If Home Staging is not Decorating or Design Why are So Many Trying to Make it Fit the Decorating Mold?

Home Stager with Sensational Home Staging

It struck me today as I was writing an article that there seems to be an evolution of sorts in the Home Staging realm.  Unfortunately, the evolution is not one of progress, but one of conformity - conformity to a standard that is the antithesis of the true essence of Home Staging.  We need to be aware of this and remember what Staging is really about.

By one definition Staging is the process of preparing a house for sale so that it sells in the fastest time and at the best price.  Staging is the opposite of decorating - which is all about personalizing a space. When was the last time you picked up a decorating magazine and found it full of ways to clear out the space and make it universally appealing to everyone?  I don't see articles like that in decorating or home interior magazines.  What I see are ideas on personalizing colors, fabric choices, and furniture styles - all with the intent of making a space personal to the owner and pitching the latest trends in the decorating industry.

Let's face it - there are a lot of Stagers in business, and I do believe we do the industry proud as a group.  But, I am concerned about what I see as a push towards elements of decorating that really have no place in Staging.  This is not a criticism of decorators or designers, and yet many from those fields promote themselves as Stagers, and have blended the lines, so to speak, between what Staging is and what it is not.  And we are letting it happen.

As an example, when the windows of a house have a hard line at the top, Home Stagers often swag a simple drape of fabric over the top to soften the lines, and possibly to frame the window.  It is cleverly done, a quick step in the Staging process and it works.  Stagers that are focused on the decorating or design side of things would say "Tsk, Tsk!  The fabric is not at the right length or no hardware was used."  I say, "Who cares if the fabric does not go all the way to the floor? Do you really think a buyer is going to notice much less care?"  To me, the fact that the window is framed is enough - and it is just for an effect, it is not for "living" and certainly is not there to win a style award. And yet it IS tasteful and does the trick. 

And how about mixing woods?  I can hear the collective groan from decorators and designers all over America dismayed by the use of more than one wood color or grain in a house - and yet is the buyer purchasing the furniture? No - they are purchasing the HOUSE!  So - mix away, Stagers.  By the way, the eclectic look is IN so free yourselves from the "matchy-matchy" mental attitude.

I know there are cross over elements in Staging that are common with Decorating and Design, but what I see more and more are "Stagers" that are putting these "D" hats - trying to compete with that "look," which in true form misses the boat of Staging completely.  Yes we have to follow current color trends and styles with Staging, but not to the point where we over-do a Staging job, or get so wrapped up into the need for a particular style or look for our Staging, that we blow a budget, take too much time on a job, or forget that the average buyer is going to be in the house for a short period of time.  Our job is to highlight the best features of the house, minimize the distractions, and give a buyer a reason to purchase the house, not our stuff.

Now I can already hear some of you shaking your heads at my commentary - but take a look at some of the Staging that is out there and you tell me you don't think it has crossed into decorating.  It might look very nice - I am not saying it doesn't - but is it overdone?  And ask yourselves, "Is this what we want?"  Do we want the public thinking Staging is like decorating - and therefore you need to pour more than is needed into a house for sale or not bother because they feel their stuff does not measure up?

The television shows that are supposedly "about home staging" are really about remodeling, redesigning and decorating a house for sale.  Tell me I am wrong.  I watch them just like you do.  These shows deliver the wrong message to the public and I yearn for a show on Real Staging - where purging, packing, and creativity are the focus.  Not one of these supposed shows on Staging is really about Staging.  That is a tragedy in my book.  When will we wake up and begin to demand that the reflection of what we do is accurate?  We were so happy to have "some" coverage that we never stopped to consider "who is delivering the message?" For me, I don't want the designer on the "Designed to Sell" (you see - even the NAME is wrong!) representing what I do as a Home Stager.  How about you?  Are you proud of how we are represented on these shows as the caustic critics or devoted designers?

