At Your Service: Center Staging

What a difference a pillow can make. Or a colorful wall hanging, or a well-placed easy chair. If you’ve ever watched Curb Appeal, Trading Spaces or Queer Eye, you’ve seen the impact that serious fluffing and rearranging can have on a house in need of a cosmetic lift. But while reality shows save sprucing up for a visit from the in-laws or to get top dollar for a home sale, you can use the same principles every day to make the most of what you have.

Growing fascination with the quick decorating fix has fueled a recent spurt of businesses that will rearrange your furniture, organize your closet and prop your home like a movie set in a day or less. Home staging, a concept pioneered nearly 30 years ago by Barb Schwarz, an interior designer and founder of the International Association of Home Staging Professionals in Concord, California, is among those experiencing a boom. Although staging is intended to speed the selling process, the philosophy behind it can transform your space from tired to fabulous, even if you plan to hold onto your home.

While staging often requires toning down personal tastes and capitalizing on a home’s natural architectural features to make a sale, the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive in your own home. Decor that reflects your personality is not only comforting to those who live there, but often more welcoming to guests, as well.

The Clutter Bug
The principles behind home staging can be applied to most homes, says Carol Bass, a stager and interior redesigner with Rooms Retouched in Cherry Hill. One of the first steps is
de-cluttering. “It’s easy to lose focus with our furnishings,” she says. Over the years, things you’ve gradually acquired—a great auction find here, a relative’s hand-me-down couch there—can start to overwhelm your space. Too many diverse styles, or simply too much, period, can water down the “wow” factors in your home. “When we come into a space, we look for good bones,” says Bass. “By removing extraneous items, we bring attention to the beautiful things the owner already has.”

“Most of us just have too much stuff in our rooms,” says Gina Pierantozzi, co-owner of the Redecorators in Queen Village, a
decorating company that specializes in rearranging existing furniture. “We encourage people to choose some select pieces that they love, and when it comes to tchotchkes and family pictures, think about groupings of like items into a collection to make a statement.”
Clutter also can mean letting rooms spill into each other. “Having a treadmill in the middle of the family room is just not a good thing,” says Vicki Johnson, owner of Home Staging by Vicki Johnson, based in Chester Springs. “Is it a guest bedroom, or a workout room?” Decide how you want to use the room, and then decorate accordingly. “A multi-purpose room adds an element of confusion to the space,” says Johnson. “I find that defined spaces are neater and project a more focused approach to home design.”

“We spend time with our clients to find out how they live in their space with their family,” says Doreen Naughton Creede, co-owner of the Redecorators. “If you never really use your formal dining room, but need a home office, then we’ll make it a home office with a table that you can pull out five times a year
to entertain.”

Color Your World
Color may have the biggest impact on a home’s atmosphere and mood. Anna Powers, who, with her husband, Todd, owns Busybee Decorating, a Philadelphia company that has staged more than 120 properties since its start in January 2004, uses deep colors with abandon in her furnishings.

For the recent staging of a $1 million-plus apartment for sale in Rittenhouse Square, Powers faced the challenge of bringing to life an empty shell painted in a completely neutral palette. In the living room, what had been a sea of blah beige accented with light wood built-ins and a few tan chairs was jumpstarted with two angled red armchairs, copper Indian tables, red lampshades and tons of bright pillows. A colorful 10-foot-high hand-painted wooden accessory called a minyab from Pakistan brackets one of the windows. Red and orange accessories heat up the kitchen, and each of the six bathrooms were spruced up with new towels, a few pieces of art and window treatments. In the master bathroom, there’s a pair of terry cloth slippers outside the shower that coordinate perfectly with the new green towels. Everywhere you look, Busybee Decorating uses color, contrast and texture to add visual appeal and a sense of warmth and ease to the surroundings.

“People are influenced by all of the design and makeover shows on television,” says Susan Huckvale Arann, an interior designer and color consultant for Muralo Paints, a family-owned paint manufacturer based in Bayonne, New Jersey. “We’re seeing a lot more dark and medium tones emerging. Where once people rarely strayed from a neutral palette, the consumer is now seeing the possibilities of color. They’re willing to experiment.”

Color can be a way to connect emotionally to a space, according to Elaine Ryan, author of Color Your Life: How to Design Your Home With Colors From Your Heart (Taylor, 2005). “The idea is to design your home and use color in a way that reflects your lifestyle, that mirrors you,” she says. Sunny yellows, leafy grass greens, sunset mangoes and every shade of red are popular ways to invite personality into rooms. Even hot pink is making a comeback.

A $25 can of paint may make a $2,500 different in the offer on a house, says Celeste Williams, co-owner of Seller’s Advantage in Hockessin and a professional organizer. And don’t be afraid to accessorize with color. Something as simple as a few new toss pillows on a sofa and a throw on a chair can dramatically change the feel of a space. Add candles, pictures, throw rugs, bedcovers or table-cloths to make any space feel fresh and alive.

Accent With Attitude
You can add warm, inviting splashes of color with pillows, fresh flowers and groupings of photos or interesting collections, says Williams. “The idea is to create a serene and welcoming ambiance.”

Next to paint, adding flowers and plants has the biggest impact on a room. Powers is a big believer in simple yet dramatic floral arrangements and plants, like the spray of orchids she added to the Rittenhouse apartment. “We don’t use silk or dried flowers—they don’t bring life and vitality to a space the way that live plants do,” she says.

Another important but often overlooked aspect of a room is the view. Work with your window treatments, says Powers. “If you have a great view, show it. Use white or light-colored sheers to allow the light to come in if you choose to have curtains.” If you prefer a more modern look, keep the windows open, but attract attention toward them with a few brightly colored votives or other eye-catching objects arranged on a sill, or paint the trim a few shades lighter or darker than the rest of the walls.

If your view is of a brick wall or something similarly unappealing, use long curtains in rich tones like deep gold, Chinese red or leaf green to hide the view and add ambience. For rooms with low ceilings, you can add height with long curtains hung from rods mounted above the moldings. For tall ceilings, think about using shades that are semi-translucent and hanging them halfway down the window to allow for privacy while adding a modern touch.

Go All Out
You may even want to take a second look at your home’s facade. Paint the front door if it looks faded, cracked or chipped—and again, don’t be afraid of color. Contrasting a deep green or a warm red with other outdoor elements, such as the front porch, makes the entrance to your home an exciting focal point that invites visitors into the house. Other outside details, like window boxes filled with cheery annuals or a colorful doormat, all add up to a warm welcome. “All of these small details really demonstrate that you’re proud of your home,” says Powers. “Seen together, a well-cared-for exterior makes a good first impression.”