Practical Magic: Staging a Home to Sell – Part II

Part II:  How to Stage A Vacant House

Welcome back to my three-part DIY series on staging a home to sell.  In Part I, we talked about why you would want to stage a home for sale.

In this post, we get to the fun part:  The “how.”  I am using photos from my former staging business to illustrate, but they are scanned snapshots so I apologize for their graininess.

Although this post focuses on staging an empty house, many of the tips can be applied to staging a house for sale that is still occupied and furnished.

Fun with Staging

Although staging is a lot of work, it is fun –  because you can get creative and decorate.  Imagine you are a movie set decorator and the house is your set.  You must give it a certain look.  What kind of look?  Most importantly, you must decorate to appeal to the masses – clean, fresh, and uncluttered.  Stylish yet simple.

Staging a home: keep it simple

We will go into detail soon but first . . .

Do Your Prep Work

It doesn’t do much good to stage a dirty, dingy house.  So, budget permitting, before you stage a home it’s best to have it cleaned from top to bottom and, if needed, freshly painted.  If the wood floors are scuffed and worn, have them refinished.  If the carpet is beyond cleaning, have it replaced.

Keep in mind that you are not choosing paint colors or carpet colors for yourself – you are trying to appeal to the masses.  So choose colors accordingly.  Check out a few new construction homes to see which colors are popular in your area.  Warm neutrals are usually a good bet.

Once these items are checked off your list, you might find you don’t have to worry so much about, say, a dated-looking fireplace.  It’s nice and clean now, and the walls around it are freshly painted.

Staging a home: living room before

With a little staging, the fireplace will look great.

Staging a home: living room after

Things to Keep in Mind When Staging a Home

Don’t make it personal.

Staging a house to sell is very different from decorating your own home.  Family photos, fun quirky personal items, or collections only distract potential buyers and shift their attention away from the house.

Worse, it makes potential buyers feel like they are in someone else’s house, not their future home.  Staging is a delicate balance:  It must be somewhat generic while still tugging at the heartstrings.

Which leads us to . . .

Choosing your furniture and accessories.

Obviously, you want to find pieces that work with the architecture of the house.

Staging a home: choosing accessories

These pieces need not be expensive or new as long as they look fresh and clean.  And sometimes a few rustic vintage pieces can even be used as long as they are the right kind of rustic – attractive patina but still clean.

If you are muscling in your own furniture, try to make it lightweight.  Perhaps you can use an ottoman instead of a coffee table, or use lightweight sea grass chairs instead of traditional chairs.

Staging a home: use lightweight furniture

In the above photo, as in much of the staging I did when I had my small staging business, I didn’t bring in a couch for the living room, instead using only chairs as seating.  Along with other small furniture pieces, a rug,  and accessories, it was usually enough – especially if I made sure there was some vertical interest in the room such as curtains, tall plants, or floor lamps.

After all, the objective is not to furnish the house.  It is to make the house look appealing – and for all the reasons we discussed in Part I.

Silk plants and topiaries give the room a fresh look.  Rugs, curtains, wall art, and mirrors help set the tone for a room.  Small accessories like stacks of books, vases – with and without flowers – and baskets can complete the look.

Leave room for imagination.

Potential buyers need to be able to mentally superimpose their own belongings, in fact their lives, over the staging.  So less is more.  Bring in just enough furniture and accessories to set the right tone for the house, and then stop.

Consider traffic flow and views.

In areas where the real estate market is hot, a house listed for sale will be seen by many potential buyers.  At an open house, they may even be tripping over one another.  So make it easy for them to walk through the house by placing furniture where it doesn’t  hinder traffic flow.

Once they enter a house, some buyers head straight to the windows  to see if there is a view.  If the house has even a territorial view from any window, make sure that the furniture does not block access to the view.

Show the potential of small spaces.

It’s easy for buyers to overlook small spaces unless they have a little help.

In this urban condo, an upstairs landing becomes a cozy little reading area – a nice place to peruse magazines or the morning paper.

Staging a home: reading nook

In this mid century rambler, the little eating space in the kitchen could easily be overlooked if it were left empty.

staging a home: kitchen eating space

And in this large family house, a room almost too small to be a bedroom would make a perfect nursery.

staging a home: nursery

Add a Little Romance.

Look for opportunities to add special touches:  A stack of vintage books on a coffee table, luxurious towels and spa items in the bathroom, sheer romantic curtains – anything that adds charm or hints at romance, comfort, and the good life.

staging a home: romantic dinner


staging a home: bedroom vignette

staging a home: bedroom

Just keep in mind that not everything you will want to do will work.  And a little goes a long way.  Be careful not to create clutter.

And remember the practical stuff.

This part is less fun than the romance part, but just as important.  The real estate agent listing the home will be very happy if you do these things:

A welcoming entry

First impressions are important, so place a pretty flower pot near the front door and get a fresh welcome mat.  If the front door looks worn, have it painted or refinished.

A basket of booties

It’s a good idea to have a basket filled with booties (like surgeons wear over their shoes in hospitals) near the front door.  With so many people walking through the house, booties protect the floors from dirt and damage.  Place a small area rug inside the front door and place a chair next to the booties to make it easy for people to put them on.

Lamps on timers

I make sure any lamp that I bring in is on a timer so it switches on after sunset and stays on a few hours.  This helps buyers who view the house in the evening.  It also gives the house a warm glow and makes it look occupied and therefore a little less likely to be burglarized.

The sniff test

Vacant houses come with a variety of smells, including fresh paint, cigarettes, mustiness, and pet odors.  Air out the house if you can, and place a few fragrant sachets in strategic locations.  Just don’t overdo it.

Staging a bedroom

Although staging a bedroom sounds hard, I have a few little tricks that make it easy – and cut down on the heavy lifting.

In Part III of this series, we zoom in on how to stage a bedroom.


Staging is fun, and so is shopping for accessories – especially if you can use them in your home after your staging work is done.  These accessories, found on Etsy, are examples of great pieces for staging and beyond.

brass duck bookends  old hollywood mirror pottery vase Preserved Boxwood Topiary primitive lunch pailburlap curtains

Brass Duck BookendsOld Hollywood Mirror | Pottery VasePreserved Boxwood Topiary | Primitive Lunch PailBurlap Curtains |

Affiliate links used.

You might also enjoy:

Linking up with: