For staging, too much small stuff is called clutter.  When moving, misplacing the small stuff  is another matter.  Don’t spend time and energy sweating about the small stuff.

Of course, I hope that clients will take this in its larger symbolic meaning.  But I also want them to take me literally, to round up all the small stuff, because really, so much of what we need day to day is really, really small.  So, pack all real jewelry, passports, cell phone charger, extra car keys, extra contact lenses, checks, pending bills, prescription meds, etc. in one suitcase and carry it with you.  Chances are they won’t get stolen, but, they might get buried in boxes, and once missing, you will obsess until they are found.  Clients of mine recently found their extra set of keys in a butter dish.  When they found them, after much searching,  they, of course, remembered putting them there for safe keeping!

I heard Julie Powell speak the other night at a women’s networking event.  Her blogging which Nora Ephron ultimately made into the hit movie, Julie and Julia, has made her an instant icon for many women.  She was funny, inciteful and irreverent.  What I loved most was her reasons for loving Julia child:  Julia was more sure about how to bone a duck than Julie had been about anything in her life up until that moment.  It was refreshing to see the heads nodding in this room full of high powered women (it was hosted by  a law firm) deep down they seemed to relate the insecurity more than the many obvious successes these women had had in their lives.  Is this good?  I don’t think insecurity has a value. But it is the reality.  It is human, and that, in all our contradications, and successes and bad decisions are what we are.

At 5PM today a medium sized box was left by UPS at our door.  About 2 feet long and one foot wide, it wasn’t of a size that said board game, or shoes, or something obvious.  I figured it to be the books that I ordered from Amazon.  Upon closer inspection, I found that it is addressed, not to me, but to a Caroline Carton, and addressed to an address that does not exist but is just two digits off of ours.  Packaged from Target, the shipping manifest stated that it housed one item of one.  There was no other information. What did Caroline buy and why?  Who is Caroline, and what made her want to purchase the mystery thing?  Now I am a shopper.  I have to tell you that it is really hard for me not to open a package, even a package addressed to a fictitious neighbor.  I want to rip it open, in hopes of figuring out Caroline and why she buys.  Why people buy is what a good stager has to understand.  Staging is using material culture:  the things we use and buy, to affect yet another purchase.  So who is Caroline?  Her name really does not give any obvious generational or demographic clues.  What did she buy?  That’s what I want to know.   What do you think  — 2 feet by 1 foot…..

I am sensing a theme emerging here:  perhaps it is Anglophile month.  Farrow & Ball  is a great British brand of paints—they make wallpapers too—that I are now readily available in the United States.  Yes, I know it is more expensive than other paints.  Yes, I love Benjamin Moore colors, especially the HC line where you cannot make a bad choice.   But, boy do I love Farrow & Ball paints.  They are worth the cost.  They go on “like buttah” and once on, they have a depth and interest, I have not seen in other paints.  Why?  They have 30% more pigments than other brands.  F & B is the only manufacturer that makes all the products sold under their name. Unlike other paints, they do not incorporate plastic fillers.  The paints are made with natural ingredients like Linseed Oil and China Clay, and not harmful ingredients such as ammonia and formaldehyde. The company continues to make and check each and every batch of paint itself, not mix it “in store.”  Their edited palette of 132 colors in thirteen finishes has been honed and perfected since 1940, when it was founded by two chemists in Dorset.  Environmentally, they are award winners.  Their VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) levels are so close to zero that most of their finishes are classified as ‘Zero VOC’ when tested to US Environmental Protection Agency standards. And best of all:  Farrow & Ball paints are pretty.  I got a call yesterday from a client who arrived from his home in St. Louis to see his home in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, freshly painted in Farrow & Ball paints.  The cell phone message said, “I don’t know why I am calling on the weekend, except to tell you that the paint is really, really beautiful.  Thank you.”   I know I sound like an infomercial, but you need to know that Farrow & Ball the smart/casual of the paint world.

I  just got an email from a friend confirming dinner at her house a few weekends out.  “7:30PM, smart/casual” it read.  Now, my friend is a good ten years younger than me, British, very attractive, with a stylish husband who is part Brit, part Belgian and grew up in Madrid.  Smart/casual.  I am impressed by this wording.  One thing I love about having British friends is the realization that even if we speak the same words, it is a different language.  Smart/casual is what this generation is all about:  the confidence to do and wear what pleases, to be smart about it, not to conform to formal norms without good reason, at the end of the day, to be comfortable.  Smart/casual:  this is staging.  To think about how someone wants to live in a space (or dress for dinner) and make it stylish and comfortable, even if one breaks a few antiquated design rules to get there.  Your Gen X and Gen Y buyers embrace smart/casual.  All the rest of us aspire to it.  Give the buyers smart/casual.  Your house will sell.

Buyers are younger.

Scratch that.  Everyone is younger.  I was at my son’s back to school night this fall, and we were asked to write down a memory of our first grade year.  One father sitting with me at the tiny table, started drawing a stick figure in bell bottoms.  His wife burst out laughing.  “What,” she scoffed.  “You think you grew up in the 70s?” as if anything so preposterous could happen.    I had kind of assumed they were about my age, but looking at them, I realized that he had just started shaving about three years ago, and she looked a lot like one of our babysitters.  I was the set of Zach and Cody meets the Twilight Zone.  “I am not THAT old!” retorted eye candy daddy.

At that moment, they both looked up, embarrassed, suddenly realizing that they were sitting with some oldsters like me, who, though amazingly well-preserved, had actually come of age in the 70s. It was quite a moment for everyone.  They were embarrassed; I was shocked that I was, in fact, not their age, but closer to their parent’s age.   

