How real estate stagers turn every sale condo into an Ikea-filled dream home
Trawl through enough real estate listings and you’ll notice it: the interiors of a lot of different homes on the market all look pretty similar. (For anyone who has endured an endless condo hunt, these knockoff Eames chairs are probably a PTSD trigger.) Often, it’s more than just a similarity; the reason so many sale homes look identically furnished is that, sometimes, they are. Real estate agents often engage the services of professional stagers—interior-design pros who maintain vast libraries of attractive, lightweight furniture for temporary use in properties that need a little help appealing to potential buyers. That furniture is constantly in motion, flitting from condo tower to condo tower, sometimes alighting at storage facilities between jobs.
Brian Stirling and his wife, Joan, run Stirling Home Studio, a staging company with enough furniture in an Adelaide Street storage facility to outfit 30 properties at a time. Here’s how they approached a particularly challenging job: decorating the interior of an empty 1,700-square-foot, $950,000 unit at the Candy Factory Lofts.
According to Brian Stirling, the first order of business was getting the previous owners to move all their stuff out. “It was just rammed with personal possessions,” he says. “That’s fine, but, from a marketing standpoint, your lifestyle and your personality have to leave the building.”
The unit is in a converted factory building on Queen West. The sellers bought it new in 1997. “They hardly spent a nickel on the place other than just painting the walls,” Stirling says. They did, however, refinish the floors after moving out.
At Apple Storage, on Adelaide Street, Stirling Home Studio has about 2,000 square feet of storage space spread across 16 storage lockers. It’s all divided up by category. Here’s the chair room.
The company gets a lot of its accessories from HomeSense.
And here’s the couch room. A lot of the furniture comes from mid-priced suppliers like West Elm and CB2. Because Stirling Home Studio specializes in condos and lofts, most items are modern-looking.
Working from pictures of the empty space, Joan Stirling, Brian’s wife and the company’s creative director, uses inventory software to decide which specific pieces of furniture to use in each condo. It takes a crew of six movers four or five hours to fill an average-sized unit with stuff from the storage facility.
The two most important things, according to Brian, are colour and scale. Even a minuscule apartment can look inviting if the furniture is the right size and the upholstery matches the walls and floor. Here, the Stirlings used a beige sofa to define a separate living space next to the kitchen. (“The biggest problem most people have when they approach a space is, they have a hard time figuring out where they’re going to put their couch,” Brian says.) The artwork on the wall suggests a place for a TV.
In the loft’s office area are two items stagers love above all others: a knockoff plastic Eames chair and a cowhide rug from Ikea. The Stirlings use a lot of Eames knockoffs because they’re sturdy, inexpensive, and airy enough not to impede a potential buyer’s view of a condo’s floor—which, if it’s hardwood, is often a major selling point. The cow rugs are popular for some of the same reasons. “From a practical standpoint, they’re really easy to carry,” Brian says. “And they add some really nice texture and contrast.”
A lot of staging is about helping a potential buyer picture where all his or her stuff would go, but there’s also an emotional aspect. The idea here, in the kitchen, was to make people imagine what it might feel like to sit down and have a coffee at the counter.
The bedroom was a special challenge. “If you saw the space empty, your immediate reaction would be, ‘This room is way too small,” Brian says. The Stirlings added a queen sized bed, two side tables and a dresser to show off how big it could actually feel.
The living room is full of knickknacks. “The accessories provide visual interest and texture,” Brian explains. “Those two tables would look kind of uninteresting without them.”
The place is on the market for $950,000.