Monday, August 18, 2014

The Affordable Dorm: A Decorating "How To"

I love this time of year and seeing the photos of college kids moving into their new digs. Some of you are so creative and stylish!

With so many great examples of gorgeous dorms, it's hard to imagine how dorm design can perplex so many -- but it does. Trying to make the most of small, cramped, bare spaces really overwhelms some of you. Perhaps it's because the furniture is rarely in the best arrangement when you first see it. Or maybe it's that everything looks the same. Whatever the issue, lots of people want to know how to take that stark, drab, and utilitarian and turn it into something fabulous.

My son is in his 4th year of college. Which means that not counting my own dorms back in the day, I've got 4 consecutive years worth of experience decorating the modern dorm, fraternity house, and apartment bedroom. I've learned all sorts of tricks too. For less than $200, I can show most anyone how to transform a plain-Jane dorm into a stylish and functional space.

STEP ONE:  Before you buy the first item for your room, you need to establish a theme. Whether that be a particular color combination, a favorite sports team, or whatever -- decide on the theme first!

STEP TWO:  Know what the room looks like. What are its dimensions? What furniture pieces will be in the room? How large are the windows and doors? How high are the ceilings? What size bed you have. Is it a twin, twin XL, full or full XL? Be sure you know that because it makes a big difference.

Above all, ASK QUESTIONS. Call the dorm directly and to gather information. Tour rooms when you are on campus. Look at photos; the school website AND from people who lived there in previous years. Once you have gathered information and really know your room's possibilities and limitations, you can use room planning software to create a great design.

STEP THREE: Find your bedding. Aside from a small fridge or television, your bedding is likely to be the single most expensive purchase for your room. So start early so you can get the best deals. Use coupons if possible and combine them with sale prices. You'll be shocked at how easily you can get a $100 bedding set for about $50. 

To further stretch your dollar, look for COMPLETE bedding sets. Get a set that at a minimum includes a comforter or coverlet, sham(s), and bedskirt.  Really great buys may also include items like matching sheets, pillows, or curtains/valances. The more you can get in a single package, the less you'll have to purchase separately.

STEP FOUR: Gather the character. Decide what additional elements you need in the room. Things like lighting, storage, window coverings, art, etc. Start purchasing or making those items. Look around the house for things you already have. For the items you don't have, scour the sale racks, garage sales, Craigslist, or wherever you can get stuff for a discount. Try to match your color scheme or get things that can be inexpensively altered with fabric or paint.

STEP FIVE. Be flexible and RELAX! Move-in day is stressful no matter how many times you've done it. Try to not let the crowds and chaos sour your mood or creativity. Expect there to be hiccups in your design plan and make the best of it.

Now that you know the steps to executing an affordable dorm room design, let me show you how we created a really great look for under $200. . .

For our "step one", my son requested a grey & orange scheme with subtle University of Tennessee elements. Once that was decided, I started planning and shopping -- hunting for the best deals. I also studied online photos of the model apartment and called the complex four different times to ask about ceiling height, particular pieces of furniture, etc.

When we first walked in we were greeted with this. Pretty bleak, huh? There was a full XL bed, a chest of drawers, a desk, and a chair. And remember when I warned you to be flexible on moving day because there will always be a hiccup in your plan? Our hiccup was that high platform bed. We were expecting a normal box springs and mattress set.

We started by rearranging the furniture to gain a more open and spacious feeling. Rather than have the head of the bed and chest of drawers on the right wall, we moved the chest beside the desk and placed the bed beside the window.

Next we put the bed together. I found a simple grey bedding set which included a comforter, shams, bed skirt, and two throw pillows. The best thing about it though is that it was super affordable. Just $60 for the entire set! We introduced the second color in the design scheme with orange throw pillows and sheets.

What really pumped up the bedding style is the padded headboard. Using a 40% off coupon at Hobby Lobby, I was able to get enough fabric to cover the headboard (which I made from plywood) and make a small pillow for just $14. The entire project cost just $35.

The black end table was another steal deal I found at Kroger Marketplace -- only $28. Trouble was, it was a weird yellowish pecan color. Obviously that wouldn't work with our grey & orange scheme. But with a coat of black spray paint in a satin finish ($8), the table matches the décor perfectly.

