How photogenic is your home? Perhaps the question has crossed your mind in this snap-happy, hygge-obsessed Instagram era. Whether you are selling your apartment or listing it on Airbnb, a camera-ready home is a must. An inviting photograph can draw in people scrolling through listings online; a messy or disheveled room will quickly turn them off.
To find out how to make your home look as if it belongs in a shelter magazine, we reached out to professional stagers and interiors photographers for their advice. Here are some of their suggestions for creating a picture-perfect home.
CLEAN AND DECLUTTER “Don’t be afraid to strip down 70 percent of what normally lives on any surface,” said Laure Joliet, a Los Angeles-based photographer whose work has been published in The New York Times, Dwell and Domino. “Instead of having lots of little things along a countertop or table, have one bold vessel or large plant, or a trio of objects that read as one whole. This helps anchor the photo and keeps the space feeling serene.
Clear away family photos, plants and knickknacks from the windowsills, coffee table, piano top and other surfaces. In the kitchen, remove towels, refrigerator magnets, sponges, paper towels, dish detergents, mats and most small appliances. Throw the mail piling up on the counter in the junk drawer if you need to. Stray items can be stuffed in a closet, under the bed or even hidden on the side of the room the camera won’t capture. (Of course, if you are planning on having an open house, more intensive measures are in order.) In the bathroom, open the shower curtain, remove all toiletries and wastebaskets, and close the toilet lid. Fold towels in thirds the long way, then fold in half over the towel bar.
LET IN THE LIGHT Wash your windows, open the curtains and pull up the blinds. “Natural light allows for depth in the shadows and highlights in the window, which makes a room look the way it feels,” Ms. Joliet said. “It’s more human and more relatable. Also, because shelter magazines are often shot this way, it can make your real estate photos look that much more high-end and designed.” And if your fireplace is in good working order and the season is right, light it up.
STEAM THE BED “No one wants to look at a wrinkly, unkempt bed,” said Cheryl Eisen, the president of Interior Marketing Group, which specializes in staging and designing luxury real estate. For a crisp-looking bed, Ms. Eisen uses a hand-held steamer to rid the pillows and comforter of any wrinkles. “We typically start with two stacks of two freshly steamed pillows laid flat, with long pillows on the bottom and standard size on top,” said Ms. Eisen, who prefers soft textures and muted colors rather than patterned spreads. “To create the appearance of a wider bed, match the edge of the pillows with the edge of the bed.The pillowcase openings should lie outward.” Center a throw pillow against each stack of pillows and prop it up with a soft karate chop in the middle, she added, “to create a showstopping bed.”
ADD ACCENTS A pop of color in the way of flowers or throw pillows is always welcome. “Instead of a fussy bouquet, a vase filled with one type of flower, or greens, is best,” said Ms. Joliet, who recommends eucalyptus branches. “I think everyone is tired of seeing a bowl of green apples, so try some simple flowers or greens in a vase instead.”
For a perfectly placed throw, “grab the middle of it and hold it up so that the throw cascades evenly down, and then place it diagonally at the foot of the bed, with the point up toward the long side of the bed and the fringes hanging slightly off the front,” said Donna M. Dazzo, president of Designed to Appeal, a home-staging company. “You can also place it on a bench in a bedroom. Use the same trick with holding it in the middle: Lay it across the bench diagonally, so that the pointed tip is on the bench or off the back of the bench, and the fringe is hanging off the lower left corner.” Another option: Drape the throw over the top or across an arm of a chair, she said, tucking the bottom behind a throw pillow or allowing the throw to cascade off the arm.
LOWER THE ARTWORK “We tend to place our art a little bit lower than maybe somebody would in personal use, because in a photo, if you place it too high, the ceiling looks very low,” said David C. Salvatore, creative director for Edge Mid-Century Designs, a staging and vintage furniture company in Clifton, N.J. “Everyone loves high ceilings — and certainly, if you have the ceilings, you need to put in a huge vertical piece” to show off the height.
