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Friday, April 17, 2009

Hooked on Hopping off the "Stage" Coach, Or: Relax! That Old House is not for sale!

Thank goodness it's Friday, and it's time for Julia's Hooked On . . . blog party.
See end of post for information on joining in!

Simple and plain. And dull.
When is enough simplicity too much?
Plain, plain, plain . . . .
Come with me as I try and jump off the Stage coach!

Last year, we sold a house with which we had an intimate relationship,
and we had to turn it into a stranger to do so. Now, I am stuck in a staging rut.

When you buy a fixer-upper, and you are young, and you need to do the fixer-upper-ing yourself because you can't afford to "pay the man," you get to be on very intimate terms with your house.

In my mind's eye I can see every square inch of our old brick Craftsman bungalow, inside and out, every cranny and corner and nook, every scratch and dent, every boo-boo, every perfect place. Here it is in October 2007, our last autumn there:

Our former house

My girls stood at the top of those steps every September for their First Day of School pictures. I have a lot of what my Mom called "heart pictures" of this house.

We made this neglected and abused house our home. We fixed and painted and replaced and restored and nursed along everything in and on this house, and our family stamp was everywhere.

And then, 21 years later, we decided to sell and buy a bigger place. Time to rub out the family stamp and, if HGTV were to be believed, make this house -- meant for family life -- look as if no one lived there.

We rented storage space, and I ruthlessly packed away the family pictures, any collections, any decor that didn't look as if "Designed to Sell" would buy it for an Open House, unnecessary furniture, everything -- until there was no sign of a family or hobbies or life. Perfect.

Eerie, but perfect.

Our daughters, away at college, came home to bedrooms stripped of their accumulated "stuff," with all their photographs and knick knacks and treasures bundled away as if they were porn.

My daughter Anne, the design student, walked into her room and wailed, "Oh no! Mom, it looks like Pottery Barn in here!"

Yes, it did look like Pottery Barn. Anne's room, once painted in Martha Stewart's Jadeite Green, was a triumph of serene anonymity in sandy beiges and white. And that room was a favorite at Open Houses. "I could stay in that room all day!" sighed more than one prospective buyer.

Well, yes... but I guarantee you couldn't live in it! It looked like a hotel room, not like the room of an artistic 20-year old with a theatrical bent. As Gertrude Stein said, "There is no there there."

But good news -- our home sold, and we were outta there.

The problem is now. I understand about staging for sale; I don't really have much sympathy for chuckleheads who can't see past lavender paint or moose heads on the wall, but I do understand about the staging.

We moved to That Old House, and I can't jump off the "Stage" coach! After being so obsessed with turning a very personal home into an impersonal stage set, I still feel as if I need to keep things spare and clutter-free and anonymous. But -- is it clutter if you love it?

I have been resisting adding "clutter" to my rooms.

My end tables are bare.

My sideboard is woefully under-decorated. (I don't count the music system as decor!)

My bedroom dresser has a lamp, and just recently I went quite wild
and put a little Limoges tray and hair receiver on it.

(Oops... unmade bed reflected in mirror. My bad.)

By the way, this little dresser tray and hair receiver are so cute... and they don't match!
A married pair:

Last night I put something on the coffee table in the study,
other than a stack of books and magazines:

Wow. No Clutter Police knocking on the door. :-)

Baby steps. Not enough, not yet pretty, but baby steps. I still can't get things up on the walls. Our upstairs hall -- 7 doorways, 2 stairwells, and nothing on the walls but paint:
Our downstairs hall. This is our entry, and there should be something welcoming about it!

I've got boxes full of prints, paintings, photographs. About the only thing I feel confident hanging are mirrors, and you can't get much more anonymous than that.

I didn't say I wasn't hanging wacky mirrors, just anonymous ones.

I've been defeated by HGTV, browbeaten and cowed by television decorators who still need to use Clearasil. How sad is this? Stand with me, my blogging friends; tell me I can fill my shelves with whatever I like, from the sublime:

Meissen tea pot

. . . to the ridiculous:

also a tea pot, but -- not Meissen.

Help me reclaim my decorating muscle!

Family pictures are not naughty French postcards!
Anne, below, playing "dress up."
(She will be going to grad school for costume design; could we see that coming?)

Well, maybe some family pics are a bit of soft porn. . .
Alida, below, showing her usual lack of inhibitions.
Fun times at our former house.

Sorry for the detour; I found those pics by accident and they cracked me up.
But I ask you, would family photos really stop someone from buying a house?

(We looked at a house that was filled with oddball collections, including life sized dolls
with plastic bags tied over their heads, like hostages taken by ZipLoc.
Somewhat unsettling, but if we'd liked the house it would not have been a deal breaker.)

