Stage Directions

New York City Staging Company Sold With Style Uses Color to Transform Beloved Homes into Desirable Properties

Selling your home, whether it’s a 600-square-foot studio apartment or a rambling farmhouse, can be one of life’s most stressful experiences. According to Realtor.com’s most recent report, American homes spend an average of 78 days on the market, and the wait is actually one day longer for homes and apartments in Manhattan. While the real-estate market does fluctuate between supply and demand, the fact remains that homeowners are competing for buyers, not the other way around.

This is where staging companies like Sold With Style come in. Sold With Style is based in New York City, and it offers services ranging from market-readiness consultations to full-service staging. Barbara Brock, president of Sold With Style, argues that the biggest problem homeowners face when trying to sell their home is conceptual.

Photography provided by Sold With Style.
Photography provided by Sold With Style.

“When you decide to sell your biggest asset,” Brock said, “a seller has to think differently. It becomes a product on the market.”

So the question is, How do you convert your home, your most personal space, into a commercial product that potential buyers can imagine filling with their most personal possessions? The answer is all about color.

Setting the Stage

Barbara Brock’s career is based on the idea of transformation, which is ironic considering her own personal transformation. Her first love, and the field of her college degree, was mathematics. This may sound like an unusual start for the president of a staging company, but Brock sees the logic.

“Mathematics is the underpinning for design,” she said. “When you think about design, there is a scientific relationship between form, function, and space.”

Stagers like Brock are not simply presenting a space where a buyer might live, but rather a space where an entirely new—and more stylish—lifestyle can unfold.

Brock took that scientific view of how objects and spaces interact and then combined it with her other interests—interior design and real estate. Staging “became a natural fit,” she explained, adding, “I like to say that staging is design on speed.”

And speed is what the staging business is all about: A property needs to be transformed from “living to selling,” as Brock called it, so that the property can be sold as quickly as possible. In many cases, homeowners hire stagers like Sold With Style because they simply don’t have the time to do the work themselves.

Sold With Style transformed this hallway into a light and inviting space with strategic lighting, clean lines, and elegant furniture. Photos provided by Sold With Style.
Sold With Style transformed this space into a light and inviting space with strategic lighting, clean lines, and elegant furniture. Photos provided by Sold With Style.

To illustrate this point, Brock cited the example of a client whom she described as an “overworked father” whose apartment on Waverly Place was in need of a complete design overhaul.

The apartment also needed a thorough cleaning as well as a new coat of paint. So what did this client do? “He just wanted to become an ostrich and stick his head in the sand,” Brock said.

In terms of furniture, Brock recommended arranging it so that it “smiles at you.”

However, many of Brock’s clients need more than a mop and a dustpan to make their homes marketable. In fact, an industry that began with adding tasteful art to walls or repainting a particularly tacky room now includes full-scale renovations—tearing up carpet, replacing old wallpaper, and brightening spaces with brand-new light fixtures. And that’s just for the interior; some staging companies even replace old siding and completely revamp a home’s exterior.

Brock said, “Initially, it was brokers and agents who called us to tart up a space. Now that staging is a buzzword in real estate, sellers also call.”

A recent New York Times article quoted a $30,000 price tag for staging a two-to-three bedroom apartment in Manhattan. That may sound like a lot of money—and it is a lot of money—but what stagers like Brock try to convince homeowners of is that a well-staged property can earn you back that $30,000 and probably a lot more.

Clearing Out

According to Brock, sellers make a few common mistakes when attempting to sell their homes. The first, she said, is assuming that simply putting a few possessions in storage is a job well-done. To compound that initial mistake, sellers then often neglect to arrange what remains in a way that creates a “flow,” as Brock called it. To create this flow, she suggested placing lighting in three corners of every room, and making sure that all the art on the walls is hung at eye level. In terms of furniture, Brock recommended arranging it so that it “smiles at you.”

The Sold With Style team breathed new life into this space by playing up the natural lighting with lighter textiles and subtle pops of color. Photos provided by Sold With Style.
The Sold With Style team breathed new life into this space by playing up the natural lighting with lighter textiles and subtle pops of color. Photos provided by Sold With Style.

Another common mistake Brock cited is “thinking your design is fine.” She gave an example in which Sold With Style was hired to stage an apartment in Chelsea that was filled with black furniture. The client was reluctant to store all the furniture—not just because a storage space would cost money but also because, in the client’s mind, the furniture was “cool.”

But, as Brock explained, “The past trend for a ‘cool’ apartment to live in is to select a sleek black sofa and chairs. However, when you go to sell your home, black brings down the energy in the room. As Billy Baldwin, the great interior designer of the ’50s and ’60s, used to say, one black object is an anchor—more is an albatross.”

On the other hand, trying to market a vacant space is not advisable. Brock told us the story of a recent client who was having a hard time renting the upper floors of a townhouse, upper floors that were completely bare. Yes, the space itself was beautiful—the exposed brick walls, the wood floors, the fireplace—but no renters were biting. That’s because, Brock said, “You think, People can see the rooms, people can visualize. Well, they can’t. If they could, then it wouldn’t take vacant spaces three times as long to rent or sell.“

Sold With Style invited renters to envision themselves living in this formerly vacant space with fresh style and warmth. The property was rented within two weeks. Photos provided by Sold With Style
Sold With Style invited renters to envision themselves living in this formerly vacant space with fresh style and warmth. The property was rented within two weeks. Photos provided by Sold With Style.

Brock and her team from Sold With Style came in and staged the apartment with sleek, modern furniture and a few midcentury light fixtures. Within two weeks, the property was rented.

At the heart of this entire process is a simple idea: Home buying—and renting—is aspirational. Stagers like Brock are not simply presenting a space where a buyer might live but rather a space where an entirely new—and more stylish—lifestyle can unfold.

The Power of Paint

The secret to staging is paint. “Painting is one of the least expensive and greatest tools you can use to change the perception of a buyer,” Brock said. She even has a slogan that encapsulates this idea: “A can of paint makes a wall what it ain’t.”

The role of color, like the staging industry in general, has evolved over the years.

“When I began staging fifteen years ago,” Brock explained, “taupe or beige walls were what I recommended. For the last five years, gray tones were trending. Now, I’m using tinted whites.” Neutrals of all sorts are essential for staging, as they create a blank screen onto which prospective buyers can project their dream homes.

Create a sophisticated, modern look with these new hint-of-color whites from Pratt & Lambert’s Color Journeys™ collection, available now at select retailers.

DISTRESSED WHITE WH33

SPELLBOUND WH15

AUTHENTIC WH11

These enduring designer favorites from Pratt & Lambert’s Never Compromise Color® palette embody the fresh style Brock creates in her staged homes.

LINEN WHITE 33-7

MENDOCINO 30-32

SWISS COFFEE 33-5

Selecting the right paint for a prospective property is a collaborative effort, both with the space and the client. For example, if a client declines to invest in more neutral rental furniture, the color selection will depend on the hues and shades already present in the room.

However, if the client decides to take the full staging plunge, the collaboration occurs between the style of the client and Brock’s own imagination. As she said, “The color palette can begin with a client’s request, a piece of art, or a rug. We start with mood boards—two or three colorways with complementing or contrasting colors.”

The result is a space that offers what every prospective homebuyer is looking for: a tastefully decorated canvas on which they can paint their own masterpiece.