What I am concerned about is Stagers forgetting the true roots of Staging - and stepping into Decorating or Design shoes and walking a path away from the true goal of Staging.  Paths that end up making the staging more costly and time consuming than it needs to be.  I also wonder why some Staging classes feel the need to include information on feng shui, color analysis, spatial planning and the like?  Is this because there is the fear that if we don't "know it all" we cannot serve our client or are they too conforming to the misguided perception of what Staging is really about?  If a Stager wants to delve into redesign, that's great, and I think it's wise to carve out multiple niches for business, but if I want information on those things, I can read a book.   When I was trained, it was to learn to be successful as a Stager, I already knew how to decorate.

My advice is to stick to the true roots of Staging and remember what the goal is - get the house sold - not make it look pretty.  In the process of Staging, a house does end up looking wonderful, but the original goal of selling the space and the house cannot be forgotten because of baubles and bling.  Trying to apply the "rules" of decorating and design to Staging is like trying to fit a square block in a round hole.  It doesn't work and the focus becomes on the fit and not the finished product - the house.  Break free from the design or decorating mold, and express yourself freely with "simply Staging."

Posted by

Jennie Norris, ASP Master, IAHSP-Premier, SRS, REO, Owner & Principal Stager, Sensational Home Staging serving the Greater Denver region

  • International Staging Expert, Blogger, and Media Personality
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Jennie Norris
Sensational Home Staging - Littleton, CO
Denver Regions Premier Home Staging Resource,

Hi Michelle - I am not the only one of the mindset of hopefully bring a fundamental togetherness for Staging - just check out blogs from the founder of SIF - he is the ultimate idealist.  And - I am not saying that you did "go there" even though you did use words that were a little zinger-ish - but I sensed it could be heading that way - so just wanted to end our ping-pong and hopefully give others an opportunity to voice their thoughts.  - Jennie

Jun 07, 2008 10:41 AM #36
Michelle Molinari
FEATURE THIS... Real Estate Staging & Interior Decor - Lafayette, LA
Feature This Real, Estate Staging & Curb Appeal Concepts

Well, Jennie, I'd rather take my spanking after I do the deed. 


Jun 07, 2008 10:44 AM #37
SacramentoCommercialLoans Bank Turn downs welcomed
Sacramento commercial loans - Sacramento, CA
Quick closings 916-847-7212

I think it is such a good idea to do. Do you also give advise to decorate let me know.


Jun 07, 2008 12:56 PM #38
Jennie Norris
Sensational Home Staging - Littleton, CO
Denver Regions Premier Home Staging Resource,

Well - I am not sure if the last poster was referring to the spanking in the post above (LOL) or to Staging to sell.  I think I will assume the latter and post a reply . . . If someone that is not moving wants help in pulling their house together, we do that as well - and it falls under the category we call "Staging to Live."  We can use what the client has and rework it with fresh eyes, or help them source new stuff.  Most Stagers do both - and depending on how involved they want to get in the process can cover a lot of ground with new furnishings, window treatments, etc. - or they will pass the baton to a colleague that specializes in that aspect of the service. - Jennie

Jun 07, 2008 12:59 PM #39
Ana Hitzel
AccentPositives Home Staging - Corona, CA
Professional Home Stager Inland Empire

Disclaimer before I begin: not personally directed at anyone, just my opinion!!!  I am not as eloquent as many of the comments above but here goes:

Great points on both sides have been made however I lean towards what Jennie is saying on so many more points and this is why.  We are getting caught up in the technical aspect or definition of staging versus decorating but not discussing the difference in interaction with a client who needs staging versus the decorating. 

Michelle said   "As a decorator, I will tell you that staging both easier and faster than decorating. I don't have to concern myself overly with a seller's taste. I am not trying to discover their personal taste button and hit it time and  time again with every decision I make." 

To me it is far harder to compassionately and tactfully tell someone who has been in a home for years that this has to go and that needs changing etc, etc.  This is a part of staging that gets completely ignored especially by TV shows that have dragon ladies entering and critiquing the "style" of homeowners. 

