Friday, July 20, 2012

Sustainable Staging

Now that our old house has sold (hooray!), I thought I'd share some 'before' and 'after' photos of our staged property (which was listed here and here) and talk about my strategies for staging on a tight budget.

A photo from curbside when the mockorange and peonies were in bloom a couple of weeks ago.
We repainted the front porch, replaced the carpet on the steps, and cut down the birch tree (sigh).
The planters and baskets were filled with white violas and Wave petunias.
There are a few good articles that cover basic staging tips: declutter, depersonalize, and so on. I'm also fortunate to have staging training, so I know a few trade secrets that HGTV won't teach you.

Seeing a gap in the information that was available, I wrote an article in 2008 on sustainable staging practices (PDF) that applied what I know about sustainable residential interior design to real estate staging. While the market has changed quite a bit since that time, I think the information in my sustainable staging article is still helpful, and I followed the checklist when I staged my own home. 

(The advice from our realtor was that specifically marketing a property as green actually limits the number of prospective buyers in our city, so I didn't stage the house to highlight the property's sustainable features as advised by these three articles - but I have prepared a list for the buyers of those features plus green upgrades they should consider making as part of any renovations they do when they move in.)

Here's how I did sustainable staging on a tight budget:

- The whole house needed repainting, and I wasn't willing to sacrifice painting with 0-VOC paint, since it dries quickly and has less smell in addition to its environmental attributes. We bought new paint in areas where we needed to match existing paint, but we were able to stretch our paint budget by visiting our local eco-station, where we found mostly-unused cans of premium-brand paint for free, and by grabbing deeply discounted 'oops' cans and on-sale-for-Earth-Day untinted cans from the hardware store. Some of the free paint turned out to be a dud (if it has the texture of chunky guacamole instead of yogourt, you really cannot use it), and some of it was a bargain for a reason - the colour was too dark, or too blue, or too yellow. However, fortune favours the brave. By combining cans, I was able to create a custom-blended greige for the walls of the downstairs family room, and a too-yellow brown became the perfect dark taupe for the laundry room when doctored with a tube of lamp black. You'll see those in the photos below. We also stretched our budget by doing all the painting ourselves instead of hiring someone. (The tradeoff in doing that was that it took more time for the house to be ready to list.)

- I mostly used furniture and accessories that we already owned - which meant, since we were moving into our new house before listing our old one for sale, that I had to have my furniture plan sussed out and mark the pieces of furniture that needed to stay prior to the movers coming. Where new accessories, towels, bedding, or furniture were needed, I either bought things second-hand, or bought simple classics with an eye to using them in my new home's decor after the old house sells. Knowing that I was buying something to use forever allowed me to apply a slow-home filter to the purchase, and also spend a bit more on accessories. Nothing super-aspirational or expensive, mind you, but enough of an upgrade to help the whole house read as more desirable.