The lamp, hatbox, and state flag in UT colors were free finds from around the house. The hatbox was black and the lamp, navy blue. Again, with the magic of spray paint, we transformed those items to match the design scheme.

The curtains were added to soften and lighten the look of the room. Guys tend to want to pick out really dark things -- especially when it comes to bedding and window treatments. If we'd hung grey curtains, the room would've seemed dark and small. Instead we went with white, trimmed in orange. We saved money by using two flat, twin-size sheets -- just $4/ea at Walmart. We customized them with strips of ribbon sewn on the inner edge of each sheet.

By far, my favorite element in the room is the Smokey silhouette pallet art. That was so much fun to create and probably one of the easiest projects ever. Just $9 to make, but it packs a huge punch of charm.

Take a look at how much the entire look cost . . .

For under $200 we added incredible style without sacrificing space, light, or organization. It was so easy. With just a little planning and some smart shopping, anyone can have a great looking room at a truly affordable price.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Affordable Dorm: A Preview

If you've got a college age kid, you know how expensive going back to school can be. In addition to the tuition, electronics, and high-dollar books they need, there's also the expense of outfitting a dorm or apartment. Even the guys want their rooms as tricked out as possible. Some room décor can really stretch the wallet. The question is: Can your back-to-school budget handle it?

I'm no exception. I've got a son heading off to school for his fourth year. He's finally moving out of the fraternity house (not a moment too soon), and into an apartment. Like most people, I've found that ever-rising tuition costs and other expenses make a decorating budget pretty tight. So when the budget is tight, it's time to get creative.

We'll be moving him back to school this weekend, but before we go I wanted to give you a teaser of some of the budget-friendly décor we've chosen for his new apartment. It's pallet art that we're planning to hang over his bed. A total DIY project that cost me a grand total of $9.00 to create. More than that, it sets the tone for the entire room. I know my Tennessee Vols' family will surely like it. Hope you do too.

Pallet -- FREE
Small can of stain ("driftwood" color) -- $7.00
White craft paint for simple white wash -- Free (already had)
Orange craft paint -- less than $1.00
With tax I spent about $9.00!!!
With simple projects like this, you can easily give your dorm or apartment a dash of style in an affordable way. Hope you'll check back next week to see the finished room design.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Don't Be a Lame Duck!

Those around in the 80's probably remember the Paul Masson commercials with Orson Welles and that unforgettable tagline: "We will sell no wine before it's time." The practice of fully preparing a product for market was around long before Paul Masson gave it a slogan, but it still rings true.

One industry that sometimes forgets the tried-and-true practice of thoroughly preparing a product for market is the real estate industry. Understandably, agents are under enormous pressure to sign clients before competing agents swoop in and get the listing. The trouble though with a hurry-up (and list) offense is that performance often suffers due to poor preparation; and the outcomes can be costly.

The most frustrating aspect of our job as home staging consultants is trying to remedy a lame duck listing -- a property that was rushed to market before it was ready. Poor Mr. Welles would roll over in his grave if he could see some of the unprepared listings on the market today.

Those ill-fated listings hit the MLS and the initial flood of prospective buyers begins. Excited buyers and their agents arrive only to find a hot mess. Floors are dirty, walls are cracking, lights are broken, 1980's décor is all around, and pet odors assault the senses. Buyers waste no time in moving on to a market-ready property and their agents. . . well. . .their agents talk. They tell other agents and buyers of the property's need for repairs and updates. Then the listing begins to sit, and sit, and sit some more. As it sits, people start wondering what is wrong with it. The early surge of potential buyers has passed and what remains is a LAME DUCK!

In most cases, a lame duck listing is the result of a rush to market. A For Sale sign shouldn't go in the yard before the house has even been cleaned. Buyers should see the best example of your home the very FIRST time they visit. You wouldn't wear a t-shirt and shorts to an interview, then hope for a second interview so you can wear your best navy suit would you? Of course not. So why would you do that with the sale of your home?  If you want to avoid being a lame duck listing, you must properly prepare.  Here's how . . .