I did a home for a couple who had been married for 35 years, raised 2 children and had been in the same home for 20.  It took over two weeks to weed through it all.  It was an emotional journey for husband and wife.  They didn't have lots of money and the wife was very resistant.  I do not define that as easy.  She would not allow me to use before shots because she was afraid people would laugh "like they do on TV".  While I don't believe you can cater in any way to the seller's taste you definitely must consider it on some level as they have to live in the place for a time longer.

What is easy is to take an empty room and guss it up and then take photos for everyone to ooh and ahh over the wonderful "decor" and "flow".

Over the months I have read comments  in other blogs in thinly vailed ways denegrate Stagers who do the DYIs and Consultatons mainly... I mean that's not staging...hobbyists, unskilled blah blah blah... not worthy of respect unless they are plastering Before/Afters all over the web.  "Oh any one can do that" I have seen that comment before.  I beg to differ.  I myself think this attitude comes from the design junkies who have jumped into staging educated or not. Quick to criticize other Stager's work but don't consider that it may have been all that Stager had to work with.  Like Jennie said not everyone has that big budget.  Are we going to "design/decorate" ourselves out of an industry?

Staging is not a platform to show our design sense or accomplishments it is a people business BIG TIME that involves the handling of someones "pride and joy" and in many cases life history.  Let's not lose sight of that in this debate.

On the other hand Michelle is right about the change and necessity to incorporate both views so that we can provide a better service to our clients.  Change is good but I am with Jennie, we should be the folks driving the change.


Jun 07, 2008 01:35 PM #40
Jennie Norris
Sensational Home Staging - Littleton, CO
Denver Regions Premier Home Staging Resource,

Ana - AMEN, Sister!  You said it - and you get it!  And you are right - It is NOT easy to work with clients entrenched in their memories - it is very challenging and those that have not done it can't speak to it . . . I actually share in classes that starting from a blank pallette (like a vacant) is MUCH easier than actually having to work with a client's things - and the client's emotions.  Dragon Ladies - yes - what a PERFECT description!!  Yes, yes yes!!!  I know we will change - but I want to be at the steering wheel, not at the back of the bus, in the engine tooting the whistle not in the caboose. - Jennie

Jun 07, 2008 02:02 PM #41
Michelle Molinari
CurbAppealForDummies.Com - Lafayette, LA

OK, sorry I came late to the party. There seems to be an assumption that decorators are driving up the price of staging. We have completely separate pricing policies for design and staging, and that we are very competitive on both fronts. The other stagers/designers I know have different policies also.

We have a solid grasp of the design & decorating end is a big advantage for our clients. Our skills save people tons of money because we do it all at a package price. And because we can do just about anything anyone could ever imagine, our clients end up with gleaming hardwood floors (we refinish), new custom window treatments (we sew), wonderfully refreshed artwork (we custom frame and mat, not to mention draw and paint), custom cabinetry and built-ins (we do carpentry VERY WELL), and when we are on the case, our approach has such versatility! Passion for design makes for creative solutions that allow us to offer diverse solutions.

And for the record, we sometimes don't use any of these abilities... we just use what we have, with a tweak tweak here and a tweak tweak there, and indeed, in only one day.

But if the situation requires a solution that can be solved using old fashioned design skills:

Our experience enable us to refinish an existing piece of furniture and re-purpose it. We can take a length of fabric and whip out "custom" pillows and a valance. Junk on the street corner becomes an incredible coffee table.  Because we are decorators with a high level of experience and skill, it reflects on the result with a polish that surpasses anyone's expectations, sometimes even our own.

The house shows well, it sells fast, the sellers are tickled to death with the result, and in the end, we end up with a design gig that leads to more design gigs. Because it is all so very related, and talent reigns supreme.

I can't possibly think of a single reason why a background in decor and/or design is a liability, or deals the art of staging a blow in any way. Or is it not an art?

Also, we are very concerned with the feelings of the sellers!

Pressure and rudeness (dragon-lady mentality) have NO PLACE in staging. It's counter-productive to the sale of the home because the seller needs to be "on board". We do not paticipate in that, and NO ONE does in our area to my knowledge. TV is entertaining, and those shows are like that for the drama that leads to viewership. No one who actually did business like that would have a second customer. Plus, those two acidic women, I don't believe, are designers or decorators. They don't lift a finger...they just mouth off. I don't know about you guys, but I actually WORK.

