Staged Right

Design pros share the secrets to making a house a home that you (and everyone else) would love to live in

Nothing gets creative juices flowing like the Parade of Homes. The fresh, clean spaces, the posh furnishings, the splashes of bold color—not to mention the way each home makes you feel as if you want to move in, hang your family photos and let the dog loose in the yard. That feeling is no accident. Here’s how you can achieve that Parade Home feel in your own abode, whether for sale or for life.


Start with a blank canvas

Whether building from the ground up or simply redecorating, establishing a theme creates a road map for the entire project.

Joan Pregler, of Joan Pregler Design Associates, says a home’s architecture makes its design rules clear. In other words, skip the breezy, casual furnishings in the formal Georgian Colonial.

“If you follow through by making every design choice fit within the main goal, you will have a successful project,” says Pregler.

If you’re simply redecorating an existing space, you should still start with a blank canvas.

“Take everything out of the room and pile it in the hall. Furniture, wall hangings, everything,” says Taylor Donnelly of Staged Homes and Magical Makeovers. And—this is key—don’t put it all back in.

Cut the clutter

Whether it’s toys or art overwhelming a room, clutter makes a home feel uncomfortable and small. Donnelly says even the amount of furniture in a room affects the overall feel, and encourages clients to resist the urge to include every item they see in picture-perfect catalogs.

“We’re programmed to think we need a sofa, a love seat, two side chairs, a coffee table,” says Donnelly. But we don’t.

What we do need is storage. “You won’t see a Parade home these days without the closet systems, the dividers in the drawers, the rollout shelves,” says Kelly Lehr of Nonn’s Flooring. “Making the most out of your storage space makes an incredible difference.”

Choose a focal point

“Start with upholstered pieces or an area rug you love,” says The Comfort Shoppe’s Julie Witt. Since these pieces have set colors, textures and tones, build on them with complementary paint color, flooring and “frosting”—art, lamps, window treatments, accessories, throws, pillows and vases.

Don’t be afraid of color

Color is one of the easiest and most effective ways to add warmth.

If color makes you nervous, Donnelly suggests painting just one wall in your bold color choice. Utilize those paint strips that come with your gallon bucket, paint three walls with a lighter shade, and then choose the darker color at the bottom for the fourth wall.

“If you’re a paint coward, start with the powder room,” says Donnelly. “If you don’t like it, you can redo it in no time.”

Don’t forget the outside

The same rules apply outside as in, according to Olson Wills Landscaping designer Paul Bickett. Bickett says quality comes first and appropriate product choice is next. Landscaping should be clean and uncluttered, and colors and textures should complement your home. For pop, vary your mulch. For color, add some annuals.

“Just like inside, it should all flow,” says Bickett.


The rules change slightly when preparing your home for sale. First and foremost, detach yourself emotionally.

“You need to turn your home into a product,” says Roberta Chappell of First Impression Home Detailing.

Again, clean and declutter

When the closets are packed with clothes, the buyer’s perception is that there’s no storage. Chappell says now is the time to pack up your things for moving or donation. Leave no corner cobweb untouched. Kitchens and bathrooms should sparkle.

Remove personal effects

No pictures on the refrigerator! Not only do they add to the clutter, they are distracting. Never leave anything you aren’t willing to part with, as buyers often include contingencies in their offers.

Add ideas

Even if you don’t have kids, Chappell suggests staging one room for a child. She also suggests staging one room as an office, and creating “vignettes” throughout the house.

“The key is to allow buyers to envision themselves in this space,” says Chappell.

Yes, make that investment even though you’re leaving. “With all the houses on the market right now, yours has to stand out,” says Chappell. “Something has to click with that buyer—they might not even know what it is. It was clean, it was orderly, it just felt good.”

Maggie Ginsberg-Schutz is a contributing writer for Madison Magazine.

Madison Magazine - June 2007
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