Our dining room, before repainting. As much as I loved this hand-stenciled brocade with a colour wash to make it look like hand-blocked wallpaper, and as long as it took my mum and I to paint, it was (ahem) very specific to my taste, and needed to be repainted. We kept the moldings, which add architecture to the open plan space, and painted the green out using the same colour as the existing offwhite, CIL's Swiss Coffee (50YY 83/057). The main goal of staging is to help potential buyers imagine themselves living in a space from the moment they walk through the door, so brave colour choices and personal items need to be changed as part of the staging process. That doesn't mean the end result has to be bland! It just needs to have broad appeal.  
Our dining room, after staging. Since we needed our dining set at the new house, we showed this room as a sitting room where you could curl up with a good book for some alone time. We've had the leather chair for years, a dead ringer for Restoration Hardware's Churchill chair (which is on our shopping list so we can have a matched pair). The glass and chrome table was a $25 Kijiji find. My purple faux-silk drapes got packed, and their neutral replacements were $15 a panel at Value Village - a steal even with dry cleaning quadrupling that cost. The magnetic floating curtain tie-backs are by Umbra. I dressed the chair with a knitted pillow and throw from Brian Gluckstein's collection for HBC, and the table with a silver-leafed tray with a little jade plant, a couple of books, and a bowl of chocolate-covered almonds. Staging is about selling light and space, so open curtains and transparent furnishings are widely used by pro stagers. Accessories help both to bring a space bang-up-to-date and to aid potential buyers in imagining themselves living in the space.
Our eating nook had its decrepit curtains replaced with second-hand sheers (more light!), and I added a classic linen tablecloth (GlucksteinHome again) to the existing pedestal table and lucite-and-chrome Ikea chairs. The vintage nautical prints in the stairwell were produced by artist Lloyd G. Nowlan for the Nova Scotia tourist trade, and I found them years ago at a flea market. The cherry-stained red oak floor had been a bit scratched up after 12 years of living, but I found that Minwax had an exact match. Two afternoons of careful application of gel stain with a rag and my fingertips, followed by a polyurethane treatment to bring back the shine, had the hardwood floor looking almost good as new. Repair is both greener and more cost effective than renovation!
Cherry-stained oak cabinetry by KitchenCraft in the kitchen with white porcelain knobs and a white Daltile subway tile backsplash. The island's countertop is quartz (Silestone) with a high recycled content. The near-twin stools were found at antique fairs a decade apart from each other. Kitchens need to be sparkling clean and uncluttered, so naturally, the milk glass collection I used to keep on top of the cabinets got packed away. In addition to deep cleaning everything (with eco cleaners, naturally) and treating any wear on the wood floor as described above, I used Method's products for cleaning and polishing wood to make the cabinets look amazing.
I dressed the island with the realtor's flyers describing the property and a Sophie Conran porcelain bowl full of mandarin oranges. I love citrus fruit for staging or styling a space, because the colours are great for drawing the eye to a feature of the home that you want to highlight, they last much longer than floral arrangements, and when the skins start to look wrinkly: fruit salad!
A glass container with dried apricots and a tea towel from Anthro (not shown) subtly repeated the orange colour. This vignette also has one of the porcelain berry bowls from Anthropologie and a no-name cannister from Home Outfitters that echoed the throwing marks on the Sophie Conran bowl.
The loft used to have an enormous heavy mahogany office desk in it, which we let the professionals move for us - so I could use this petite antique Mission-style desk in its place. (Remember, you are selling space, so furniture that's smaller in scale can be used to your advantage!) The floor-to-ceiling built-in bookshelves could have been shown more empty than they are here; I did significantly declutter and style them. If we were going to be showing the house for much longer I think I'd redo these with a lot less stuff on them...
... although I am pretty happy with how my Poole and McCoy Pottery collections look in vignettes on the shelves. (Using what you have is a great green staging tactic.That's Benjamin Moore paint, Mascarpone for the solid wood shelves, Inspired for the back wall.
Of course the lovingly painted starry nighttime ceiling and walls in the former nursery had to go, too. This was such fun to do in the last week of my first pregnancy - I used a mixture of metallic and pearlescent paints and a range of star shaped stamps, then added a couple of rockets, UFOs, and satellites freehand for a bit of whimsy. The flat ceilings in this house are so great for projects like this. We added the glow-in-the-dark solar system orbiting the central light fixture later on.
This is the same bedroom after repainting with Benjamin Moore's Horizon, a lovely grey with a touch of blue that would be too cool in some spaces but perfect in this sunny west-facing space. We needed the mattress from this room at the new house, so the bunk bed got an inflatable mattress (classic staging trick) dressed with gender-neutral vintage sheets (from Value Village) referencing the hot fur trade blanket trend.
The master bedroom was painted in Benjamin Moore's Pashmina and furnished with our guest bed (a discontinued tubular steel style from Ikea), new side tables and crystal lamps from HomeSense, embroidered lampshades from Anthro, prints by my mum that usually hang above our fireplace, and crisp new white and navy bedding. New paint, bedding & accessories = appealing & on-trend.
Fresh white paint and fresh white towels in the upstairs bathroom send a signal that everything is clean and move-in ready. The sealant on the white grout for the ceramic tile floors had worn off, and the grout was starting to look kind of dingy...
...see? This is before cleaning. It turns out peroxide in a spray bottle and a bathtub scrub brush work brilliantly to lift dirt and re-whiten grout. Spray an area, leave it for a couple of minutes, then scrub with the brush (for this retro tile pattern, I did a circular motion followed by vertically and horizontally). Then wipe it dry with a rag. I only needed to repeat the treatment on a couple of stubborn spots. It didn't fix spots the kids had stained by spilling coloured shampoo, but it left everything else looking brand new. If I had known it was that easy to get the grout white again I would have done it a lot sooner! (Sorry for not having an after photo, the photos I took weren't in focus. I really do need to learn my new camera.)
The upstairs bathroom also has built-in storage shelves behind the door. I dressed them with just enough stuff that they don't look bare, and nothing to make a potential buyer think about other people using the room for its intended purpose. 
The downstairs family room used to be painted a greyed blue, with an acrylic faux 'Venetian Plaster' finish above the fireplace. It was repainted my custom greige, which I dubbed Irish Cream: 3 cans of untinted white + 1 can of Ben Moore's Horizon (blued grey) + 1 can of very peachy beige + 1/2 can of CIL's 50YY43/103 was the formula in the end. Lack of furniture and our tight budget meant we opted to show the house with this room and the third bedroom empty.
In the laundry room / mudroom, the pine beadboard wainscot was painted taupe (the oops can of yellowish brown similar to Bryant Gold, with a tube of lamp black mixed in), and the rest of the wall painted our custom Irish Cream. Both shades are found in the ceramic tile flooring. A couple of years ago, we replaced the solid door with a french door to let natural  light from the back door through into the adjoining family room.
Here is a 'before' pic of the third bedroom, as it was when we redecorated it a few years back for my daughter. The pink is Pink Hawaiian Coral, the blue is Serenata, and she loved it. We let her choose the colours, can you tell?  
Same room, repainted with Benjamin Moore's Storm (one of the freebie cans). It's possibly a smidgen dark for the room, but covered the bright pink brilliantly. Grey is on-trend, works beautifully with the existing carpet, and using a mid-tone instead of a pale paint colour sends a psychological signal that the home is solidly built. I love this paint colour enough that I'm planning to use it again (in a room with more natural light).
The downstairs bathroom with a shower stall next-door to the large third bedroom makes it a perfect house for having long-term guests, for families with a teenager craving privacy, or for a multigenerational family. Again, I used fresh white paint and new white towels, along with green towels that match the carpet in the room nextdoor.

Not shown in the photos is the unfinished basement and half-story crawl space, which we showed as empty as possible, with only a workbench and a couple of utility shelves of paint still in the space.

Here's the back yard, with the detached garage, Trex deck with cedar pergola, and garden:

Unfortunately, I had to take these photos after several days of rain including a severe hailstorm that none of the blooms survived. We found that weed cloth and pea gravel make an affordable and attractive cover for an unplanted vegetable garden, and a propane torch works better than any chemicals for clearing weeds from brick paths. 

As you can see, staging your house for sale while keeping sustainability in mind does not have to be expensive or have a crunchy-granola look. 

PS: if you are the lucky new owner of our old home: Congratulations! 
It's a wonderful house with terrific neighbors in a great neighborhood. 
We hope you will be as happy in it as we were.

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