I need help. Look at my fireplace:
How sad looking is that?

Do you manage to decorate for yourself, your own tastes? Or are you hung up
on something and does it hold you back? Is there someone's opinion that makes you think twice?
Have a lovely weekend! -- Cass
Join the Hooked On party. . .

Make sure you visit Julia's wonderful Hooked On Houses blog,
for more "Hooked On..." posts today;
they are always such a wild and wonderful collection of stories! Click here to go there!


  1. Hi Cass :)

    I know where you're coming from, but I couldn't just de-clutter, I actually had to move my stuff OUT because I was told by more than one realtor that my stuff intimidated people. What?? Haven't they ever seen an antique before?? Well, apparently not and it all had to go, so now the other house sits empty and with two mortgages going on, no money for rented stuff.

    You know, I kind of get the whole staging thing when the seller has tacky things everywhere, but I think it's gotten carried away. A little more than five years ago, no one would have given a second thought to buying a house painted purple, but now it has to be "pottery barned" and beige. Sorry angry rant LOL

    Anyway, I just thought you weren't finished moving in yet and were working on your rooms, but now I understand and I'm still going through it too. I haven't put out all the family pictures, because that's wrong, I haven't hung up all the paintings on the wall, because it might be too many, I'm worried the couch in the living room is "too much" and so on...

    Right now, you have made me want to drag out more moving boxes and put it ALL out LOL

    Sorry for the book.....


  2. Maybe you should just make a bedroom a "staging" area, and pull out a lot of accessories and art, and decide what you love and where it ought to go....too bad Rue and I aren't next door and we could come over and have a decorating party!!! :)


  3. You are funny! And that teapot is to die for. I love teapots...

  4. It seems that the right piece just jumps out at you one day and you know where to put it. Mostly that inspiration comes from seeing what other people are doing. Blogging is so perfect for finding inspiration.

  5. I agree - when did buyers become so stupid that they couldn't tell what a house would look like, with or without someone else's things. For decades and decades people came into a house, looked it over, decided if they could fix it like they wanted or not - and bought the house. Now TV tells us we are so ignorant that we can't tell what we want to buy - only if it looks like every other house in the world - and yet we don't live in houses like that.

    Sorry about the rant - I'll get down off the soapbox now - but I still say - people are smart enough to buy without repainting and spending a lot on redecorating something that the new buyer will no doubt change anyway - ok - NOW I'm done.

    I love your house - I say just get out stuff and start spreading it around and enjoy the fun that you used to enjoy in the other house - just go for it - I bet you'll enjoy the process and the results.

  6. Oh, I know just how you feel. We did the same thing 18 months ago. Our current house while on the market was devoid of personality and when we moved in, it was overwhelming. We have now painted every room and hallway, put our belongings in good places, but the layers that make it home have taken a little longer. Our kids are grown, my life is no longer that of the good corporate wife who entertains business couples. So now I can decorate for me. I can fill our nest with that which pleases my eye, fills my soul and makes me smile. Go for it. Your house is your sanctuary and should make you happy and comfy.

  7. They call it staging, I call it STERILE.


    Not at all like HOME.

    Some of us go by how the house FEELS. I loved your craftsman home, and it looked gorgeous.

    I resent that some people cannot see the POSSIBILITIES. Of COURSE their tastes will not be yours. OF COURSE you will not like mauve carpet. But, there are a lot of us out here with imaginations and we know "character" when we see it!

    You are too funny and I can't wait to see what you do with your gorgeous new home!

  8. Sometimes I think that "declutter" thing can go too far. I like for a house to say "Look at how happy we've been here and you will be too"! I've sold 3 houses in less than 2 weeks without the aid of a realtor, so something must be working. Time to put the You back in your house! Love the kids' pics! (see-- personal :)!

  9. Cass, I think the clean and empty look is working OK - - - but if it isn't you, do YOU to your house. Life is too short to live by other people's house rules. Let your house be YOUR HOME.

    I look around my house and I think "I have no style unless eclectic is one." True, BH & G are not knocking my door down offering me fabulous sums of $$$$$ if I will only let them do a film shoot here. BUT - - - I LIKE my things and I like having them around me.

  10. This staging s--t has hit critical mass! You and the Blogger Ladies have seen my present house and some from the old one, and the comments are all positive. Everyone who enters is effusive in their comments. I thought I would never sell that Money Pit! It took three tries, and one Realtor actually said to me, "Lady, you are a scream!" (It was a man...)

    I never turn on HGTV any more -- it has gone beyond awful.


  11. I'm torn between clean and simple and wanting a little "something" sitting out. I don't have all my family photos out yet, mainly because the hallway is at the bottom of the redecorating list.

