At home

At home: Live-in staging

July 13, 2012 

Small table

The key to successful home staging is to make your place look as if someone lives there -- only better.


When folks hear about my living situation, they either respond with envy: “Where do I sign up?” Or horror: “You mean you have to make your bed every day?”

Although being a live-in home stager has it perks – no mortgage, no binding lease, and the chance to live in a cool house for considerably less than it would cost under normal circumstances – the gig also brings new meaning to the words clean living.

We stagers are spotless. From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, real estate’s “show time,” you’ll find no dirty dishes in the garage or spark plugs on the coffee table. All hair balls, beer cans, greasy stoves and dirty underwear are banished. We also live with the thrill of uncertainty.

“It’s not for the faint of heart,” said former home stager Jan Johnson, of Erie, Colo. “You have to be picky and adapt fast to live like us.” Four years ago, Johnson sold her home and had a six-month gap before her new place would be finished. Renting for less than a year is near impossible, so when she learned she could move into places short term if she decorated them, Johnson, who has built five houses for herself, and about 20 more in other states, said, “Sure!”

Her first project was a home that had sat on the market more than two years. After she worked her staging magic, it sold in three weeks. The second home had languished 18 months. After she got in, it sold in 10 days.

You can be too good at this. Marilyn Cornelison, of Arvada, Colo., is also a former live-in stager. In 2009, she and her husband rented their home to a lovely family so they could try the staging life. “We thought it sounded fun.”

The first house Cornelison moved into sold in six weeks, the second in two months. “We moved three times in five months,” she said. “The third move was on Christmas Eve in a blizzard.”

I’ve been luckier. I was in my first staged home a year and have been in my second for almost four months.

Still, Cornelison wouldn’t talk anybody out of the idea. “I’d just give them this heads up: You have to be compulsive, organized and structured.”

Staging tips

Whether staging your home to sell, to impress company, or treat yourself to a more stylized lifestyle, here are some secrets.

•  Set the stage. Create vignettes that let people imagine themselves in the home, Johnson said. Set the table with inviting place settings.

•  Pare down. “I now see I lived with way too much stuff,” Cornelison said. “I pared down a lot for my first move, and eventually pared that by half again. It looks better, feels better, and makes moving and living much easier. I purge regularly now, and get squirrely if there’s clutter.”

•  Have towels for show and for use. When Cornelison stages a bathroom, she fills apothecary jars with fresh soaps and rolls towels, ties them with raffia and tucks a large silk daisy in the tie. “We hung our used towels out of sight and hid the used soap.”

•  Don’t over furnish. Keep accessories minimal, Johnson said. Make rooms feel as big as you can.

•  Keep it coordinated. Cornelison had a room in a box. It had rugs, artwork, lamps and accessories that all worked together. That makes the decorating process so much easier.

•  Buy versatility. Nomadic stagers, or others in domestic transition, should opt for flexible furniture. Cornelison bought a grey-green sofa sectional that filled large spaces well. In smaller homes, she could pull a section off and use the piece as a chaise.

•  Be gleaming clean. “Having a home that is clean is the most important quality a staged home can have,” Johnson said. “It should sparkle.” This means being obsessive about wiping fingerprints off the refrigerator, water spots off fixtures, toothpaste off mirrors,and crumbs off tables.

•  Add finishing touches. Fresh flowers on the kitchen table, soft music in the background, chocolates on the nightstand all cast a spell on buyers. Pretty soon you’ll realize it’s also a pretty nice way to live every day.

Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo), available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You may contact her through

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