CONSIDER YOUR PETS So as not to alienate potential buyers who are allergic to hamsters or do not like dogs, most real estate professionals recommend keeping pets and their accouterments out of photos, no matter how adorable your dog is. But a furry friend can also add an element of fun to an otherwise staid photo. If you decide to include a pet, consider the color of its coat. Some dark-colored pets end up looking like dark blobs on sofas or rugs, depending on light and furnishings. But always hide chew toys, feeding bowls, litter boxes, pet beds and cages.
BOOST THE CURB APPEAL Rake leaves off your lawns, remove any trash or recycling bins from view, and prune overgrown trees, “especially if they obscure the view of the house,” said Alberto Lau, a retired architect with a second career as an architecture, interiors and real estate photographer in San Diego. “Take the cover off the barbecue grill unless it is hopelessly rusty, in which case it’s better to move it off the frame of the photo.”
Experts are divided about including pets in photos, but they agree on hiding the toys and food bowls.
Also, clear any cars from the front of the house and driveway. “If necessary, place cones or signs requesting others not to park in front of the house,” Mr. Lau said. If you live in the city, try to schedule the photo shoot on a day that street cleaning is happening, to reduce the number of cars and trucks in front of your building. And if your house has a pool, be sure to uncover it and turn on any hot-tub jets.
DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE WEATHER “Weather doesn’t matter as much as widely believed,” said Jane Beiles, who specializes in interiors and architectural photography and has been a regular contributor to The New York Times since 2013. “A good photographer will figure out the best shots in any conditions. For example, when I have posted the same pool house on social media, I had just as much positive feedback to the rainy-day image as I did to the classic twilight shot or a sunny daylight shot,” she said.
But too much sun can pose a challenge. “On sunny days, every flaw — whether it be a wall, the floor, every speck of dust — gets more pronounced with harsher light, and is less flattering to the apartment,” said Michael Weinstein, the founder of MW Studio and a real estate photographer for more than 20 years who works with major New York City brokerage firms like Halstead Property and the Corcoran Group. “Oftentimes, I prefer to shoot on cloudy days,” he added, noting that “soft light tends to make the room feel more calm and soothing, and imperfections are less pronounced.”
BRING IN A FRESH EYE “Too often, the worn carpet or scuffs on the walls are invisible to home sellers, because these become part of the house and they don’t even see them anymore,” said Ms. Dazzo of Designed to Appeal, who recommends bringing “an honest friend” in for a walk-through. “I once did a staging consultation and asked the homeowner whether the blue plastic on the foyer ceiling was covering something. She said, ‘What blue plastic?’”
It turned out that the homeowner had covered up a fire alarm years earlier, because it went off every time she cooked. “She came into her home every day and stopped seeing it,” said Ms. Dazzo, who noticed it right away. “How could you not?” she added. “It’s blue!”
We've been fantasizing about it for months, and finally warmer weather has arrived. We know: You just want to fire up the grill and start working on your tan—we do, too! But before you can kick back in your hammock (or in your pool on your giant patriotic bald eagle float, if that's your thing), there are a few tasks you’ll need to tackle.
And you can bet they're all outside.
“The old adage ‘April showers bring May flowers’ rings true and makes May prime time for landscaping and lawn care in most of the country," says Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the National Association of Landscape Professionals.
But it goes beyond gardening and yard work. Now's the last chance to take care of all that winter wear and tear and transform your home's outdoor space into something worthy of the host with the most.
The good news? We're here to make it as quick and easy on you as possible—with our handy checklist of home maintenance chores, you can knock them out and get back to that pool float ASAP. We’ve provided tips for doing each task faster and easier—or with the help of a pro.
Don't let your brick and stone walkways fall through the cracks.
Task: Freezing temperatures can wreak havoc on hardscape surfaces made of loose (unmortared) brick, stone, and concrete paving materials. Check to see if frost heave and erosion have caused pavers to shift, rise, or sink. You’ll want to fix any unevenness for safety as well as aesthetic reasons.
