Real Estate

Creating a unified look

Stagers can match architectural style of homes on the market

by Karla Kane

Quality home staging is more than just moving out personal items and clutter and putting in generic placeholders. The Peninsula is home (no pun intended) to many styles of architecture -- Victorian, Craftsman, Eichler and McMansions, and everything in between.

A good stager is able to match the style of the home with the appropriate furnishings, something that might not be on residents' radar in their day-to-day lives.

"Life gets in the way of having a home that is perfectly furnished and appropriate to its architecture," according to Menlo Park designer Jo Ann James, who's staged many high-end homes in Atherton and Menlo Park in her 28-year career.

"An example of this is the wonderful dining-room set that was a gift from your in-laws. It's beautiful, but it's a different style than your living-room furniture. But it was free, and it's beautiful so you keep it," she said.

Living with young children also tends to mean sacrifices in style, and worn-out furnishings can indicate poor upkeep to potential buyers. Furthermore, everyone tends to accumulate simply too much "stuff" over the years, and as nature abhors a vacuum, rooms get cluttered. A stager's job is to understand the architecture of the home -- and the design it was intended to have.

"I have a huge inventory of furniture from the San Francisco Design Center. I can match any architectural style with my furnishings," James said. "We want to furnish it to complement the architectural and create a unified look."

Stagers can use individual pieces of art or furniture to help guide the visitor's eye to aspects of the home that are particularly pleasing -- or lead them away from those that aren't.

"We use art in our stagings to direct the traffic flow, to move the buyer past a feature we don't think is an asset and on to something else," James said. "People see the furnishings, not the construction behind the walls. So expensive furnishings, visually, equate to a well-maintained, expensive home in the buyer's mind."

Most of the homes she works with that were built 10 to 30 years ago are traditional in style, with newer ones built as East Coast traditional or contemporary. Generally, she said, mixing and matching styles is not a good idea, as it simply confuses the aesthetic, although, she conceded, Arts-and-Crafts homes can work well with contemporary furnishings, depending on the home's particulars.

Chantal Mefford is a designer specializing in midcentury modern homes and works with broker Monique Lombardelli at Modern Homes Realty, which offers free staging to clients. When staging an Eichler or similar home, she sees her goal as "utilizing the space so that it's truly honoring the architecture," she said. Midcentury modern fans, in particular, she said, tend to appreciate an aesthetic that's true to a home's architectural style and are enthusiastic about maintaining the midcentury look. She works with a furniture company in Burlingame to score genuine antiques to place in clients' homes.

"Placing furniture in an Eichler home makes it more valuable, instead of being something that looks like it probably shouldn't be there," she said.

She works with homeowners to de-clutter and replace mismatched items with period pieces. Often, after the home is sold, the new owners opt to buy some or even all of the furniture she's used in staging.

Keeping true to a house's architectural style can help it reach its fullest show potential, which entails not only looking great but welcoming, too. When staging is done successfully, it allows potential buyers to feel connected to the home, and to imagine themselves belonging there.

"I think the design has to move you emotionally. Essentially when buyers are walking into a listing you want them to feel like it's their home and that's truly my goal, to make design that moves emotion," Mefford said.

Freelance writer Karla Kane can be emailed at karlajkane@gmail.com.

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