Home staging—the practice of arranging furnishings and decor in a house so buyers can envision living there—is becoming an ever-more important tool for home sellers. In fact, studies show that staged homes sell 88% faster and for 20% more money than those that aren’t staged.
And yet: Home staging can be taken too far. Home sellers sometimes clear out every last family photo, pillow, and doo-dad until their house looks like a hotel for Scandinavian robots. How do you stage your home with warmth, so it looks as though humans live there? And by humans, we mean very tidy people with excellent taste but who still do stuff like eat and entertain? Here’s how to strike that warm yet aspirational balance, so that buyers feel that your house is the perfect place for them.
You still need to declutter
Even if you think you’re a minimalist, the truth is, we all tend to collect a lot of stuff. And that stuff is going to distract people from seeing the best features of your home. So reduce, reduce, reduce. You will probably end up adding a few things back in, but it’s easier to see what to keep if you’re starting with a nearly empty slate, so to speak.
Corcoran real estate agent Dennis Margulies, who stages most of the homes he sells, has edited back the belongings of clutter-loving clients “just for the photograph.” And when his clients see how amazing their decluttered home looks, they tend to want to do even more. So be merciless in your editing before you start adding the details that will warm up your space.
Furniture: Keep only the right stuff
How do you know how much of your furniture to keep? When Margulies works with estate sales, he keeps this principle in mind: “You’re trying to highlight the best attributes of the space.” So he’ll rearrange furniture (and remove some pieces) in order to make a room look and feel as spacious as possible. You want enough furniture to make the room comfortable, but not so much that people miss architectural details and the feel of the space itself.
If you are renting furniture to stage your home, don’t pick sets. That matchy-matchy look can create a sterile atmosphere, Margulies says. “Personality comes in when you mix things. There needs to be a sense of style.”
Warm up your lighting
“Changing the lighting makes a big difference,” says Margulies, “and it’s one of the simplest things you can do.” He says you should particularly consider this if you have directional lighting, such as spotlights or track lighting, which can create shadowy corners. What you want instead are rooms that are evenly lit throughout. This is especially important in the front entryway and in kitchens, Margulies says.
You also want to make sure that the light casts a warm glow. Triplemint agent Sam Lazar likes dimmers to create what he calls “golden hour” lighting, explaining, “You want to show that an apartment is bright, but doesn’t look like a hospital, with superbright lights.” So avoid those harsh, blueish LED light bulbs. Once you’ve got your primary lighting set, you can add in a subtle glow. “Literal warmth, like candles, or if possible, the fireplace if it’s winter, go a long way,” says Lazar.
Don’t be afraid of color
All the walls should be white, right? Not necessarily. While you don’t want to hit prospective buyers with a kaleidoscope of different colors in every room, one accent wall of color in the right place can be effective, says Margulies.
Bring in the green
Another way to make a minimalist space feel warm and vibrant is to add plants. “Definitely add flowers,” says Lazar. “Place flowers in several areas if you can, since they’re a touch of freshness that brightens the space.” So grab an arrangement, or opt for easy-to-care-for houseplants in attractive pots.
Now add some personal details
Contrary to conventional wisdom, you don’t have to banish every last personal object from your home before you show it. “Some family pictures are fine,” says Margulies. Just not all of them. Find the best ones, in the best frames (or have quality portraits reframed).
Yes, you can have a few throw pillows out. “Throw pillows and blankets project the fact that people live here and sit in those areas,” says Lazar. Just make sure they’re in good repair and in bright, harmonizing colors (this is another area that shouldn’t be matchy-matchy). And, if you have a dining area, “Set the table, and maybe add a centerpiece,” Lazar says. This could be a candlestick, or fresh flowers.
In bedrooms, Lazar likes a few well-edited personal items, like a ring dish or a small stack of books. “This also works in the bathrooms, which should have towels on racks and soap next to sinks.”