Clean. Clean. Clean. Before you ever hire a realtor, prepare for the sell by making needed repairs, declutter, and eliminate any issues that buyers may perceive as negative. But don't overdo it! Sometimes owners get so into the decluttering process that they throw out key furniture, lighting, and art items. Just get rid of the clutter like papers, trash, broken items, and unused things.

Hire a great real estate agent. Don't just go for the agent with the flashiest ads and best website. Interview the agent and seek referrals from people you trust. Your home is often your largest investment. Don't trust it to just anyone. Hire an agent with exceptional character; one who makes your interests their priority. If you feel excessive pressure or get a gut feeling telling you to move on, listen to it. Ask lots of questions and choose the realtor who best fits your needs.

Talk to a staging consultant. If your realtor does not offer staging services, ask for them to do so. Request a true consultant who will sit down with you and explain WHY you need to remove the 70 inch television from the dining room entryway. Let them help you develop a game plan for making your home as presentable as it can be. Don't just get someone to come over and start moving stuff around your home. Go with a staging professional with a proven track record of verifiable sales and quick turnaround.

Trust the professionals. Don't just have a staging consultant into your home to satisfy your realtor. Do what they recommend. The more willing you are to follow the staging plan from the outset, the better success you are likely to have. Buyer expectations have changed significantly in just the past five years and the professionals know it. Agents and staging professionals do not enjoy telling you your home smells like cats or that your collection of 10,000+ antique bells is too much. They tell you to make changes or remove items because it will sell your home. Trust them.

Price it right. If your home is over-priced and you are uncompromising, don't venture into the market. People view their homes much like their children. They don't often see its drawbacks and realities. Listen to your agent who knows the market. They want to get as much out of your listing as you do. It's how they are paid. The more money you earn from the sale, the more they earn. What you think is a low asking price is usually a thoroughly researched, realistic price designed to keep your home from being a lame duck.

Stick to the plan. After your home has been readied for the market, a good stager and real estate agent will provide you with a list of things to do before each showing. Do them! Remember showing your home is like an interview. It is the first and sometimes only chance you have to make an  impression on buyers. Whatever the professionals have instructed you to do, this is the time to do it.

True, there are exceptions to these rules . . . but not many. You may have sold three houses in 40 years with the same cuckoo clock and velvet Elvis collections hanging on the walls, but most likely it 1.) didn't happen quickly, 2.) wasn't close to full price, and 3.) wasn't after HGTV began educating the house-buying public. Today's buyers are more educated and more sophisticated than ever before. Simply sticking a For Sale sign in your yard and expecting great results is poor strategy. If you want to sell quickly and for the most money, you must properly prepare. Surround yourself with true experts and do as they recommend. If you put the time (and a little elbow grease) into it, you can avoid being the next lame duck listing.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Home Living Project

Last post I promised lots of before and after photos were on the way. I haven't forgotten. Today, I give you round two of The Summer of Before & After . . .

A warning first: This project is NOT before and after images from a home staging. This is a home living project. A few months ago we helped the homeowner's sell their old home. So when they moved, they asked us to help them create a design plan for their new place.

Creating a space for a client to live in is vastly different than helping them stage a home to sell. Design for living must take into account the homeowner's personal tastes and belongings. Great Aunt Helga's crocheted doily that we made them pack away when the house was on the market is probably going to be on display in the new home. Or bold wall colors that would never fly when selling a house, will now have to be incorporated into the design plan. Essentially, designing for a client long-term involves taking their conglomeration of stuff and personal taste, and finding a way to tie it all together in a pleasing fashion. This project is an example of doing just that . . .

We first visited this sweet couple just two days after their move. Things were still in boxes. Nothing was on walls. There was no lamp light. And it was really hard to see the home's potential. What we did notice, though, is that the client had unknowingly established a color palette. The primary color they inadvertently chose was a very deep blue with grey & green undertones. They had also established through upholstery and paint choices the secondary colors of brown and green. So even though things were in total disarray, we had a starting point -- Blue, Brown, and Green.

We gave the couple our thoughts about furniture placement and items they still needed like rugs, bedding, and a pair of club chairs. (Every home should have a matching pair of club chairs!) We also established a budget and list of shopping items that we would source in order to make their existing items come to life in the new home.

