June 29, 2011

on staging a house and why i will never sell my book to a publisher

we called it a charade.

the house was perfect. fluffy, color coordinated towels in the bathrooms. the faded and stained green mess in my bedroom replaced with a rich, brown, plush carpet. tile and grout steam cleaned. new paint on the walls. refurbished kitchen cabinets. shiny granite counter tops. new drapes in the living room. all fans dusted. furniture and paintings artfully arranged. a bowl of lemons on the kitchen counter.

everything beautiful, spacious, clean, and organized. a perfect house. perfect for selling.

and i hated it.

which suprised me.

it wasn't the showing of the house that drove me crazy. it was the perfection, the staging. to sell my house in this tight housing market it had to be absolutely perfect. no mess. pictures and furniture in places i wouldn't have put them. paint colors that brought out the color of the granite, but colors i wouldn't have chosen. a house for selling but not for living.

yes, it was mostly "my stuff" the decorator used. my furniture. my paintings. my house. of course, there were also things we had to buy to make it more appealing, some of which i never would have bought. things like throw pillows, mirrors, candles and candlesticks. i'm not a pillow-mirror-candle person. never have been. but i knew the decorator was right and that those little touches would add that little something that might mean the difference between the house selling quickly and it dying a slow death in the waiting.

here are some pictures.

and all the hard work and staging paid off. my house sold in 6 days. unheard of. amazing. an answer to prayer. i'd do it all again to sell the house. but as soon as i knew it had sold, i undid it all. moved the end table to the side of the couch where we need it. took down the towels we weren't really using. put away all the extra pillows, along with the comforters my kids would never use. put away the wooden lemons.

removed the tablecloth from my table that's covered in signatures of guests and kid scribbles from years ago.

honestly, that was the coup de grace of the whole thing-- hiding my cool table because the decorator had implied it would detract from the sale. (as i recall, she looked at the table, maybe raised an eyebrow, and said, "I'll let you decide what to do with that.") the table embodies who we are in this house--fun-loving and free and a little bit reckless at times.

i thought i'd enjoy no clutter, especially after living with the mess of moving furniture and other stuff around while we'd painted and recarpeted and rearranged. at first it was a relief. the jobs were done. i could move through the house in a straight line instead of winding my way through stacks of stuff. i could see my living room floor and sit on the couch. 

after living in it for a couple of days, it became uncomfortable. it wasn't my house anymore. there were no signs of life. no getting messy, no clutter. it was almost suffocating. we couldn't live in the house. it wasn't us. and the Gregorys, if anything, are all about living in authenticity and being real. maybe that's why it was so uncomfortable. we were putting on an act.  

(when i looked up "charade" this was one of the definitions: a blatant pretense or deception, especially something so full of pretense as to be a travesty. it wasn't quite a travesty and it wasn't deception. buyers know you've staged your house. when we looked at houses in Butte, i appreciated the staged ones and didn't really like the unstaged ones. staging ours still felt fake.)

it wasn't all bad. i learned some things about decorating and arranging furniture. now i know what i can do in my next house and what i won't do. i know i won't put off using color on the walls or adding little touches. we won't put off those home improvement projects till the last minute. we'll keep the house a little less cluttered so it's easier to pick up when company comes.

the most important thing i took away from the whole experience was learning more about myself and what i'm willing and not willing to do in the pursuit of putting out a book. you may wonder how the two tie together or maybe you've figured it out. i'll post the rest of this in a day or two.

(the second half is now up: why i'll never sell to a publisher)


Lisa Yarde said...

Congratulations on the sale. I can understand why this was difficult. As much as you wanted to "put your best foot forward" and ensure you could sell the house, it must have felt as though you were wiping away or hiding things precious to you, stuff that made this house uniquely your own, just to get the sale. I see the correlation to publishing, but I'll let you come with that one.

February Grace said...

This is a beautiful post, Michelle.

I have lived in 'staged' houses at times. It's nervewracking.

Worse, at times I've lived a 'staged life' because I had no choice.

Tidying up the pillows and pretending all was well because the people around me were depending on me to be okay no matter what was going on around me. It's the "Keep calm and carry on" mentality but the trouble is, that calmness is something that can't be staged. It's only something that can be authentic and meaningful when it's truly felt.

If you push yourself beyond limits of any kind for too long- really bad things happen and eventually, you have to be who you really are, anyway. That's been my experience, anyway. But when you get straight with yourself about what you need, what you want, and what you won't put up with any more- then the calm follows. It's like living in the eye of the storm- and it's a powerful experience.

Sounds to me like you've come to a place like that inside- and I cannot wait to hear the rest.

Meantime- congratulations on the record-time house sale- you worked hard for it, you earned it.

I'll tell you though, I love your table and if the decorator had raised that eyebrow with me in the room I'd have been tempted to suggest we move the thing dead center of the biggest room for effect...

I know, I know. We do what we have to do and you did it well- I'm so proud of you for all of it. It's hard work, being a mom, having kids, trying to make a house look unlived in.

It turns it from a home into a dollhouse, and real people don't generally fit in dollhouses.

May you never have to do it again!


Murees Dupé said...

You have a very nice home. Congrats on the sale.

I understand how you feel about the staging. Someone else is telling you to pretend to be someone else to sell your home. Changing what you and your family really stand for. But at least you got the house sold so now you can take it a bit easy.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Really happy that you sold it so quick! The photos look great, but it does have a sterile feel to it. And why would that table detract? Goofy.

Melissa Ann Goodwin said...

I am going through the same thing - our house is for sale and it is neat and orderly at all times and I long to leave some of my stuff lying around just so that I know I'm still here! I hope we sell soon, if only so I can be normal again.

Donna Hole said...

You made your home a place others could see themselves living in. While it seemed "fake" to you, it certainly appealed to a prospective home owner :)

Boy did I love the colors of the living room.

I understand how you feel though; I'd be lost without all my clutter. Speaks to who I am, who my family is. You can imagine we have very little company :)

And I see the connection to your writing also. When we query an agent we invite them to put their own interpretation on our ward work. Maybe some of the mess needs to be there for the comfort of the characters.

Congratulations on the sale. I'm sure you'll make your new house a confortable home in no time.


KarenG said...

The home is beautiful. You and your decorator did a fantastic job. My son and daughter in law did this in San Antonio and it still took a year for the house to sell. Great post! I look forward to the next part!