Shortcuts: Repair hardscape surfaces using a wheelbarrow filled with playground sand and a sturdy trowel. Pry up displaced pavers, smooth and even out the bed with fresh sand, and replace the paver.
Call in the pros: This is a good job for a handyman. Expect to pay $30 to $60 an hour, depending on your location.
Task: After a wet spring, your lawn might be looking quite rich and lush. Since Mother Nature did the hard work, you can sit back and relax, right? Not so fast. Grass loves nutrients, so now's the time to add high-nitrogen fertilizer to help suppress weeds and keep your lawn looking great all summer.
Shortcuts: A push-powered broadcast spreader makes quick work of fertilizing your lawn. You’ll find spreaders suitable for an average suburban lawn for $35 to $100. If you have a cooking compost pile, you can substitute home-grown compost for commercial fertilizers.
Call in the pros: A lawn care company will spray on a chemical fertilizer for about $40 an application.
Task: Cycles of cold and wet weather cause wood to move, twist, and warp. That can make garden gates fall out of alignment, and can cause fence pickets to loosen or fall off. Check for signs of loose fencing, and fix sagging gates.
Shortcuts: A cordless battery-powered nail gun ($250) makes quick work of refastening pickets and fence supports. Use only galvanized nails for outdoor work. Use a power drill fitted with a screw tip or a hex driver to remove or tighten loose screws and bolts in gates.
Call in the pros: This is a good job for a handyman. You’ll pay $30 to $60 an hour, depending on your location.
You'll be mulch happier in the long run if you care for your gardens now.
Task: Prevent evaporation and help keep weeds in check by insulating planting beds with 2 to 4 inches of mulch.
Shortcuts: Set aside a mulching day, and have a landscaping service deliver bulk mulch and dump it where you can get to it easily (like your driveway). Plan on 1 cubic yard of mulch to cover 100 square feet, with mulch 3 inches deep.
Call in the pros: A landscaping service will put in the mulch, but it'll cost you—to the tune of $250 to $560 for 500 square feet, depending on your location.
Task: As your yard takes shape and your gardens come into full bloom, you’ll want to see everything clearly. It's time to wash away winter’s dirt and grime from your windows.
Shortcuts: Have a partner clean the outside while you do the inside of the same window. That way, you can identify which side of the glass contains lingering streaks and smudges, and get rid of them on the spot. Plus, who wants to clean alone?
Call in the pros: In addition to cleaning the glass, a professional window washer will remove and clean screens and remove accumulated dirt from sliding tracks for $2 to $7 per window.
It's time to get all up in your grill's grill.
Task: Nobody wants a rack of ribs with last year's grill gunk on them. Before you fire up the ol' barbecue, make sure your grill is clean and that any gas hoses and connections are secure.
Shortcuts: No matter what kind of grill you have, invest in a grill brush or other coarse cleaning brush, remove the grates and metal plates beneath them, and soak them in hot soapy water for five to 10 minutes. Then scrub hard. To rinse, spray them with the hose.
Cover the area where the grates usually go with foil, and use a stiff grill brush to clean grime from the hood and inside walls. Use a cleaner specifically designed for your grill's surface (e.g., stainless steel, porcelain, or cast iron), and reassemble all parts.
Call in the pros: There are professional grill cleaners who will take your barbecue from slimy to spotless, but it will cost you the equivalent of a few porterhouse steaks. This Denver cleaning service offers quotes from $185 to $279.
Task: Now's your last chance to double-check your air-conditioning unit and make sure it's in good working order before the mercury starts to rise.
Shortcuts: Hook up a garden hose and spray the outside of the condenser to remove any dust that's settled on the unit and connections. (Yes, dust can affect your AC's effectiveness.) Don’t use a brush, and be careful if pressure washing—you could damage or bend the fins. Make sure to change the filter, too.
Call in the pros: Having a pro service your AC system costs $100 to $250 and includes cleaning the condenser and lubricating the fan motor.