In the dining room we started out with their existing, very traditional Thomasville table, chairs, and china cabinet. The client also had a small antique buffet. The mirror was a bit of an afterthought. It was a piece they'd had for years and nearly forgotten. It sort of stood out among the accessory items stored in the garage, just begging to be hung in the dining room. The rug was a purchase we asked them to make before we arrived for the final installation. Look at the detail in the rug. Without realizing it, the homeowners kept choosing the same blue/grey color to establish the color palette.
Dining AFTER

To complete the dining room, we purchased a large pair of complementary botanical prints. It's difficult to see in the photo, but the mats in the pictures repeat the colors of the rug. We also added the skinniest pair of buffet lamps we could find in all of Nashville. The size of the buffet and the two-tone mirror dictated the need for skinny, gold lamps. We were thrilled to find those amazing lamps. Up close, the posts look like gold beads. They were the perfect amount of bling to dress up the dining room. Finally, we added a pop of bright berry and green colors to table through a floral arrangement the homeowners already had. With that floral, we reinforced the secondary green color, and added a third secondary color with the berry tone.

In the family room, we tackled one of our most hated obstacles -- THE SECTIONAL SOFA! Our regulars know why we abhor sectionals. If you missed it, you can find out why here.

Family Room BEFORE
Despite our distaste of a sectional sofa, it was staying and we had to deal with it. There was no moving it to a better location. It was in the only place it could fit in the room. Really, the only thing to do was to break up the massive brown span of knobby upholstery -- but how? A RUG and PILLOWS! We lightened and visually separated the gigantic brown "L" with a light rug and pillows in natural tones. Then we added some accessories to the table, brought in a floor lamp, and dressed up the bookcases with the client's favorite things.

Family Room AFTER
Family Room AFTER
Opposite the sofa, there was this small, plain, boring wall. The homeowners had an extra dresser, so we told them to place it on the wall when we were there the first day.

Family Room BEFORE
The homeowners also had a pair of really cool lamps, but the shades were old, tired, and PLEATED. We purchased new shades for the lamps, a potted plant, and an amazing piece of art. With just three accessories and a nod to our blue, brown, and green color palette, we completely transformed that little boring wall.

Family Room AFTER
The huge breakfast room is one of the most used rooms in the homeowner's new home. Their existing table sets a Chinoiserie tone in the room, yet the other antiques are very Americana. We needed a way to tie the various furniture genres together.

Breakfast Room BEFORE

Breakfast Room BEFORE
We removed the chargers, placemats, and mirrored tiles from the table. Then we played up gold metallic tones on the accessories -- the Chinoiserie hurricanes on the table, the lamp on the console and the picture above it -- to tie the room together. We are still on the hunt for some art for the back wall, but you can see how the room is coming together.

Breakfast Room AFTER

And now for my favorite transformation . . . The Master Suite. Basically we started with really dark walls and tons of furniture lining them. There was nothing soft or relaxing about the room. In fact, it was kind of depressing.

The first thing we did was advise the clients to buy softer & lighter bedding, a rug, and a pair of club chairs. When we returned for the installation this is how things looked.

Sitting Area BEFORE

Bedroom BEFORE
Bedroom BEFORE
We wanted this space to be an inviting, relaxing retreat for the owners. It already had a very dramatic color, so we needed to match the drama while softening and lightening the room. We also wanted to drive home the drama using the secondary palette colors of berry & green. Remember the dining room? Those same colors were ideal for adding a dash of pizazz to the master suite.
Starting in the sitting area, we had the clients purchase a pair of matching club chairs. Fortunately they chose a light, almost white, upholstery. It worked great with the monochromatic accessories in the room, but it was tough to make it work with the existing skirted table. We solved the problem with multicolored pillows. Those little accent throw pillows introduced the berry color, green, and a pale yellow. That's how we arrived at the color on the table skirt. We repeated the blue and berry color using a lamp that the owner already had. We gave it an updated appearance by replacing the dated, pleated style shade with a more on-trend barrel style. Then we moved the owner's undersized art from above the bed and placed in the sitting area to once more add a pop of green. A little table top accessorizing with some berry & blue hardback books and the sitting room was complete.
Sitting Area AFTER

Around the television cabinet, we repeated the soft cream, pale yellow, and light blue colors with artwork and a plant. So simple, yet so impactful.

