “product” for the market. Here are a few easy tips to get you started:


1. Pack Now Rather Than Later

“Spacious” is the description that nearly all potential home buyers are looking for, although their definitions of this may differ. The first step to achieving a spacious feel is to begin sorting and packing those items which are not currently needed and can be stored until your move. While you may be very comfortable surrounded by your grandmother’s collection of antique teacups, most potential buyers do not have the ability to envision themselves living the life they aspire to in your home if it is filled with your personal décor. The name of the game in staging your home to sell is to create an ambiance that universally appealing and not too taste-specific.


2. Scale Back To Make Room

Another simple way to give the perception of a larger space is to reduce the size and/or number of furnishings in smaller (or even larger) rooms. This may be accomplished by simply putting some of your furniture or accessories in storage. This might also be the time to do a little bit of furniture shopping for your new home. Studies show that most potential buyers want to see, and are more likely to make offers on, homes with updated décor, even though they know that the décor and furnishings do not come with the home.

Make sure that the furnishings in place are the proper scale for the space, attractive and make sense for the way the room is intended to be used. For example, if you have been using the dining room as a playroom, be sure to pack up the toys and furnish it as a dining room again before listing for sale. This will make it easier for buyers to envision the room as they might arrange it once they’ve moved in, and will help to address such questions as “will my dining table fit in here?”


3. Spotlight With A Splash of Color

Neutral paint colors have long been recommended by real estate professionals to help a home appeal to a broader market, and this is still good advice, but you are not limited to just white and beige. There are countless pale neutral colors with just a hint or subtle color undertone to choose from, and keeping a monochromatic paint scheme throughout the home can make the space feel larger. However, a splash of color can be a valuable ally as well! Eye-catching colors can be very useful in drawing attention to aspects of your home that you want to emphasize. Use bright floral arrangements, throw pillows, art and/or area rugs to direct the eye of prospective buyers to features you don’t want them to miss, like upgraded fixtures, or flooring. This simple design trick will increase the “Wow” factor of your listing!


4. Update Lighting Fixtures and Fans

With the abundance of new, often “cookie-cutter” homes, townhomes and condos, especially in coastal areas, many buyers see the same styles and features over and over. One easy way to combat this and stand out from the competition is to upgrade light fixtures and ceiling fans. Replacing generic looking fans and basic ceiling light fixtures is a simple and inexpensive way to add both character and perceived value to your home.


5. Modernize

Especially in older homes, dated-looking outlets, switches, plates, door hardware and faucets can significantly add to their perceived age, and buyers will typically overestimate what it will cost to perform these updates. Even if they make an offer, they will discount the price by what they think the cost of the updates will be, and many will simply move on. For relatively minimal cost, old fashioned toggle light switches can be replaced with contemporary rocker or “Decora” style switches. Old outlets can be updated to three-prong with the help of an electrician, and switching out  inexpensive new outlet and switch plates will erase the years. Brushed nickel or stainless steel faucets and door hardware can replace dated looking brass, gold, or worn-out chrome. All of these improvements tell the buyer that your home has been updated and cared for.

To really go the extra mile, fixtures like touchless or motion-sensing faucets and light switches, and even built-in USB-charging wall outlets can be installed for a minimal additional investment.

New Pinterest “Create This Look” boards!


One of my favorites tools for communicating and managing products and ideas for decorating and home staging projects is Pinterest. By now, most people are somewhat famililiar with this online tool, but for the uninitiated, Pinterest is a virtual site where you can create separate “boards” and pin photos, articles and ideas from the web, photos or your own computer. There are a number of reasons why I think the Pinterest application is a wonderful tool:

First, it allows me to communicate with my clients using visuals, rather than trying to find the right words to communicate a visual idea. Since most of my clients don’t  know yet exactly what they want, I typically start by throwing a lot of “Pins” or pictures on a board that I create for them, then seeing what they react to, either positively or negatively. This helps me to quickly develop a clear picture of what their particular style is, and hone my selections to fit that style. A successful client board works a bit like a funnel, starting with me throwing a lot of stuff in it, and then slowly distilling it to the unique look of that client.

Then, because all of the photos are in one place, on a board where I can look at them all at once, it is helpful to get an idea of how the different selections pinned there may work together in a room.

Finally, it is a great organizing tool, because when you pin something from the web, it creates a direct link from your board to the source, where you can easily look up details such as price, dimensions, colorways, etc.. Of course, this is not true of items that you pin from your own computer or photos, so it is important to add any critical information to the comments and titles for those pins.

Here are a couple of boards from some of my actual projects, complete with “After” photos showing how the pinned items were used. To keep my projects on track, I typically start deleting items from boards that we know we are not interested in. The first board is a completed kitchen renovation and redesign project. The second is a home staging project. Feel free to steal my ideas- the links to the products are right there for you to use!


5 Elements of a “Dream House”

Below is an article by one of my favorite real estate bloggers, Tara@trulia. While Tara’s post is aimed at home buyers, assisting them in identifying those features which will be most important to them in their search for a new home, it is also important for the home seller, Realtor and Home Stager to keep in mind what these intangibles are that will help to attract the most potential buyers.