The five senses are an incredible thing. Smell and taste are two of the most powerful tools at evoking emotion. But sight must not be forgotten. After all, what you see can have an incredible impact on how you feel. Even more so, color can inevitably influence how you feel on an everyday basis without you ever really noticing. Which is exactly why incorporating the most appropriate hues into your own home can have a profound effect on how you feel (or would like to feel) while completing a specific task.
“Color can have a tremendously powerful influence on people’s lives,” explains Sally Augustin, PhD, an environmental/design psychologist and the principal at Design With Science. “I see a lot of people who are scared of it, who create one white space after another.” But, she says, you shouldn’t be afraid of the rainbow. In fact, you should embrace it. “Color is a fantastic tool to utilize in interior design. You can create a mood in a room instantly with the use of color, especially when utilizing it on your walls and in your accessories.” Here, Augustin details the best hues to add to the most common rooms in your home and the feelings they evoke.
It’s no secret that certain colors influence you to eat a little more—and a little less. In fact, a 2012 study out of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab found study participants, who had a low contrast in color between their food and plates—for example, mashed potatoes on a white plate— served themselves 30 percent more food than those whose plates and food were high contrast in color. That same study found that the color of one’s placemat and tablecloth had the same effect. The same can be said for wall color, says Augustin. “Warm colors, generally, do seem to make us feel a little hungrier. They get our appetites flowing,” she says. “You can use this information in one of two ways: if you have children who never eat and weight isn’t an issue for you or your partner, you might want to make spaces like your kitchen or breakfast nook a warm color like an orange or brown. On the other hand, if someone tends to overeat, you would want to avoid those warm colors and opt for cooler hues such as blues and grays.”
The bedroom is meant for sleep and relaxation and, as such, says Augustin, you want to avoid colors that will excite you such as a color in the red family. “Because of our cultural associations, we view blue as a calming and relaxing color,” she says; however, if a pale blue is not what you’re looking for, Augustin recommends a “color that’s not very saturated but relatively bright. A sage green with lots of white or a dusty blue with lots of white mixed into it are perfect for the bedroom.”
Photography provided by ©iStockphoto.com/Userab9fe5bb_275.
Pantone is the authority on color. In fact, the color-system company’s forecasted color of the year is so closely watched that industries beyond interior design—think fashion—look to it as one of the biggest trend-setting announcements of the year. Here’s a look at the last five years of colors that Pantone has deemed the “it” hue of the year.
Get ready to see plenty of this fern-colored hue as the current color of the year dominates trends.
2016: Rose Quartz and Serenity
Pantone says they chose this pink-and-blue duo to evoke feelings of warmth and tranquility.
The company notes that this warm wine color is ideal in a kitchen or dining room.
2014: Radiant Orchid
This shade of purple has fuchsia and pink undertones. The company suggests pairing it with deeper hunter greens, turquoise, teal, or even light yellows.
This jewel-tone green hue is ideal in accessories such as dinnerware, or in an entryway or foyer, dining room, home office or library, or a powder room.
If you have a home office, you know that it’s oftentimes a place to brainstorm ideas. Research shows that green can actually get your creative juices flowing. Like the bedroom, Augustin recommends “a sage green that isn’t very saturated in color to achieve that ideal balance that enhances creativity without over-stimulating you.”
Need a burst of energy to crank out that workout? Go red! “Seeing the color red gives you a burst of strength,” explains Augustin. “If you have a place in your home where you work out, paint the wall you’re looking at red to have that burst of strength while you exercise.”
7 Cute Yet Cringeworthy Ways Your Pets Can Wreck a Home Sale
You love your pets, but the people checking out your house in the hope of buying it may not share your ardor. The mere sight of these furry creatures can tip the scales, for some buyers, against making an offer on your property at all. Perhaps you only want animal lovers to inherit your home—but if you’re a come-one-come-all kind of home seller, you may want to try to avoid the seven deadly home-sale saboteurs that are listed below. We’ll show you how.
Just when you think you’ve got it all vacuumed up, you spot drifts of fur under tables and stuck to upholstery.