Bedroom AFTER
Finally, we finished the dramatic transformation of the master suite by having he homeowner buy a new bedding in a soft, creamy white tone. We repeated the berry and blues on the bed with throw pillows. We further softened the look with a pale grey and cream rug. We added bling and more color with those gorgeous abstract prints and mother of pearl lamps. Then we tied the bed area to the sitting area by filling the odd shelving unit built by the previous owners with simple all-white accessories. The result is soft, relaxing, and beautiful.
Bedroom AFTER
Bedroom AFTER
If you'd like to learn more about achieving a cohesive and beautiful design using your existing furnishings, please send us a message. We can help with all aspects of interior design needs.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Overcoming Oversaturation

Wow! It's been a while since I've posted -- we've been really busy. The upside though is that I have lots of Before & After photos to share with you.

I'd like to start with one of my favorite transformations of the year. I'm fond of it for many reasons. First, the client trusted us and she worked super hard to execute our suggestions. Secondly, the results illustrate concepts that we preach to sellers all the time: 1.) Keep it neutral, 2.) Turn up the light, 3.)Clear surfaces & declutter, and 4.) Use fewer, but bigger accessories. Mostly, I love this project because it sold really quickly.

By far, the biggest change we got the owner to make in this project was painting. I wish I could convince every client to paint when they need to, but so many dig their heels in and let dark, saturated colors turn off buyer after buyer. Fortunately, this client was able to detach from her preference for bright, desert colors and offer buyers a soothing neutral color palette. Take a look . . .

The very first room we saw upon entering the home was the dining room. It was an alarmingly bright, saturated yellow-orange color -- hard not to notice it. The color was so strong that it caused the furniture and art to appear dark and red; almost muddy looking. It was just an unflattering color choice. We feared that buyers would see this right off the bat and make one of two choices. Either they would mark the home off their list of possibilities entirely -- OR -- they would see the room as a big project and start deducting from their offer. With twelve other rooms still to see, we couldn't have buyers lowering their offers at the front door. It was essential to neutralize the color.
We suggested the homeowner neutralize the interior with Sherwin Williams' Ramie paint color (SW 6156). Ramie is a really dynamic color. It is neutral, yet it is constantly changing. In the bright light, it is soft and soothing, but in the evening it becomes a deeper, more dramatic tone. Plus, it works well with most any wood, metal, or art choice.
We also had the owner paint the wainscoting in a traditional, all-white treatment. In doing so, the room actually seems larger . . . and buyers LOVE large spaces. Cha-ching!
In the family room we found similar issues -- saturated wall color and low light. We also saw an abundance of little accessories, photos, and gigantic furniture. At no time did we notice the spaciousness of the room. We were so distracted by the stuff in the room, that we couldn't see its potential.
Like in the dining, we asked the owner to paint in the soft Ramie color. Then we removed the photos, leaving only one grouping above the sofa. We moved the furniture just a few inches, and actually added LARGER end tables. Then we accessorized with large/chunky accessories, green plants, and lighter pillows. What a difference. The room looks larger, warmer, and coordinated.
In the master suite, we again found dark oranges and low light. A coat of Ramie paint, new pillows, and a little art swap brought the room in balance; offering buyers a peaceful retreat.

The master bath was also in need of a cohesive color scheme.
We started by having the owner bring the Ramie paint on into the bath; eliminating the multi-colored walls. Then we asked her to replace the zebra print shower curtain with a pair of light-colored curtain panels (hung as close to the ceiling as possible). In the baths, white/light colored linens help to achieve a fresh, clean, spa-like look, so the dark rug was removed and loads of white rolled towels (not pictured) were added. Even the art's magnolia blossom helped to incorporated the soft white scheme.
The uber-saturated color trend continued on the second floor of the home. In the massive upper-master bedroom, the walls were painted in one of the deepest purples I've ever seen. It may be perfect for a teen suite, but when trying to appeal to a wide range of buyers, maybe it's not such a great choice.
To appease buyers AND the teens who live there, we suggested lightening the look with a soft lilac. Then we highlighted the spaciousness of the room by simplifying the art & bedding, and improving the lighting with a new, very feminine, acrylic lamp.
If you're planning to sell your home, or if it just feels as though you're living in perpetual chaos, try softening your wall colors. A simple, cohesive paint scheme will help give your home continuity and simplicity.
If you'd like a color consultation for your home, send me an email (bradford(dot)house(at)comcast(dot)net) and we'll put you on the schedule today!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Bring It On!