The case against knowing how to move within, and utilize, the design trade, in a profession that needs creative design solutions, seems so strange. Our company is FULL SERVICE, which means, whatever you NEED, we do! Diversification is how businesses thrive. Locking your service and your skill into a pigeon-hole seems like an awfully short-sighted business plan.

Just my 2 cents.

Best of Skill to You All,


Jun 07, 2008 04:02 PM #42
Jennie Norris
Sensational Home Staging - Littleton, CO
Denver Regions Premier Home Staging Resource,

Thanks, Sue, for your comments.  And I have not said decorators are driving up the price of Staging, but the perception from shows that feature only decorators masking as Stagers IS not helping the public feel that Staging is something they can afford to do.  And we do run the risk of continuing to feed this misperception when we too start to buy into the whole philosophy that we have to always remodel and/or decorate a house for it to sell. 

There are many wonderful Stagers that have a formal background in decorating and design and some that don't - and all the successful Stagers I know are very talented - not just those that have a D&D background.  From what I have read in posts - it is usually the person that has this background that assumes that those without are not qualified as "as good" - which is also not true.  In both backgrounds there will be those that do great work, and those that don't. . .  

I think that having a full range of services is wise so it's great that your company does that - and needed in a market like we have now - where fewer houses are on the market for sale so we have to find niches to fit our skills, talents and abilities in that continue to bring in cash.

- Jennie

Jun 07, 2008 07:43 PM #43
Margaret Ann Innis
Decorate To Sell - Merrimack Valley Real Estate Staging - Andover, MA
Real Estate Staging - MA & NH

The most important skill of a Stager is being able to communicate with the homeowner.  Helping the homeowner transition their home > house > product.  How to develop that conversation with the homeowner sincerely and with integrity is the key of Staging a home effectively.   

Any one can tell a homeowner to hang a wreath, paint the walls and clean the house...it is getting them to do the work that's the hard part. 

The Realtor does not want to offend the homeowner and 99% of the time that is why the Realtor calls our company.  The Realtor knows we will help the homeowner make that transition.

Highlighting the features of the home is real estate based also.  Which features should be highlighted when you have a neighborhood, fireplace and french doors to the deck?  Again, these are all real estate concerns.  

The center of the universe is not design - it's the homeowner!
Staging is all about the homeowner.  

- Margaret 

Jun 07, 2008 11:23 PM #44

A staged property should not look lke a staged property. It should look like a wonderfull place for a buyer to call THEIR home.

The furnishings should be somewhat invisible to them - serving only to set the tone and amplify the features of the property.

Design elements are necessary, but not the  focal point - too many stagers go overboard and it looks like an OVER STAGED property when they are done.

Think the dfifference between the phrases 'au natural' and 'too much' when describing someones make up at a party. ;-)



Jun 08, 2008 12:04 AM #45
Shobha Vyavahare
stagewithme, Greenville, South Carolina - Greenville, SC

Great post.  I agree to some points and disagree with some.  staging should act like  an aid to buyers imagination, it should just help enough to define the spaces and focal points.  It should be able to appeal to both sexes.


Jun 08, 2008 12:52 AM #46
Juliet Johnson
Vizzitopia - St Johns, FL
Jacksonville Social Media Marketing

Well, here's a storm in a tea cup!  Staging is marketing.  Design is the tool.  Staging is an art form.  Just as design is.  Staging is a game.  If played right, ethically, honestly, authentically and transparently, everyone wins.  The rest is just you roiling up folks for a heated debate.  I am consistently impressed at how you do that.  After all, isn't staging all about engaging the emotions...?  <wicked grin>

Jun 08, 2008 01:10 AM #47
Jennie Norris
Sensational Home Staging - Littleton, CO
Denver Regions Premier Home Staging Resource,

Margaret, Shohba, Anonymous person who was not logged in and Juliet -

Thanks for the comments - Staging is ultimately about helping the homeowner sell the house.  In the last post - the only thing I would change (and you know I have to) is that Design is not the tool - Creativity is the tool.  We use our minds to picture how a room needs to be shown for buyers - that is done in our heads, and then the work is carried out.  And I agree Staging is an art form and a game that can be "played" with the seller to get them to cooperate and help them sell their house. 