    We bought our house 18 months ago from an older couple. They basically wanted to walk out and sell it as is, which was a fantastic deal for us. We were then able to paint it our own colors and we're in the process of replacing the floors, one room at at time.

    I find myself talking back to the TV when I watch the real estate shows. Some of the "complaints" are so petty: the wall color, cabinet door hardware, light fixtures. Things that could be updated with a minimum of time and money, yet they're deal-breakers for some.

    And my favorite pet peeve? Where is is written that granite countertops and stainless steel appliances are the be-all and end-all of a kitchen? Not that I have anything against anyone who has them, but come on...

    Sorry! I didn't mean to ramble and complain!!


  12. hey Cass,
    You really hit a nerve here. I hated the staging our house thing when we sold it less that 2 years ago. My hubby even removed some beautiful wallpaper because one buyer didn't like it. Actually they didn't buy, so what a waste. I have kind of given up on HGTV because of this very thing, I get much more inspiration from the blogger's beautiful homes. Thanks for sharing, Cindy

  13. Oh Cass I feel your home you be your Happy Place..I don't do a thing that tv tells me to do..I do things that make me happy when I walk into a room..I am a more is more gal and I love having all my family things around me they made me smile..I did HGTV RMS for over a year and girl I got some horrible first I wanted to toss out everything and start over...but then one day it hit me..I Paid for it, I love It, and if you don't exit stage left..move out of my space..You do what you wnat with your space..hugs and smiles Gl♥ria

  14. I believe a house should be "yours" -- with your things, your taste. Linderhof is definitely us. And when we looked at Linderhof for the first time, we looked past the rabbit cages, the giant Santa clause face (it was March) and the plastic crabs in the kitchen (they had moved from Florida). We saw the bones -- and we loved the bones. Now it is ours and if people don't like ours . . . well, there is always Pottery Barn!

  15. That it 2 sad stories in one. I'm getting more sentimental by the minute. Leaving the house where my kids grew up and decorating a new house where my kids will never live. Too sad for me tonight.

    But our designer friend Gordan has already come to our rescue. (We didn't move but our kids are gone.) He has eased us along with periodic visits. He is not sentimental about our decor but he knows we are. So he makes a few places for our family memory stuff and also places for us to move on with our "mature" lives.

    He is alwasy thinking about the future sale. He says, if you put it on the market, we'll have to take these pieces out: House for sale, house for living - not the same thing.

  16. I couldn't agree more, I would much rather walk into a home that feels like a home and says 'Welcome', than a sterile faceless beige house that says, well nothing!
    You should decorate for your tastes, I love being surrounded by precious memories of my family. I don't like cluttered but I love the someone actually lives here look.
    Have a great weekend.

  17. Please enlighten me. What on earth is a hair receiver?
    I can see getting rid of some stuff to make things look bigger such as closets but I agree people are not so mindless that they can't see their own items fitting in or not fitting in a new space.

  18. We moved and sold houses so many times during The Great Dane's Air Force career that I became very good at getting rid of all traces of real life. Of course, as soon as the 'sold' sign went up, so did the bits of real life come out of storage. When we had sold our last place (having just purchased this one) we went to the storage centre to pick up our things. Guess who was there picking up all the stuff they'd stored....the people from whom we'd bought this place. We laughed and I told them that I had commented that I loved the house but found it 'cold' and couldn't wait to warm it up.

  19. I feel your pain! Claiming a home as your own is a lot of work! What great bones your new home has!!!


  20. Oh Cass..this was a beautifully written post and I just know exactly from where you are coming!
    I have asked this very question on my blog...when did totally DE-personalizing a home become a pre-requisite for a sale? I would expect that a family had lived in, and loved, the house I was seeing. That makes it al the more attractive TO me. I expected to piant and add my own personality...and I do NOT live in Pottery Barn! *grin* It is now intimidating for people to see a family portrait over the mantel? Sheesh.
    But the world has just turned 18o degrees hasn't it? I am happy your home sold so quickly and you do now own a gorgeous place.
    I can understand how you feel now...I truly can.
    I have, inb the past, gone through stage when I put away, stored and de-cluttered to the point that our home didn't feel like mine. So back out came the stuff of our lives, the stuff that makes us unique and, well, US!
    Whatever you choose to do will be the right thing for YOU!
    And I am betting that you could put HGTV on it's ear!


  21. Thanks for visiting! Your old house looked so pretty. Bet it was really hard to leave.

    I kind of got stuck in my last house where I lived for two years. There were a couple rooms that I never really did decorate, and I had good intentions in another room but never did transform it. Since I've moved to the duplex apartment, I've been taking things out and hanging them up like crazy.

