Episode 324 : Staging to Sell and Rethinking Modern Farmhouse

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I shared last week that we sold our house, and we sold for well over the asking price! As a designer, not only have I had amazing home stagers on the podcast but I also study staging a little bit. I dabble, but it is definitely a different skill set than designing. In The Academy, we have an amazing and very successful stager: Ashley Tapley of House Candy Home. She is based in California, but after a one hour Zoom session with her I am convinced that working with her is the reason we got top dollar in one weekend. If you’re looking to sell, definitely look into House Candy Home!

Before getting into the mailbag, I share a few tips about staging a home:

[5:36] Clear out your refrigerator and freezer

I kind of knew I had to clear out the fridge, but we are still living in the house. I didn’t want to take everything out and throw it away. Ashley advised me to make it look really healthy. My husband drinks diet soda, for example, and she told me that it cannot be in the fridge. She suggested staging with Pellegrino, so I got the little bottles and lined them up perfectly in a formation. In addition, she suggested having lots of vegetables and healthy things up front. I went into my crisper, and filled clear caddies with vegetables. I tucked sauces and other things behind the vegetables so that they were less conspicuous.

I even had my mother-in-law organize our freezer, because Ashley told me that everything needs to look very organized in rows and in baskets. You can’t just leave the stuff cluttered in there, because people will assume that you are messy or they will be distracted rather than feeling aspirational in the home. You want them to think, “Wow, if I lived here, look how organized I could be.”

[7:02] Refresh your pillows

I have lots of pillows, but I actually use them as a back rest at night or to put my feet up. My kids use them to build forts. While I refresh them every 6-8 months hey are lived in, and Ashley said I could not have lived-in pillows. They need to look plush, lush, and full. Even though I have 600 pillows in my basement, they have all been well-loved. So I went out and got brand new, fresh pillows from Marshall’s. They did look a lot different, even though I have amazing fills in my pillows and I always fluff them up for guests. There’s nothing like a brand new pillow with no lumps and bumps.

[8:01] Incorporate plants

The other thing Ashley mentioned that was very surprising to me was her advice to add as many plants as possible. She said, “You want it to be one plant shy of a jungle.” You all know, especially from my interview with Maria of Bloom and Grow Radio, that I do not have a very green thumb. So I was nervous, but I took Ashley’s words to heart. I went to Trader Joe’s, and I dropped $200 on succulents, ferns, flowers, and potted plants. It’s been 2-3 weeks and they are still alive! I’m feeling pretty proud of myself. I staged this place to the max. Every room had at least three succulents. I got these huge palms, and had them in the corner of my dining room. We transformed our little guest room into an office space because right now people are looking for more home office options. I put another big palm in there.

[9:22] Make it smell good – without trying too hard

I was kind of worried, because we were repainting some walls after taking down our family photos, and I didn’t want the place to smell like paint. I wanted it to smell inviting, but I always hate it when people have a lot of scented candles or even when they bake cookies for the open house. I feel like they are trying to cover something up or hide something. Ashley assured me that the smell of paint is actually what you want. It’s like that ‘new car smell’ but for a staged home on the market.

If you feel like you want to add a smell, make sure you get something that isn’t overly perfumy. I went to Homegoods and I got candles that were scented with cedar and sea salt. I didn’t actually burn them, but sometimes they’re so aromatic that you can get the effect just from taking the lids off – especially if you place them in strategic locations. I had them right at the front door, and in the kitchen because people tend to linger there.

Ashley’s great tips and expertise led to our amazingly quick sale, so I just wanted to give her a shout out and provide some staging tips in case you are trying to take advantage of the hot real estate market like we did.

This episode, I answer questions about…

[12:21] Renovating a house you intend to sell within five years (Kimberlee)


I am really struggling with a current remodel project I’m helping my boyfriend with.He bought a small house (ranch style, 3 bed, 1 bath) that he intends to fix up and sell within five years. I know from listening to your podcast that you love color and we do too! I’m feeling very discouraged because I feel like it is a bad idea to put too much personality into the house if we’re not staying here forever. We don’t want to deter future buyers. But, we also want to enjoy the space while we’re living here! Do you have any advice?


This really piggybacks off our previous discussion about staging. If you’re going to be moving in the next 5-7 years, I do think it’s important to think about what the next person in your area is going to be looking for. Design vibes and trends do vary from region to region. For instance, the places that Ashley normally stages in California have more of a beachy coastal vibe. We’re out here outside New York City. Even though I can see the Hudson River from my office, we don’t have that coastal atmosphere out here. People are looking for modern, clean, fresh, almost with an urban vibe, since they are most likely moving from the city.