Dream House Intangible # 1 Tara identifies as “right-sized”- While the perfect- size home is different for each buyer, it is important to remember when selling a home that buyers typically want as much space as they can afford. Therefore, packing away clutter, lightening up, and presenting well-thought-out furniture arrangements that maximize the function and sense of space are critical steps in presenting a property for sale.

Dream House Intangibles #2 and #3- “Lifestyle” and “Provides Vision Fuel”- When a buyer shops for a new home, they are shopping for a way of life. The savvy seller recognizes this, and may provide written cues such as pointing out good school districts, proximity to the beach, etc.. Additionally, rooms and areas can be staged to suggest the kind of activities that buyers aspire to, like casual entertaining, lounging on a pool deck, reading in a cozy nook, breakfast in bed and so on. These are referred to as “emotional connections”,  and can play a very large role in a buyers decision. A Professional Home Stager knows how to add these “just right” touches that get buyer’s juices flowing.

Dream House Intangible #4- “Staying Power”- This intangible refers to the expectation that the buyer will be happy in the home for a minimum of 5 to 7 years. For a young family, this may mean room to grow, or for a retired couple, accessibility. The seller can assist the buyer by pointing out features such as these through written and visual means.

Dream House Intangible #5- “Resale Appeal”- It should be uppermost in a home buyer’s mind the re-sale value of a potential property at some point in the future. Some conditions are considered nearly incurable, such as a location very close to a railroad or in a high-crime neighborhood. Sellers of these homes will likely need to rely on heavily discounted pricing to sell, and will have to wait for the buyer who will accept these conditions in return for a rock-bottom price. Other difficult conditions for resale would be a very poor, disfunctional floor plan, or an unsightly adjoining property. These are conditions that are usually curable,  through renovation, landscaping, etc., but may be costly. If left un-addressed, home buyers will typically over-estimate the trouble and expense of the cure needed, and will either move on, or make a very lowball offer. Home sellers should make every effort to erase these question marks in buyer’s minds if they wish to sell quickly, and for the best price. Your Professional Home Stager is experienced at finding creative, cost-effective solutions to these kind of issues.

In preparing your home for sale, you should always enlist the help and expertise of a Real Estate Professional, who can help you to determine those features that resonate most with buyers in your area. Additionally, a Professional Home Stager is an expert at helping to present a home that has universal appeal, and will emotionally connect with the most buyers at a price that is typically a fraction of the return.

Relaxing Beach Getaway- Create This Look

Sarasota FL boasts one of the top-rated beaches in the world- Siesta Key Beach, known for it’s wide swale of sugar-white sand. In renovating and staging this vintage condo for use as a seasonal rental, just steps away from beautiful Siesta Beach, we opted to capitalize on the rich history of the Sarasota area as a vacation getaway. Choosing a palate of sunset colors, we found it an easy task to find prints based on vintage Sarasota postcards as our design inspiration, offering a rich sense of place. Click here to see a slide show of the project . Follow this link to see some of the components of this wonderful vacation property. To rent it, contact Tami at The Crescent Arms

An interesting, simplified look at the effect colors have on our psyche.

Psychology of Color [Infographic]

Courtesy of NowSourcing, Inc

Transforming Old Furniture Using This Easy “Distressing” Technique

As a very excited first-time grandmother-to-be, it has been my privilege and honor  to assist my daughter and her boyfriend in planning and preparing the little one’s room. As always, we have been working under a very strict budget, and so when it came time to find a dresser for our soon-to-arrive darling baby girl, my task was to find a well-priced (read cheap) used dresser that could also serve as a changing table.

Over a period of several days, I scoured the local used furniture, Goodwill and Salvation Army stores. I found many bedroom sets, but very few solitary dressers that would suit our purposes, and none at the price we were hoping for.  After dragging my son on one of these trips, we were returning home dejected and resigned. As we made the final turn and drove down the street towards home, my son suddenly cried “Dresser!”. Sure enough, there by the side of the road stood a lonely chest of drawers,  abused and unloved with a “Free” sign hand-scrawled on a torn-out notebook page taped to the front. We backed up, and quickly determined that only the painted finish and the hardware needed work. Giggling foolishly, we somehow managed to load it into my little Suzuki hatchback, half of it hanging out the back with my son holding on to keep it from sliding out onto the pavement as we rode the last quarter mile home. Looking back, I have no doubt that our find involved Divine Intervention from Beyond, as I would probably not have seen it, and certainly could never have loaded and transported it home had I been on my own as usual. (Thanks Mom!)

Once unloaded into the garage, I cleaned it up and went over it thoroughly. Well made and sturdy, the adorable french-provincial style dresser boasted such features as solid wood dove-tailed drawers, raised panel design, rounded corners and carved cabriole legs, and an indestructible epoxy finish on the top- perfect for easy cleaning after diaper changes. Inside one of the drawers was the factory stamp for Henry Link. Score! It was the perfect candidate for a new white distressed finish. Here are the steps I used:

1) After laying out newspaper and placing each leg on a block for easy painting, I removed what was left of the hardware and started by sanding the entire piece (except the top, which would not be painted) with medium-grit sandpaper. This step is very important. You want to rough up the surface of a factory finish so that it will accept your primer and paint.