    I have way to much stuff. If a professional saw it, they would tell me to "edit." But that isn't going to happen because I love my stuff and I love having it around!

    You know what's funny. When I bought my house on Bonnie Lane, I loved that the house was so personalized. I loved the blue bathroom and the teal green bedroom walls, and all of their personal things. The realtor said, "they have too much furniture in here," but that made me love it all the more! How sad that people want these houses that lack life!

    Enjoying your blog! I'll be back!

    Life on the Edge

  22. Yes the snails are the same a slugs but with little houses on their backs. They probably need de-cluttering too. I don't think they stage them.
    If I took that much beer to lure them my husband would have a fit. We would need a whole case to do the yard. They mow through a bed of seedlings in an evening. No sympathy from me. Off with their heads.

  23. Okay time to snap out of it and humor all your blogging friends. We are overcome with curiosity as to what your home will look like .
    Yes your new home no longer just the new house you bought .How exciting is that ! Wow I can't wait for the unveiling. You can do anything you want to and we your blogging family will love it because you'll be sharing your home with us and making us feel at ease as you grow at ease in your new home.Don't forget if you don't like something change it ,rearrange it ,put it into storage for another day,or give it away.
    There are no limits to what you can do .It's your home now and your in charge .Rready ,Set ,Go play.
    Blessings to you as you do a heap of living in your new home.
    Love your blog !
    Thank you for sharing with everyone.
    Hope you don't mind my input.
    Just want to see you settle in and enjoy your new home.

  24. Beautiful... Many steps in taste above my own money pit. Sigh.
    But I agree you need more stuff about you there.
    I have no decorating ethos other than, I want it to look like the home of someone like Auntie Mame, with a story about every single thing in it.
    Only cleaner.

  25. Oh and that photo with the reflected bed? That's ART. Its the unmade bed that makes the photo -- it makes it about Sunday morning tousled serenity instead of hotel brochure.

  26. Hey Cass...Girl I hate to dump on you...when you don't know yet what you will do with your wonderful home...But girl I have one more thing you did to really find a place for...CASS YOU WON!! my 100 post tea cup lamp..Now Girl you need to email me your address so I can get it shipped off to email addy is on my profile Cass..Thanks so much for you comment and taking the time to enter my give away..Its people like you that make blogging so much fun for me...May you have a great Monday dear friend...hugs and smiles Gl♥ria

  27. Speaking as someone who will be moving all of the clutter into its proper place I sort of like the current look. Actually I think we do have some things that need to be displayed like my cool old map of the world and my beer can collection.

  28. Ok, Howard -- you are the only one who could tempt me to start using comment moderation. You don't HAVE a beer can collection, you big silly, although you do have a bowling ball named "Howie."

    And you are right, you will be the one doing at least the heavy lifting. Where DID you put those boxes of pictures? You know I don't do the attic.... too spooky.

    Aren't you supposed to be working, husband dear? :-) Someone has to earn my Ebay money.

  29. I guess that's why I have trouble believing all of the HGTV hype about removing personal things from your home when you put it on the market...We, who can see past the personal stuff to know whether or not we like a home cannot imagine that others can't do the same! What is wrong with these people? I always feel like when I strip my home to sell it, it looks so uninviting and unwelcoming! On the other hand, when I move into my new home, I still have no trouble immediately making it my own! After being without "stuff" while selling a home, I can't wait to have my "stuff" all around me. So, you go girl! Get out your "stuff" and make this home yours. From what I've seen of your "stuff", your home will be wonderful! laurie

  30. beer can collection..... LOLOLOL

  31. I know what you mean. We did the same thing to sell our prior house. It was like a Stepford House. Eerie and perfect with no life or soul.
    I love the pictures of your girls. No way would that turn me off a house!!!! I am really picky about hanging things on the walls because this Bradbury & Bradbury wall paper is so expensive!

    Sorry so late to post - had 80 people over Sat for a cookout. The city has a Jazz Festival next to my house each year. So we figure free entertainment- might as well have a party!!!!

    Can't wait for you to hop of the "Stage" coach! :D Jewel

  32. I understand the Designed to Sell and Get it Sold philosophy. But isn't it funny how the girl always says she's an "expert" in home staging and yet she always does the same thing, paint neutral colors, declutter, remove family photos. Gee, anyone could do that! Way to go, add some clutter to your new old home. Why not? You plan to be there for awhile, right? Don't be afraid, just GO for it! As you start to add things little by little, I think it will get easier. Oh, and NONE of the houses we looked at when we were going to buy a new house were staged. And the one we bought has yucky brown paint and green carpet! We should have probably turned and run the other direction, but in the end decided we could definately put our stamp on that one! Thanks for sharing!
    P.S. Can't wait to see your bathroom finished.


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