The art of staging a home #723

#723 in a series of true experiences in real estate

I do love playing house, which is probably why I love staging. The staging that Sahdu Mannell does is so pretty. Curtains soften and filter sunlight and make rooms warmer, livelier. Rugs and chairs and tables and lamps also make me want to go into rooms and stay for awhile, sometimes, I feel, forever.

Sahdu doesn’t always fill up a room. Some rooms get 3 or 4 or 5 items, but enough. Enough to make people feel good in them; enough comfort and comforting things.

This is her secret and what sets her work apart: she does layers.

Into a perfectly clean and bare living room for instance she first brings a couch, a chair and tables. She moves on to other rooms bringing beds, chairs, dressers. This is the first phase.

She’ll take a few days, maybe as long as a week, to consider the placement of furniture in the rooms; will move pieces around and to other rooms or take them away altogether. Meanwhile, she adds another layer. Lamps appear on tables, pictures on walls. Most curtains are up now and Sahdu is bringing small decorations into the spaces.

Vases, carpets and mats, bedding, mirrors. Rooms start to gel and she adds details, paper on the shelves of a linen closet, rice paper on a window. Candle sconces, a pot of geraniums, cups with saucers for the kitchen cupboard.

Other stagers preselect what they will use in a house, large and small, and have it all delivered at once before placing it, usually finishing in a day. Often that is all the time they are allotted after painting and cleaning are done by others. Whenever possible we have our listings empty, fully clean and ready for Sahdu’s work a week to 10 days before the house is first shown.

She will be there every day until the premier open house. As she forms the story of the house as it will be seen she finds she needs other “costumes, lighting, scrim” and she will bring whatever it is from storage or her own house, or she will ask if we have it, or one of us will buy it.

Sahdu is very particular about the smallest details. Just recently she needed cleats to tie off cloth window shades she had hung. The only ones at the hardware store were plastic, which she did not find acceptable. She kept shopping until she could buy metal ones.

She continues to add layers and before long it’s as though the rooms have been created piece by well chosen piece over years of time. Sahdu’s houses look to me like they are being lived in by a most interesting and discerning person, someone I’d like to know.

Much of what is in the rooms is old and broken in. Not shabby looking but not model home slick either. Things look real, not pretend. In one staging she did for us, a house built over a hundred years ago, Sahdu used appropriate-looking antiques (belonging to her or to us) and she also used up-to-the-minute modern furnishings. Hand-sewn multi-colored rag rugs and new-from-Ikea reed carpets are among my remembered visions.

Also, classy-classic sterling coffeepot and arty-bohemian red clay cooking bowls. A lone garnet red wine goblet against a plain white wall. Green cymbidium orchids together with pussy willow stalks. A halved pomegranate on a white cutting board, jewel-like seeds spilled.

Two days left. Sahdu irons linens and lays them out. Dressing table and bedside stand linens perhaps; fancy crochet-edged cloth for the dining room table, last-thought curtains and face towels for a bath. She runs a vacuum to pick up dust and stray threads so all will be ready except for the flowers.

The following morning she goes into her garden to clip branches, greens and whatever flowers are in bloom and loads them into her van. Depending on the time of the year and what her garden provides, she may also buy flowers at the flower market. Then on to the house where she arranges large and sprawly bouquets, smaller ones in strong, concentrated colors, single blossoms – beautiful finishes to the life in the house.

My own Sahdu favorites are two-fold: She puts things in closets and refrigerators. And, in all sorts of locations, she surprises me.

I open closet and cupboard doors to find blankets and hats, fancy bottles of water, persimmons and peppers. My eye is delighted to find a slab of marble with a ragged edge laid on a laminate counter; filmy lavender curtain panels from high ceiling to floor to separate off part of a room; a large pottery bowl, round, shallow, filled with water for bird bathing outside a back door.

One surprise I liked a lot: Odd-shaped, poky-limbed tropical fruits set on china at each place at a breakfast table. It looked almost as if those funny fruits were about to have a spot of tea together.

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