So Kimberlee, you want to be thinking about what people like in Wisconsin. Do you live near a lake? If people are hoping for that lake house vibe, you may want to go with some blues or greens to emphasize that. Overall, I think you should be skewing toward neutrals. You can add your own personality and flair with pillows, artwork, chotchkies, and all the things that Ashley would tell you to remove or pare down when staging your house. Infuse the place with personality with items that you can take with you. All those beautiful pillows that I love, and that looked perfectly good to me? I’m going to take them with me to my next space even though they weren’t appropriate for staging this space.

When you are thinking about flooring, a backsplash, countertops, cabinets, and vanities, you want to be thinking about timeless choices that are somewhat neutral to appeal to more buyers. Marble is timeless, so that is always a good choice for floors in the bathroom or a backsplash in the kitchen. It’s not a great material for countertops because it is high-maintenance and porous. You also may want to think about white cabinets. Right now gray is having a moment, but I don’t feel like it’s timeless. While gray cabinets or gray-stained floors may be hot today, I don’t think they will be in five years. In terms of metal finishes, I would stay away from strictly gold and brass. I think that strictly warm metals may be trendy soon.

In your area, where I would wager that the modern farmhouse look is all the rage, I think you could go for dark metals and get a lot of longevity out of that. I think you could go for cool metals in that silver family and get a lot of longevity out of that as well. You can use the furniture, artwork, rugs, and accessories to infuse all the color that you and your boyfriend want. With those renovation choices, however, I recommend keeping them neutral and classic to get the highest dollar amount when you go to sell.

[16:16] Blending a love of color with a cabin aesthetic (Jennifer)


Hi Betsy. We are in the process of decorating our new home. My husband and I are disagreeing on the aesthetic for the living room area. I would love to have a colorful, modern living room, whereas John’s aesthetic is more what I would describe as “modern cabin”. Note, we have two almost adult children and we love to entertain. Do you have any tips on how to blend my love of color and John’s forest home sensibilities so that we are both happy and comfortable in our new living room?


I do think there is some overlap here, or at least ways to meet in the middle. It sounds like John likes a rustic farmhouse vibe, and you want something more contemporary. I know I have mentioned several times before that “modern” refers to an era in the ‘30s featuring the bow house movement, clean lines, lacquer, whites, blacks, and color blocking. It doesn’t refer to what is going on now, which is actually “contemporary”. I definitely think we need to change this definition, because everybody uses “modern” to refer to what is happening now – and sometimes we need to go with what everybody is saying.

I agree that the rustic forest aesthetic can look pretty sterile in terms of lack of color. It so often relies on the creams, whites, blacks, and browns – and using black metals can make it feel really cold. It can feel unapproachable unless you use a lot of wood to help offset that and make it feel cozy.

I recommend merging John’s aesthetic with the rustic materials and vibe, but adding some color with an inspiration piece. The best way to do that would be a big piece of art or a rug that has multiple colors. That way we can compromise with your favorite style, which is that colorful contemporary. Maybe it’s quite vibrant, and maybe it has more than three ROYGBIV colors. When you pull those colors from the inspiration piece to use as your color palette for the room, you may want to focus your 60% and 30% on colors that evoke forest feelings, such as emerald green, rustic blue, or wheat yellow. These colors would feel right at home in a forest landscape, but you still get your fix in terms of incorporating real colors into the room. Then for that 10%, maybe you choose something that isn’t found in a forest like teal or purpose. Maybe you go rogue in those tiny doses – say some bookends, a couple of pillows, or fun throw blankets.

I hope you feel like that would be a good compromise, and I would love to hear what you decide. Also, I don’t want you to forget that the architecture of the home matters as well. If the architecture is mid-century modern or very contemporary, we might need to lean a little bit more to your side in terms of selecting furnishings and materials. If the space is a converted farm or a historic home, we might need to lean a little bit more toward John’s preferences in order to make everything look cohesive within the space. We can still use fun colors, but as we are selecting furniture pieces we want to be mindful of the architecture of the home – especially if it is quite strong. If it has something with presence like beams or wall-to-wall glass, we need to design with that aesthetic in mind as well.

To see the accompanying pictures, make sure you head over to affordableinteriordesign.com/links and check out the YouTube channel or our social media pages.






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