It is a truism that we feel at least 10 years younger than our chronological age.  I would like to add to that.  I think that younger people think anyone older seems 20 years older.  Just like the majority of your buyers cannot see how a house could be unless you show it to them, most people cannot imagine that they will ever be so old and fusty.  And even if they do have the imagination to realize that they will age, they do not want to think about it.

Combine this with the fact that buyers are invariably younger than sellers.  So you want to please your buyer, right?  Give them what they want:  a hip house worthy of an up and coming youngster.  Don’t show them your “it was stylish ten years ago before I needed a neck lift” decor.  They don’t want to see that.  Be honest, you don’t even want to see that.   Stage your house to please your buyer.  It will sell.

We just staged a house with a whole hutch in the breakfast room was devoted to bunny figurines, a year long Easter festival.  The owner’s other holiday decorations apparently come and go, but the bunny’s stick around in some odd kind of holiday favoritism.  Not only does this woman’s poor husband have to look at these saccharine studies everyday as he looks up from his breakfast, anyone entering the house immediately knows that the owners of the house celebrate Easter. My problem with this is that it is too much information about the seller.  I don’t want buyers to know anything about the sellers except that they cared for the property impeccably and have extraordinary taste.  No family pictures, religious, political, or school information should be visible.  You want the buyers to imagine themselves in the space and anything that is not about them reminds them that this is not their house, their dream.

The Good Food Market in Chestnut Hill is slated to close next Saturday.  I live three blocks from the market, and am, if not heart sick, very sad.  Aside from the style and convenience it garnered on our little neighborhood, I hate what it says about the divisiveness of this community.  The owner Jennifer Zoga has been effectively chastised and shunned by the store’s neighbors.  For some reason, an upscale village market in a building that has always been zoned commercial is a problem to these folks.  I see it as a place to buy coffee at the last minute, run into neighbors, a snow day destination for my kids.  Let’s remember that before Good Food, with its mahogany doors and wonderful signage that would do proud any street in America, was a pack-n-ship store with temporary mailboxes, which pulled onto our street many less than appealing consumers.

Chestnut Hill is studied as an example of one of the most successful and earliest planned communities.  People of mixed incomes live and play together in Chestnut Hill, walking up the Avenue to shop and to the parks to relax.  The community was built this way, and anyone who is not interested in living like this might be better off moving to the suburbs.  In real estate, “location, location, location,” is an oft heard cliché.  Well-kept lawns, proximity to trains and to a fabulous gourmet market like Good Food are examples of what make a desirable location.  Those neighborly naysayers who are launching a battle against Good Food, might do well to remember that if Jennifer does close her store on Saturday, on Sunday morning, their real estate values will probably drop a price point.

One of the things that I love most about my work is that I learn so much from my clients.  We meet our clients on the cusp of huge life changing events.  We see their generosity, their tempers and their vulnerabilities.  We see them at their worst, and often at their best—we see them human, and I cannot help but to love them because of that. 

Last week was no exception.  We were hired to clean out and stage the home of a retired 18th British lit. professor.  “Jane Austen and all the good ones,” she said, a glimmer in her eye.  Never married, she had moved from a small town in the mid-west to get her degrees and never left the East Coast save a few years teaching in Rome.  Now some 50 years rich in friends, teaching, art, and, most recently, a diagnosis of early dementia, she was being taken home by  a brother and a sister to live out her days.  It was a poignant week. 

As we packed the few things that she wanted to take with her, a steady stream of friends paid homage, saying their goodbyes, stunned that their friend was leaving. Very few were aware of her inability to eat or sleep, the mysterious falls that she could not remember.  She took only a few books, no computer, none of her research.  She did not try to cling, as so many of us do, to our objects and achievements, to the things that seem to make us who we think we are.  Perhaps it was her brain going, but I think it was that she had reached a level of enlightenment few of us reach.  She stood present in the moment, in her self wallpapered gothic rooms, to be with her friends.  With her easy smile, she was there as they realized that this was goodbye. 

I don’t know if my client was religious, but her attitude last week was nothing less than beatific.    We all wanted to be near her, in hopes maybe, that some of her grace would rub off on us.  It seems that she had learned much from her scholarship.  She reminded me of one of those fabulous Austen characters.  She lived how she wanted to live, defying norms, and yet, when need be, coming to understand the circularity of life, the pull of family, and, when words for objects no longer come, their comfort.

“Really? Now really?” as my seven year old says.  Is the “living room”  really a room for living ?

How long has it been since Americans have truly lived in their living rooms?  I would wager a long, long time.  We as a nation, have a brag room, attached to our houses,  which  we rarely use.  These so called living rooms are often the best room in the home architecturally.  And yet, we walk by them, heading straight toward the family room or the kitchen. 

 I would argue that the living room should be as welcoming and comfortable as the family room.  It should show as much about your family as the other rooms.  You don’t need to sacrifice sophistication or formality.  You just need to make sure that it is comfortable to live in.  Try leaving bowl s of nuts and fresh fruit in the room for people to nibble on.   When guests are coming to stay, I leave a tray with sparkling water and lemonade so that they know they can get a drink whenever they  wish .  Make sure the lighting is conducive to reading and for your kids to curl up and do their homework. 

A well functioning home is one in which every room is lived in fully.  It always distresses me when I see these wonderful families owning a huge home and living only in the kitchen and family room.  Why, I wonder, did they leave their starter homes?  I argue that living rooms can be fabulous and showy and livable.  Help me bring life back into the American living room.

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