The art of home staging: How to inject some personality into a ‘blank canvas’ rental

Professional home stager Sarah Evers talks Mark Keenan through the rehabilitation of an empty property

Asking price: €350,000

Agent: Kelly Bradshaw Dalton (01) 8040500

​Only an exceptionally cheeky artist would attempt to flog you a ‘blank canvas.’ But run this term through a property search on and you’ll find it describes 139 Irish properties for sale right now.

All of whose selling agents are trying to persuade a buying public that the abject absence of anything at all is a worthy quality. But they don’t really believe that. No.

As a diplomatic tongue devised by those eternally in fear of vexed vendors, ‘Estate Agents Brochurese’ is a lingo necessarily devoid of negatives.

It’s a lexicon in which deliberate decor, as conducted by the verily crazed, is ‘eclectic’ and moribund grassless north or east-facing garden patches are ‘sunny’ (they’d say west- or south-facing otherwise).

The exterior of the property

So, what an estate agent really means by a ‘blank canvas’ is a home so utterly devoid of personality, or indeed anything in any way noteworthy, that it has left that agent brochurely speechless. “This house is 100pc nondescript. Another blank canvas? Yep. Chuck it in there.”

“I don’t know why it’s such a widely held misconception that a home being a so-called ‘blank canvas’ somehow helps its sale prospects,” says interior designer and professional home stager Sarah Evers, whose job it is to make homes as saleable as can be.

“Because a big neutral box with no personality drives buyers away. We home stagers always love a ‘blank canvas’ because it’s a joy to create a home persona from nothing. But don’t try to sell one before we get to it.”

The hall with brass-framed console

Landlords however have a good excuse.

Among those who come to Evers seeking home personality transplants for the blankest of canvasses are investors eager to sell a property they have been renting out. In contrast to a home for sale, a rental’s state of decor should always be utilitarian neutral so it offends no one at all.

But when it comes to the point of selling, a more refined instant identity is required from the stager.

Evers has just finished working on a former rental at No145 Richmond Road in Drumcondra, Dublin 3, which is a good case study in how staging can elegantly fill the blanks in that canvas.

Sandwiched between a shop and a new apartment development, this handsome Edwardian red-brick terrace had been rented out for a number of years by its US-based owners.

The master bedroom with ‘teddy chair’

“As a practical rental, it has a lot of hard surfaces, timber and tile floors and off-white walls, which can be harsh.

“But I noticed it also has a lot going for it, including some period ornate chimney pieces, cornicings and lovely high ceilings,” says Evers.

An exposed brick fireplace is one of the home’s defining features of character.

The house isn’t small either for a city terrace. It is most definitely family sized, covering over 1,000 sq ft over three floors, including three bedrooms on the first floor and an extra large bathroom on the top deck.

The downside, however, is that it has no garden space at all. It faces the road at the front and the apartment development at some point took over its original rear yard. From the back door, you walk out into a shared communal area.

“The living room is actually quite a big space, but it had two outsized sofas and tiny lamp shades, which made it look small and undermined its potential.

“With the off-white walls, we are lucky that monochrome is in at the moment. Too much is too harsh, so I dipped into it just a little with zebra skin cushions and the pendant shade.”

Two suitably sized rich tan leather sofas provided the colour. A mid-century chair in tactile bouclé , along with bouclé cushions, provided softening texture along with a faux sheepskin for the ottoman.

The living room’s brick fireplace with black and gold cabinets in the alcoves

Fake plants are so much better made today and don’t die from lack of watering.

“To make the best of the alcoves, I put in two black cabinets with gold sunbursts,” says Evers.

“I like Japanese decor and these hint vaguely at it. The lamps are big and black and so are the shades, but the lining inside is in gold to take the edge off.

“The same is true of the big pendant shade. If you have high ceilings, you should use big lamps and shades. I’ve done it upstairs in the bedrooms too with lovely big ‘granny’ shades on the ceiling pendant lights.”

In the hall, Evers has deployed the narrowest of console tables with a smart brass frame and mirror top (“it reflects candle light and anything else you put on it and we all need somewhere to throw our keys”).

In the kitchen diner, she chucked a functional but outsized table and chairs and replaced them with a smarter and more compact round glass-topped table with chairs in a soft padded contemporary style.

“Again, it’s a big space, but you wouldn’t have known it with the old table and chairs.”

The kitchen with round glass table

Upstairs, she set out to make features of twin bedroom alcoves. In one bedroom, she has a handsome antique roll-top writer’s desk in an alcove.

“We stagers don’t have to be practical and while it’s all about the aesthetic, this clearly shows that the space will take a desk easily.”

And antique roll tops do look so much better than angular modern tube-framed study desks.

In the master chamber, she combines mid-century-style stands again with outsized lamps and softens with a vintage rug and a bouclé (it’s having a moment!) swivel chair, which she describes as a ‘big teddy bear’

For colour, there’s moss green cushions, and for light, a pair of large circular mirrors.

Evers, who has two warehouses to store thousands of units of stock (she is getting a third), says she deployed about 90 pieces all-in to get No145 into saleable shape.

Kelly Bradshaw Dalton’s official asking price is €350,000 but as of yesterday, bidding has reached €390,000.