RIGHT and WRONG – Is Staging really that Black and White?

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By Jennie Norris, IAHSP Chairwoman

There are numerous groups on social media where idea sharing takes place to help provide guidance or tips to industry colleagues.  One of the more common questions or posts I see are from newer Stagers posting pics of properties they are going to Stage or have Staged, asking if what they did is “right.”  The answer to what all stagers need in order to stage a house in the best way is at the end of this article.  This leads me to the question, is there one “right” way to Stage® a room?  Are there a lot of rules that if you violate them, your staging is “wrong” and the house now will not sell? 

In short. No. 

Staging is subjective.  It always has been and always will be.  We need to be careful about boxing in our creativity and assigning one set of rules to every staging. Not only is that restrictive, it is unrealistic.  Things like budget, timeframe, and resources are all factors in how a property is Staged.  It is important we do not compare our staging to someone else’s or judge a staging that may not be as embellished as others because what is not being openly shared is how much of a budget the stager had to carry out the staging.  Of course, someone who has a large budget can provide more than one that has a tighter budget, and the question we SHOULD be asking is, “Did the house sell?” When that answer is, “Yes,” the staging worked, the stager did a great job, and the client got the results they wanted.  Of course, please never stage a house with too few things as it cheapens not only the buyer experience, the house, but our industry.  Better to walk away from a client with too small a budget than diminish your reputation and staging integrity.

If a house is occupied and being Staged using what the homeowner has that is very different than a vacant property where the Stager gets to select all the furnishing and décor to create a look that fits the property and the budget provided.  And when the homeowner is still living in the house, there is the added challenge of maintaining the look of the staging with an owner who is less-than-attentive to detail.

How often does PRICE factor into a Staging?  Every time.  It’s pretty rare that a Stager gets carte blanche for a Staging to charge whatever they want to for their services.  I never have. Eighteen years and 5,400 properties and counting and I have never had a client tell me to spend whatever I wanted to get their house ready for sale.  There is always a budget to consider, and more generous budgets allow for more items and more profit to the stager. The tighter the budget, the fewer options there are for Staging.  And there is a point where all Stagers need to walk-away from a Staging project when they will be losing money.  None of us got into this as a charity to pay our clients for the privilege of getting their house ready for sale.

The rules I see being shared have to do with things like area rug sizes, whether-or-not to karate chop a pillow, how to make a bed, how to dress a table, and how to position furniture.  These are all subjective opinions, and not a reason a house will or will not sell.  And I will share my thoughts and guidelines regarding each one.

Area Rugs: If you want to use a 5’x7’ rug because it fits in your inventory space better, or you don’t have access to 8’x10’ rugs from your inventory provider (most of the rental companies do not provide larger rugs), then use the 5’x7’.  Staging colleagues who share a smaller rug is “wrong” used to use those same sizes when they were newer. When a wood floor is the selling feature in a room, I would not cover up the majority of it with a rug.  This deviates from design principles where you want to have the furniture grouping on the rug and a larger size is preferred.

Logistically, the larger rugs are difficult to store, they weigh a lot, and one person cannot carry them because if they are good quality, they are like a bag of wet sand.  Aesthetically the larger rugs may be preferred by some, however, until I hear the words, “We did not purchase the house because the area rug was not an 8’x10’size, we will continue to use them in properties for Staging, along with our larger rugs for houses that do need a bigger size.  And a TIP from experienced Stagers is use two 5’x7’ rugs that are the same and put them side by side, to create a larger rug.

Pillows: The only rule for pillows would be use them on sofas, accent chairs and beds as way to add layers of texture and color. Ideally you want matching pillows in pairs however the eclectic look is acceptable. Karate chop the middle of pillows with feather inserts or don’t do it.  Either way is fine.  One benefit of karate chopping is if you go to the house and the pillows no longer have that look, you know someone used your pillows, moved them, or sat on the sofa. Buyers do not run screaming for the door when they see a karate chop pillow.

Beds: Some stagers like comforter sets with bed skirts and shams, some like coverlets draped over the bed to the floor.  Some like to layer up the bed and others are more streamlined and minimalist.  Do you use a throw or a blanket folded neatly across the end of the bed? Do you have to make the bed with sheets?  Do you put a tray on the bed?  The answer to the questions is yes or no.  It all depends on what you prefer.  For higher end houses, you do want to take the time to make the bed with sheets and layers.  These are the beds that would be rolled back tastefully to show off the layers.  In other houses, a bed could be made without sheets and layers.  One of the reasons we choose not to dress beds with sheets for all houses is we do not want people “in” the beds and when the mattress has plastic covering on it (for sanitary purposes) and not sheets there is less likely to be fooling around in the bed.  Yes, that does happen.  Stay in the industry long enough and you too will have the pleasure of discovering unmentionables in your beds.

Should you use real mattresses, box springs and frames?  Stagers who share only real beds should be used must have forgotten when they were new(er) and had to make beds out of air mattresses, platforms that were camping cots or boxes or bins. Yes, our industry has progressed, and we do not want to promote cheap-looking staging.  Much like the issue with the large area rugs, for stagers without a warehouse, carrying mattresses and box springs becomes a logistical impossibility.  Good news is third party rental companies provide mattresses and box springs that are reasonably priced. And a TIP from experienced stagers is use two sets of box springs instead of a mattress to save budget.  You can always put a topper on the box spring to create a softer layer before the comforter or coverlet is placed on top.

What about Headboards? They provide a nice, complete look to a bed and dress up a bedroom for a professional finish. There are headboards that fold up but most of them are going to be too large for even a large SUV.  Stagers have created headboards out of foam, fencing, and other creative methods that create the “look” of a headboard without the storage needs.  Sometimes a large piece of art is hung over the bed and shams bolstered up against the wall.  It is all about the budget for the Staging and type of property.

Placement: When arranging a room, a stager needs to consider focal points and function.  An architectural focal point would be a fireplace or a view window.  A living room could have two focal points while a bedroom may not have any and it has to be created with the furniture arrangement.  In general, you want to feature what the room is from the entry way of the room, so placing the main furniture piece across from the entry or in that zone is usually the best option.  Should you angle furniture? Angling furniture helps soften the corners of the room and provides an interesting alternative to having everything squared off.  This may not work for smaller rooms as angling the furniture does create a “dead zone” behind the item and cuts the square footage. It is a subjective choice and harkens back to the notion that there is not one “right” way to stage a room, however there may be a better way.  A Stager learns this with experience and/or moving things around to see various options. 

In my opinion, the word “rule” needs to be changed to “guidelines” and then to “preference,” and when asking for feedback on social media, at some point you need to learn the answer to the question posed at the beginning:  Gut Instinct and experience.  Those two elements will provide you the confidence you need to successfully stage any property and trust your choices.

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