Why count sheep? Take a mind tour instead

#466 in a series of true experiences in real estate
June 2004, Hills Newspapers

As I’m falling asleep at night, I go through our newest listing trying to remember everything the stager has placed in the house. Room by room, I look at the floors and walls, seeing and appreciating the details.

I start at the front door and entry. Little is there, quickly assessed – a picture on the wall, small green and buff rug in front of the door, long filmy white curtains – and I move along to the living and dining rooms which are much more complexly outfitted.

It’s a pleasurable game, this mind tour of the contents. I play it many times starting on the day that our stager first begins to stock the house. I wander and wonder what might be added, what I have at my own house that she might want to use in her composition.

We have a listing now in Berkeley that is all done, all cleaned and staged and has this week been shown to agents and buyers. On the day before the first open house I took some of my things to Sahdu Mannell, our stager, and she used them all. It was great fun to see how she wove them into her design. I felt proud to have them, to have chosen items that Sahdu found good, useful.

Bright orange and yellow and blue Bauerware bowls given to me by an elderly client, now sit on top of a kitchen hutch along with a large clear glass storage jar that it occurred to me to take.

The house is old, built in 1908, and most furnishings Sahdu is using are from a similar era, patinaed wood and crisp cloth – but not all is old. Sahdu incorporated newer, glossier contrasts, too. She’s placed sharp blue and copper-colored pot scrubbers in a bowl at the kitchen sink. An elongated green glass pitcher, Crate and Barrel-like, with enormous philodendron leaves is on a side table. These and other touches look to me to be suitable to a contemporary penthouse, and I like them mixed in with the older pieces

I took an old leather bound photograph album, the photos pasted in, pictures of no one I know. There are girls and sailor boyfriends standing on a front porch of a house and in another picture, a group of costumed partygoers. These are photos that might have belonged to past owners of this house and Sahdu chose a spot in the living room for the album.

Baby quilts, pink and softest green and white, ones my mother made, are stacked in a bedroom next to an old iron baby crib. Soft white curtains flutter in the breeze. The windows in this house are all original and they all open, built of wood that is somewhat worn but substantial. I can see the sycamore trees outside on the street. They make me think this is how a Midwestern street looks.

Woven oriental rugs, many runner-size, are on the softwood floors, and one larger machine-made 1930s carpet, soft brown with shadowy pinkish and blue flowers, plays against the dark wood door and window casings.

There is an original light fixture in one of the rooms, 4 candle lights in metal; no wall switch, just a pull chain to which Sahdu has added a beaded tassel that I provided.

Sahdu prefers to work alone, often padding round a vacant house late at night in her stocking feet placing a mirror, ironing a tablecloth, hanging hats inside a closet. She has help in getting large furnishings into a house, but then she takes care of bringing smaller items herself.

She is organized. She packs bags with paper towels, hammer and screwdriver, rags and sponges, candles, picture hangers, light bulbs, Old English Scratch Remover. She’s got her ladder and a board wrapped with layers of cloth for use as an ironing surface.

Anet and I are usually there with Sahdu the first time she sees a house. We walk around together and talk about what work will be done, what rooms need paint, what colors will be best.

Shall we shop for new light fixtures? Find someone to change the furnace filter, shine the chrome, fix a leaky faucet? Decisions and plans are made together, then we go off to schedule the jobs ahead.

Weeks ago the owners moved from this house. They gave us the keys and left the rest to us. Cleaners and painters have done their work. Sahdu has trimmed and pruned and pulled weeds in the garden, and she added tomato plants in the raised beds.

Inside now, blowsy white hydrangeas, lacy and clean, from my garden fill vases. Sahdu usually uses flowers she has grown herself but I’ve told her about my plentiful crop which she welcomed. So I have brought many, their stems pounded with a hammer, as instructed by Sahdu, in a large bucket of cold water.

The flyer we’ve made for this house has on its cover a drawing of a turn-of-the-century woman in a dot-print housedress, white cuffs and collar, rolling out a pie crust. The woman looks kind (a friend saw the flyer and said, “I want her for my mother”), and she seems pleased with her task.

Sahdu wants to recreate this scene in the kitchen, just for fun, and so she has brought from home a marble slab and laid it on a deep, waist-height wooden cabinet. I’ve contributed an old metal flour sifter with a band of yellow around its middle, a rolling pin, a glass pie plate.

Sahdu stands back admiring, then sprinkles flour on the pie-making area, rubbing some onto the rolling pin, and we agree that it’s just right.

I love playing house with Sahdu. And I get great pleasure from mind journeying through houses she has made so good. On this one, I think I’ve managed to recall every item in the downstairs rooms, even remembering the tiny dishes in a row on the kitchen window sill and the fake sushi Sahdu put in the refrigerator.

I haven’t progressed to itemizing the bedrooms yet, but maybe tonight I’ll drowsily move upstairs.

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