It happened again! Another client called needing our help with a vacant home. Only this time, the home isn't really what I'd call vacant. In fact, I can think of plenty descriptive terms for it, but vacant isn't one. I guess I'd call this home a challenge, but that's not quite right either. It's more like -- Our Biggest Challenge Ever!
So here's the deal: The owners built another home nearby and moved into it months ago. Their new home is completely furnished and decorated. All the stuff remaining in this "vacant" home is what they didn't need or want in the new home. Some rooms are just as they were the day the family moved out, others are full of boxes and unwanted items.
Our challenge
The challenge was to take all that stuff - a hodgepodge of unbelievably bright colors, mismatched furniture, and unusual accessories -- and turn it into a look befitting a million dollar lakefront listing. Did I mention that we had to do so without painting a single wall or adding any staging accessories whatsoever?  We said - BRING IT ON!
Our first room to tackle was the kitchen. Essentially, it remained in exactly the same condition as the day they moved out. With uber bright yellow walls and massive amounts of kitsch tacked to every surface, the look just wasn't working. So we removed nearly everything. Then we staged it with only simple, solid colored, and neutral items to counterbalance the strong wall color.

One more thing about the kitchen & breakfast area that I must mention is the tablecloth. Wow! It's something, isn't it? Normally we'd just remove it and move on to the next thing, but in this case that solution wasn't possible. The owners took the kitchen table with them when they left. What you see now is their somewhat clever attempt to disguise a folding table as a kitchen table.
Like I said, our initial thought was to just remove the hotspot altogether, but without the table beneath, the low-hanging chandelier would be a hazard to prospective buyers touring the property. The table had to remain. We scoured every inch of the home seeking an alternative to the harsh harlequin pattern on the tablecloth. The best we could do to neutralize it was to throw a solid café square over it. It's not ideal, but it is certainly easier on the eyes.
Like the kitchen, the living room presented similar issues -- bright colors & lots of knick knacks. We also had to cope with clutter and furniture placement problems. The room itself was also a challenge. Essentially we had a big room, big furniture, but very little wall space. Floating the large sofa between the columns or facing the windows was considered, but we ultimately decided against that option because showing off the space was top priority. In the end, we positioned the recliner near the sofa, offering buyers a fully open living area. Take a look . . .
The dining room was my favorite transformation of the day. First we removed the all of the clutter blocking the entrance to the room and that heavy, light-thieving valance. Next we separated and moved the oddly paired bookcase ends that were hiding the alcove. From there we moved on to decluttering and editing accessories. We also placed all the chairs around the table to eliminate the number of items scattered about the room. But what made the room spring to life was adding that gorgeous piece of statement art under the recessed spotlights in the alcove. The result is amazing!
In this bath, we were once again faced with the unchangeable yellow wall color. Actually the color can be great when the art and accessories work in its favor, but when accessories are in such an abundance that your eyes dart back and forth from accessory to color, it can overwhelm the senses. To make a really saturated wall color work, it is best to let the color be the accessory. Keep everything else soft and simple.
The master bedroom and bath was another of my favorite changes of this project. When we arrived the master suite was a narrow alleyway chopped in half by a dated, and very odd fireplace. Leaving the room empty was NOT an option because you CANT. STOP. STARING. AT. THE. FIREPLACE.
Near the master suite we noticed a very small bedroom that was crammed full of furniture. We decided that it would be far better for a small bedroom to sit empty than the master suite. So we borrowed from the small bedroom to show off the potential of the master.
Take a look at the Master Suite transformation sponsored by a neighboring bedroom . . .
Just as we did in other rooms, we addressed the issue of bright paint and kitsch in the master bath by decluttering, editing, and adding some powerful & coordinated art. The changes make for a much more pleasing appearance.