Even though our house was packed up and pared down, it was still not ready to be shown to the public. Enter staging.
Staging is an old real estate tradition invented back in the early 21st century when decorators realized that decorating new homes was fine for the big bucks, but that for steady work they could do mini-decoration of homes that had to look perfectly adorned to attract new buyers.
Staging, then, is performing interior decoration that will appeal, not to the owners living in the home, but to potential homebuyers who will be walking through your house when it’s open on Sunday.
The process began with a visit by the broker and her decorator. He walked through the house surveying each room with his artistic eye, nodding, and saying “Oh, my,” quite often. After the home tour, we sat down and he said something like, “I think we can work with this house.” What that meant to me was “Your house looks like the Flintstones live here, but if I work my decorating magic, it may actually look livable.”
We thought we had done a great job emptying the house by filling up a POD. Obviously, we did not understand staging. Six dining room chairs was too many. It had to be four. Four chairs in the kitchen nook would have to become two. The stand up lamps – just too industrial. Two book shelves – well, seriously, who reads books any more? The “extras” and my comfortable and well worn La-Z-Boy lounger headed off to the garage.
With “non-essentials” moved to the garage, the decorator could begin the staging.
The staging was scheduled for a Monday before the week the broker would announce to the world that our house was for sale. That would give her time to bring in the photographer to take beautiful color photos of the staged house which would then be used on the brochure and her website. On staging day, the broker, the decorator, and his assistant arrived. We were told to politely get lost while they did their work.
The stager, or, as he preferred to be called, professional decorator, began in our living room. He grabbed the three pillows on the couch as if they were sacks of dung and told me to “Put these away,” which I took to mean, “Burn them or hide them, but get them out of my sight.” He added his own new pillows to the couch. I noticed that his pillows seem to have shades similar to the couch, which ours did not. “Oh, my,” I thought.
A new framed piece of art went over the fireplace and two more went up on the opposite walls. Not art I would buy, but matching the other items left in the room nonetheless. What was left in the room was a couch with pillows, my Eames Chair, and two end tables. If you were going to actually live in this room, you would be very lonely. If you held a dinner party in the living room, people would be standing around holding their plates of food in one hand and their fork in the other – no drinks allowed.
I had cleaned out most of the books in the built-in bookcase in the living room. I left a few of my antique books out because I thought seeing some worn out spines would encourage whoever bought the house to display their own books instead of their collection of Las Vegas shot glasses. I then added three or four of my antique radios on the shelves to fill in the space. The decorator actually liked what I had done. “Looks like the stuff I usually have to rent,” he said.
My wife and I then sat back as the staging team went through the rest of the house shifting other chairs, tables, and lamps around. I mean around the house, not just around the room. The front buffet became a bedroom chest of drawers. My old standing Philco radio became the front buffet. My grandmother’s old Singer sewing machine became a bedroom decoration.
Rooms were transfigured. Our master bedroom stayed a master bedroom. But my office was reverted to its natural bedroom state with the addition of an air mattress on a bed frame. A third bedroom became the family room we never had with the addition of a television. Our fourth bedroom was allowed to become an office – but a nice, clean office that looked more like a showroom for a computer screen than a work area.
The dining room was left with a table and four chairs. A tasteful runner and four candles (rented, no doubt) were placed on the table. No food allowed.
A few more paintings and a bowl of gourds later, it was done. After the staging team left I walked through the house awe-struck by the artful-looking home I was now living in. It was ready for the Architectural Digest photographer. In fact, the next day the broker’s photographer came in and did the “glamor shots.” No humans needed.
It occurred to me that one of the reasons it’s called staging is because when it’s done, my wife and I merely became actors whose job was to walk through the props of the house – pretending to live happily in this all too perfect setting.