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6 Home Improvement Secrets from a Go-To Real-Estate Stager

(Content and pics courtesy of Architectural Digest)

In the 2010 film Leap Year, Amy Adams played a real-estate stager—a profession that few even knew existed. But in the years since then, home staging has become not only a trusted design-industry secret but also a mass movement. “Staging is important because it unlocks all of the potential of a home in a way that most people cannot envision,” says Andrew Bowen, director of operations for ASH NYC, a firm that’s known for its cool makeovers of hotels, restaurants, and residences. “We are in the business of creating not just interiors but complete lifestyles that people yearn to have.” Take the 7,000-square-foot Southampton, New York, home ASH recently revamped. Here, Bowen shares the tried-and-true tricks designers use to convey the true functionality of each room—and make a home primed to sell.


Show, don’t tell. “Many people struggle with visualizing and perceiving how to lay out their furniture or use certain rooms when they’re empty,” says Bowen. “It’s important to reveal the intention and potential purpose of each room.” You can do this with furniture but also with accessories and accents. Throw pillows in a bedroom enhance the feeling of luxury, as do ottomans in the living room.

Consider scale, texture, and tone. “Having something that’s too small or too big for a space can be detrimental—we install what is exactly the right fit,” says Bowen. “We also always place the selections for each room side by side and ask questions like: ‘That bedroom has a platform bed; should we do a canopy in the other?’ or ‘The living room has a marble cocktail table; can we show a wooden one in the family room?’ There’s not really a formula per se; a lot of it comes down to instinct. In terms of colors, we ensure that rooms have subtle but distinct stories. Such is the case with the formal living room, which is bright and off-white with bits of brass, green, tan, and charcoal, versus the den, which has deep reds, oranges, and browns, and is balanced by crisp whites and blues.”


Concentrate on the bedroom. “It’s typically one of the hardest spaces because it requires so many different and site-specific elements for the perfect look,” says Bowen. “It can fall apart instantly if one piece is off.” Bowen says designers typically add throw blankets, comforters, and accent pillows—all in cozy, complementary colors and textures—to create a layered look. “We also pay close attention to the walking space around each piece of furniture and in some cases sacrifice symmetry for open space,” he says. In tight spaces, “an inch or two can spell the difference between a complete success and an utter failure.” And don’t even worry about the kitchen: “It’s mostly about accessorizing,” he says. “The main challenge is keeping it interesting and complementary to what’s there.”

Splurge on some finer things. “Nice bedding is important: We like to have a luxurious and fully layered bed in each room that makes someone want to jump in,” says Bowen. “Big, impactful art can accentuate the scale of ceilings and walls. We’ve also found that fragrance adds another dimension to experience, as does music, which we produce by sitting down in our office and asking, ‘What music does the person who lives here listen to?’”


But don’t blow your budget. Those on a budget might try decluttering, upgrading window treatments, or painting, but there are plenty of other “easy fixes,” according to Bowen. “There’s a lot of value in pulling furniture away from walls and especially from other pieces. Many people, especially when they’re living in a space, have a tendency to shove everything against the walls,” which can make a space look smaller. Other suggestions: “Add a floral or green plant element to each room. And embrace empty walls—not every square inch needs to be covered with art—to let the room (and people) breathe a bit.”

Remember to keep your eye on the prize. “Each dollar is an investment that will yield a return,” says Bowen. “Also, in an age where so many people are realizing the value of this service, it becomes that much more competitive and difficult if you’re listing your property empty.”


Interested in getting your home ready to sell or just want a decorator’s opinion on what to change? Contact me anytime and I’ll get you in touch with my stager.