Professional home stagers know how to play up your house’s strengths, hide its flaws, and make it appealing to just about everyone. We talked to several pros across the country to get their tips for freshening up your home’s interior—without breaking the bank.
If you want your house to make a great first impression, paint the front door a fun, glossy hue. “Red is a lucky color in many cultures,” says Lara Allen-Brett, a New Jersey-based stager. A red door meant “welcome” to weary travelers in early America, and on churches it represents a safe haven. Two other hues gaining favor: orange and yellow, according to San Francisco-based stager Christopher Breining. Both colors are associated with joy and warmth. One thing that should go: an outdated screen door. Get rid of it or replace it with a storm door with full-length glass that you can switch out for a screened panel.
Stick to colors like beige or gray, especially on the first floor, where flow is important. “You want to minimize jarring transitions,” says Breining. Neutral walls give you the greatest decorating flexibility, allowing you to easily switch up your accessories. And if you have two small rooms next to each other, painting them the same neutral color helps them feel larger. Look at a paint strip and move up or down a shade or two for a subtle variation from room to room, suggests Allen-Brett.
Think of a nice hotel lobby: The furniture is arranged in groupings that invite conversation. When you place the furniture in your living room, aim for a similar sense of balance and intimacy. “A conversation area that has a U-shape, with a sofa and two chairs facing each other at each end of the coffee table, or an H-shape, with a sofa directly across from two chairs and a coffee table in the middle, is ideal,” says Michelle Lynne, a Dallas-based stager. One common mistake to avoid: Pushing all the furniture against the walls. “People do that because they think it will make their room look bigger, but in reality, floating the furniture away from the walls makes the room feel larger,” she says.
“When it comes to heavy, outdated drapes, a naked bank of windows is better than an ugly one,” says Lynne. Ideally, window dressings should be functional and elegant: Think sheers paired with full-length panels. If your room gets a lot of sun, opt for light colors that won’t fade. The most recommended lightweight fabrics for panels are cotton, linen, and silk blends because they tend to hang well.
“Mirrors can make a space feel brighter because they bounce the light around the room,” says Breining. But placing one in the wrong spot can be almost as bad as not having one at all. Put mirrors on walls perpendicular to windows, not directly across from them. Hanging a mirror directly opposite a window can actually bounce the light right back out the window.
“There are few things more ridiculous-looking than hanging dinky little art too high on the wall,” says Breining. The middle of a picture should hang at eye level. If one person is short and the other tall, average their heights. Also take scale into account; for a large wall, go big with one oversize piece or group smaller pieces gallery-style. For the latter, don’t space the pictures too far apart; 2 to 4 inches between items usually looks best.
Every room should have three kinds of lighting: ambient, which provides overall illumination and often comes from ceiling fixtures; task, which is often found over a kitchen island or a reading nook; and accent, which is more decorative, highlighting, say, artwork. For a living room, you should have at least 3 watts (42 lumens) per square foot. One visual trick Breining swears by: using uplights. “Placing a canister uplight or a torchiere in the corner will cast a glow on the ceiling, making a room seem bigger,” he says.
Follow these basic rules for an area rug: “In a living room, all four legs of the sofa and chairs in a furniture grouping should fit on it; the rug should define the seating area,” says Breining. “At the very least, the front two legs of the sofa and chairs should rest on it,” he adds. Even living rooms with less than generous proportions usually require an 8-by-10-foot or a 9-by-12-foot rug to properly accommodate a seating area. Go too small with the rug size and everything looks out of scale.
If your ceilings are on the low side, paint them white to make the room feel less claustrophobic. Hang curtains higher than the windows, suggests Allen-Brett, to trick your eye into thinking the room is taller. Most standard curtain panels measure 84 or 96 inches, allowing you to go about 3 inches above the window casing before the length gets too short. If you want to hang them higher, you’ll have to order custom drapes. Love patterned panels? Try vertical stripes; the lines visually elongate your walls. Leaning a large mirror against a wall can also make a room seem taller.
Got dated fixtures? Reinvent them with spray paint and inexpensive refinishing kits. “A 1980s brass chandelier can get a new lease on life with a quick coat of hammered-bronze or satin-nickel spray paint,” says Breining. Even outdated kitchen cabinets benefit from a few coats of white paint and new hardware. And if you thought there was no hope for Formica countertops, think again. Breining swears by Rust-Oleum Countertop Transformations, a DIY counter-coating product that mimics stone, making even the ugliest 1970s counter look fresh. What’s left to do: Swap out cracked and mismatched switch plates and outlet covers for updated matching ones. Says Lynne: “Nothing drags down a refreshed space like a dingy, almond-colored switch plate.”