2) I then wiped the entire piece with a damp rag to remove any dust left by sanding, and let it dry.  At this stage, I could have opted to tape off the top because it would not be painted, but since I am fairly confident in my paint skills, and I planned on using latex based paint and primer which could be easily removed from the epoxy finish, I skipped this step.

3) Pull out all of the drawers and lay on the newspaper, face up.

4) Brush on Primer. I used a latex primer from Home Depot specific to painting  over smooth factory finishes, because I happened to have some on hand, but Zinsser 123 or Kilz would have also done the job. Let dry.

5) Brush on white paint. I prefer a creamy flat white, which I was able to custom mix, again from what I had on hand, but you can also select from what your preferred paint company offers. The quality of the paint is not important- you will be adding a protective finish when done. You will need two to three coats, allowing each coat to dry to the touch in between.

6) Now for the fun part- distressing. Using a combination of fine and medium grit sandpaper, lightly sand the areas that would naturally suffer the most wear. Raised edges, corners, rounded areas. Don’t worry, if you sand too much. You can always go back and retouch with paint, and sand again.

7) Once you have achieved the desired look, wipe down again and let dry.

8) To protect my piece, I used a satin finish poly-urethane, which is easy to clean up after and also adds a bit of an aged patina. Other suggestions are lemon-oil finish, or varnish.

9) Finally, I added my new hardware, replaced the drawers and Ta-Da!

Candy Swick on the Importance of Preparing Your Home To Sell

Not to beat a dead horse, but if you want to sell your home quickly, and for more money, you have to make it look it’s best. Candy Swick, Sarasota Real Estate heavy-hitter, describes the importance of using professional home staging in her listings.

Follow this link to read an interview of Sarasota 30-year Real Estate veteran Candy Swick talking about the importance of staging a home prior to listing:

Selecting the Right Paint Color With Confidence


A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to my home state of Vermont to attend a family reunion. While there, we also gathered at my brother’s rambling farm-style home, always a favorite stop. We were all sitting at the huge farmhouse table my brother had built by hand (so that the entire family could gather for a meal), and he turned to me and said “Hey, since you’re here, and a decorator and all, we’ve been thinking about repainting. What color should we use in here?”

I run into this question frequently, as you can imagine, and my stomach always does a little flip when this happens. I made a show of fanning out my imaginary paint deck, selecting a color strip and pulling it out, stalling for time as I frantically looked around the room, in vain, for some kind of color cue. Other than the blue countertops and sofas, family photos and the existing yellow walls, there was no jumping off point. I looked at their expectant faces, took a deep breath, and stated authoritatively “Well, the trend right now is toward the new shades of gray, which are much richer in depth than before, and are often used as warm neutrals. You could use a deeper shade here, for example, to create a focal wall with some art, and then a lighter shade for the remaining walls, which will work well with your existing blue furniture and counters, and bring a feeling of sophistication.” Well, I thought it sounded pretty good. They both stared at me wide-eyed and mouths open for what seemed an eternity. Then someone changed the subject, and the conversation turned back to the finer points of chickens, motorcycles and children.

Here is why I break out into a cold sweat when asked this specific question at the beginning of a project, and why most people are frightened by the prospect of choosing colors that they will have to live with and display to their friends, family and neighbors for years to come. It’s sensible to panic, when there is no possibility of certainty in a world full of colors, tints, hues and shades. Don’t we all know of someone who made a horrible, embarrassing and perhaps expensive mistake in color selection! Common practice for most people is to choose paint color near the beginning of a decorating project, but it should actually be one of the last decisions.

That’s right- paint color should not be selected until well into a decorating project, perhaps even at the end, because paint does come in an amazing array of colors, tints, hues and shades, unlike most of the other components in a typical decorating project. Even in the case of custom upholstered furniture or draperies and bedspreads, you are limited by the fabric colors and patterns available. And let’s face it- most people do not have the inclination or budget for custom items, so the majority of us must select from what’s available on the furniture showroom floor, for example, or the bedding and linens department. Wouldn’t you much rather select the piece that you love and can afford, rather than being pushed around by a tiny little paint chip? Shouldn’t you buy the art piece that speaks to you, rather than the one that coordinates with your carefully selected wall color? When you put paint color in its proper place in the decorating process, I promise that the skies will open, and a beauteous ray of light will shine down, highlighting the perfect color. (Cue angel chorus.)  OK, maybe not, but you can make your color selections with much more confidence and certainty when you can see their relationships to the other items in the room.

My story does have a happy ending. When I arrived home from my little trip, I sat down at the computer and sent my sister-in-law an email with some suggested color palettes attached from one of my favorite color-inspiration sources, . She emailed me back a few days later to let me know that they had taken my advice, and were incorporating soft shades of gray, blue and green from one of the palettes. I can’t wait to go back and see the results!

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