I was not prepared for a heated debate about D&D vs. Staging - that is not what I was writing about - it was about being in charge of the direction of our industry - no matter what background we have - and not letting those that are truly misguided be at the helm.  Some may have felt that the blog was pointed at dividing, and that is not what the intent was at all.  But I have enjoyed reading the comments.

As I wrote before - I am not going to sit in the caboose or the drink car when someone is taking the train off course.  I would hope that more would want to band together and get in the driver's seat - and that is what I am hearing here. - That is a good thing. - Jennie

Jun 08, 2008 06:29 AM #48
Closed Xlosed
Closed - Belle Haven, CT


That was me  - not logged in.


Jun 08, 2008 09:33 AM #49
Toronto's 2 Hounds Design: Decorating + Staging
2 Hounds Design + Home Staging - Toronto, ON

Juliette has it right, I've been meaning to make the same comment: 'staging is marketing' using 'design as the tool'.

The problem is not designers or decorators it is the producers and t.v. executives who need to entertain to draw advertisers. Unfortunately people don't want to watch the real 'reality' of staging.

Anyway, as in any service there will always be levels. Staging is no different. Melissa Marro posted a blog asking what kind of stager are you, Sears, Dillards or Neiman Marcus decide the market you what to serve and stage. There is room for all service levels.

Jun 09, 2008 05:48 AM #50
Jennie Norris
Sensational Home Staging - Littleton, CO
Denver Regions Premier Home Staging Resource,

I agree there are different levels of Staging and yet someone that might cater to the higher end is not 'Better" than a Stager that caters to the average homeowner.  I don't like creating a caste system for Stagers and the notion that we even have to delineate what we do - Staging is Staging.  The TV Producers do like to entertain, but I don't know about the rest of you - we have fun in Staging and work hard to produce results.  I think the reality of the Staging would be of value - it is not so much that it is not entertaining than it is is misunderstood by the TV shows - that still try to make Staging fit the decorator mold.

- Jennie

Jun 09, 2008 03:14 PM #51
Karen Nardella SIFNH Common Sense Home Staging

Jennie, I could not agree more.  Simply, smart commen sense is always the best road.  Helping free someone of an overbearing task.  Having the ability to assist another soul with this "time to move, and how am I a going to get this done" thought process can and is so fulfulling and when done well is rewarding for both parties without all the glitz and glamour.  Initials are good after a name, but when the rubber meets the road, results are all that matter.  Yes, I agree a fair price achieved by the helper is good, but the prices for staging seem to being going up,up,up.   I guess it is a natural process.  I believe common sense is a gift that has lost its desirability over the years in a lot of areas.  or me, I'm sticking with my roots and in doing this hope to help others as I develope my niche within this wonderful field.   Helping others to realize their dreams and in doing so find mine.  Here is a poem, written by Barbara Hoeft and with her blessing, she has allowed me to use it and publish it.  I hope you will enjoy it as it speaks of the home owners point of view when it is time to move!

MOVING TIME!  (Downsizing)

The time is near to presevere,  to unabashedly shed a tear.  There's work ahead, it is most clear, for moving time will soon be here!

There are pans to pack, dishes to wrap, pie plates to stack-no time for a nap!

You will find perhaps, you can beat the rap by taking it easy before you snap!

Many a night you'll stay awake dwelling upon just what to take!  Many decisions you'll have to make, seeing as there is so much at stake.

Of linens and towels have you too many?  Should you take them all or not any?  Will storage cost you a pretty penny?  Should you bother to take the roof antennae?

Then there is the garage that needs attention, so much stuff there, it is hard to mention.  Then up to the attic you'll make your ascention taking a deep breath to relieve your tension!

What do you do with excess clothes, seldom-worn shoes and chapeaus?  Need the snow shovel and garden hose?  Do you really need those old radios?

