Diningroom suites are out, as are freestanding wardrobes, china cabinets and "brown furniture". "Accent chairs" that make a room more interesting because they don't match the sofa are in, grey is still a popular colour and now navy is too, says Muriel Simpson, associate director of furnishings company House & Garden, a company that specialises in a "staging" properties to make them more attractive for sale.
Anyone who has been looking at houses and apartments for sale in the past few years may be familiar with House & Garden’s style. Sisters Manny and Cathy O’Hara had run a house-presentation business in Melbourne for about 10 years before coming to Ireland in the early noughties to start a similar company here. The company survived the property crash by branching out into apartment fit-outs, now the largest part of its business, as well as fitting out showhouses for developers. It now employs about 50 people, including six interior designers, one interior architect, six carpenters, an electrician and a painting team.
The crash, ironically, was good for business as developers, then receivers, hired them to completely fit out apartments, especially high-end developments aimed at corporate lets. But demand for staging houses is growing again now the market is on the move and it’s the most interesting part of the business, says Simpson, who has been with the company for nine years. House & Garden stages everything from apartments and cottages to big houses like Gorse Hill, the 949sq m (10,220sq ft) house in Killiney sold this year by receivers after protracted legal battles. “It took two days and six truckloads of furniture to stage,” says Simpson.
Obviously, how much staging your house will add to its value depends on many factors, something to be weighed up when considering the cost of doing so: House & Garden’s staging packages start at €5,000 for three months (that’s how long you rent the furniture for) going up to about €20,000-plus.
Generally, the houses they stage are empty before H&G moves in: the owners may already have moved on, or it may be an executor sale. Homeowners or children selling the family home can be quite emotional “and some clients have particular ideas about how their house should look”. But Simpson asks them to step back a bit – vendors have to look on their house “not as their home but as a product”.
Staging period houses is a particular challenge – people want them, says Simpson, but there’s a tension between the way these houses were designed and modern living. “In modern families, everyone wants to be on top of each other – to have the kitchen, family room, TV room all together, an island unit where you can perch and have a coffee.” That’s why so many renovations of the past two decades involved creating this kind of open-plan space.
Modern buyers also want a minimalist look: it’s a truism nowadays that no one (especially adult children) wants “brown furniture”, even in period houses where it would fit. The concept of buying a three-piece living room suite, a dining room suite with a sideboard and china cabinet, “collecting” good furniture and keeping it for the rest of your life is gone, says Simpson – and people want to change the look of their houses more frequently nowadays.
When she’s staging a house, her aim is to lead buyers through a house so they can imagine living there, envisage their future. House & Garden doesn’t expect people to buy the furniture but can offer people an interior-design package. Some downsizers, for example, don’t want to bring any of their old furniture with them and may ask for help. Others seek advice on how to update old furniture for a new house. “In one case, our client had a walnut table – we stripped and painted it, painted the legs of the chairs that went with it and re-upholstered the chairs. Doing that might cost €200 to €400 and €60 per chair – which is a lot cheaper than buying new, espcially if your furniture’s good quality.”
She says this as someone who loves period furniture: the daughter of artist Brett McEntagart, she grew up in a Victorian house in Sandycove, Co Dublin – surrounded by art as a child, she studied history of art, then fine and decorative arts at university, then worked for art auctioneers Whyte's before joining House & Garden.
A walk around House & Gardens' extensive showrooms in the Stillorgan Industrial Park provides a snapshot of current interiors fashions: there are lots of button-back chairs and sofas, some L-shaped, a mock-concrete fibreglass table, sofas in not-quite-50 shades of grey in leather or velvet or felt, and in navy, a colour on the way in. There are rustic-look wooden tables, stripped and lacquered with white, with chrome legs. A black chair with veneered walnut panel sides is one of those accent chairs designed to make a room more interesting.
The bedroom displays feature upholstered headboards and mirrored bedside lockers, something of a H&G signature – “they make a bedroom look bigger”.
And while neutral shades dominate, look out for bright colours –think pink sofas, says Simpson.
Muriel Simpson, associate director of House & Garden, will discuss staging your home for sale with Frances O'Rourke on Friday, October 27th, on the Irish Times stand at the Ideal Homes Exhibition