What will you do with that old pool table?  How many boxes will you have to label?  Who'll be there for you, willing and able, to help you keep your mental health stable?

From one who's been there. a bit of advice:

One day at a time will surely suffice.

Hope your house sells at the asking price, and that your new condo is cozy and nice!

It is at these most stressful moments that bump us in life when we need help.  Staging, in my opinion, is having the skills and experience and kind nature to see the stresses happening to another soul at this time of their life and offer (for a fair wage) assistance to make this bridge easier to cross.  Just wanted to share.  We hope you enjoyed the poem.  SIFNH Common Sense Home Staging and Barbar Hoeft a good friend.

Jul 20, 2008 12:03 AM #52
Michelle Finnamore
Toronto GTA, Alliston, Newmarket - Vaughan, ON
Preparing your property for sale

Read your comment on mixing woods in a room.

I learned a long time ago from Ray Staples...are all the trees in the forest the same colour?

Enough said.

Jul 20, 2008 02:24 AM #53
kathy mohr

ay yi yi!  definitely a tempest....two cents worth or less:

what is in a word??????  call it 'design....' if you like, but that may put you where Jennie doesn't want us to go...it IS the stager's 'creativity.'  so who cares what we call it?  you call it creativity, i'll call it design, and we'll all get along and keep our finger-wagging out of it. 

are there aspects of staging shows i'd love to change so they'd better reflect reality?  of course.  do i think we'd be further along as an industry without them, however flawed they may be from our insider perspective?  surely no one is suggesting such lunacy!

one of the most useful principles of great staging:  use the hand you've been dealt to your client's best advantage...whether it be your innate 'creativity,' your formal 'design' training, or imperfect but tremendously opportunity-expanding 'reality tv' which provides for 'teachable moments' and discussion starters EVERYWHERE we go. 

dare i NOT leave it there and expose which 'side' i come down by questioning one statement made early on? 

here goes: staging doesn't have its roots in design?   i would certainly agree that staging came about as a 'response' to the real estate industry.  if that's what is meant by where it has its roots, then i'll agree that staging has its roots in real estate...however, any time a wall is painted, a dust mite is collected, or a lamp is moved, that's a 'design' decision.  (a little humility always helps...and maybe it would help if we all started thinking in terms of 'little d' design.)

not all stagers with formal training came out of an ASP course, and not all ASP members were motivated to become certified or whatever the ASP term is, by real estate....many ASP members and most members of other staging organizations seem to be motivated and have their 'creative' roots in 'design.'  if you took away from the industry all those stagers who feel their roots are in design, our numbers would be dramatically reduced.  so, before we go demanding that tv stagings shows demonstrate the true reality, maybe we could work a little harder at checking our own industry's reality. 

Jul 20, 2008 07:37 AM #54
Jennie Norris
Sensational Home Staging - Littleton, CO
Denver Regions Premier Home Staging Resource,

I am in an airport and on my TREO so will try to keep this short...I appreciate the comments all have made and specifically want to address the last poster, Kathy. If you noticed in my post I did not single out ASPs and would appreciate the same courtesy as this is not a debate about my training versus someone else's and I was not stating that this post was about cutting those with a design or decorating background out of staging.  I know you may not have been focused on that, but too many people on this site are ultra sensitive about what training they have (or don't have) and I don't want to go there in this post - thanks for understanding!

So now that is clear, what the post IS about is that design and deorating and staging are not all the same thing, in my (and many other's) opinion. Do decorators and designers get into staging? Of course, but I know that those that are staging are most likely approaching the whole process very differently than the other fields.

The TV shows are all about the drama of staging, or about remodeling with false budget expectations, and are misleading the public. My last 2 consultation clients both remarked that they were glad I was not like the people on TV.

So you can believe me or not and people can have their own opinions of course (that is what keeps life fun!), but the "art" of staging starts in real estate and begins with the understanding that we are not there to personalize and customize a space (decorating and design) but we are there to make the house or space appeal to all prospective buyers.


Jul 20, 2008 08:46 AM #55
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