“A lightly dampened sponge is perfect for removing pet hair on furniture and fabric,” says Danessa Itaya, vice president of Maid Right, a home-cleaning service. Alternatively, you can try lint rollers and squeegees, adds Nancy Jones, an interior decorator with Showhomes, a home-staging company.
If your feline likes to cough up grass clippings in the hall or pee under the basement workbench, a potential buyer will likely note the discoloration and either wince or run (or perhaps wince, then run). Carpet and floor stains need to be fixed before any showings. If you can swing it, replace the rug, or at least roll it up and stash it in the garage. Hire a flooring professional to remove tougher stains, either by sanding and re-staining a wood floor or dealing them with a commercial-grade cleanser.
You’re so accustomed to—and in love with—your pet that you no longer realize she’s given your home a certain scent … but rest assured, visitors will pick up on it as soon as they set foot through your front door. In some cases, before they set foot through the door. The remedy? Good ol’ baking soda, which is safe and effective, says Itaya.
“You can sprinkle it in your cat’s litter box as a deodorizer or put a small amount in a spray bottle with water to apply to your pet’s favorite hiding spots,” she says. And if the smells haven’t been absorbed by the carpet padding, they can generally be lifted out with a pet enzyme removal product or Resolve, notes Jones. “There are also many candles and air fresheners that can eliminate odors without overpowering,” she says.
Cats may have some leeway to nap on the bed, but the very presence of a dog on the couch or bed may scare some people off, often for good reason. When you’re getting ready for a showing, be sure your pooch is out of the bedrooms and either housed in his crate or shipped off to a friend or doggy day care for the afternoon. Then make sure there’s no telltale pet hair left behind.
Puppies will chew on just about anything, including chair legs, baseboards, and other wooden features in your home. If you see significant furniture damage, remove the pieces and store them during your next open house. But smaller marks can be hidden with a couple of DIY solutions.
“Felt-tip markers can make a world of difference on scratched-up furniture—find one that matches the color of the wood, and you’ll quickly transform dings so they’re less noticeable,” says Itaya. Jones likes Old English furniture polish to clean up pet scratches.
“It now comes in both light and dark versions and covers most surface marks,” she reports. To remove a deep scratch, use wood putty to fill in the grooves and follow up with a stain to match.
You won’t impress a potential buyer if he or she has to dodge your pet’s toys in order to get inside the door. Remove these hazards by gathering up her chew things and placing them in a nice-looking basket or bin. You should also hang up your pup’s tangled pile of leashes, fold and straighten her outfits and jackets if she has any, and stash pet beds until the showing is over.
Bowls and litter box
Water dishes and pet food bowls are easily knocked over, so be sure to dump them out and load them in the dishwasher before an open house begins. Of course, you’ll scoop out the cat box so that it’s as clean as possible, but it’s better to get rid of it entirely. Not only does it smell, but it’s just plain gross to catch sight of that gravelly stuff.
“If you must have a litter box around, I usually suggest the clumping kind [of litter] because it’s easier to clean,” Jones recommends. And if your visitors are coming with pets, be sure to spray neutralizers on the areas where they migrate, to prevent dogs or cats from marking their territory.
Want your place to look like those home design website images you drool over? Of course you do! Problem is, your budget may not match your design aspirations. Fear not! Making your home look high-end isn’t always about spending tons of cash.
It’s a matter of taking the time and care to arrange things in an eye-pleasing way—and making small, inexpensive updates that have a big impact. In other words, it’s about being sneaky.
Here are a few tricks to pull if you want to add the illusion of luxury.
Nothing says “this home ain’t worth much” like tons of disjointed knickknacks, piles of books, and other miscellaneous items that should be tossed or stored.
No, you don’t need to go full Marie Kondo, but going through your rooms and getting rid of anything that doesn’t mesh with your personal style is a great first step toward transforming your home from average to exceptional.
Walk through each room of your home and edit items. Make some tough decisions. Sure, you love your grandma’s vintage Chinese vase, but does it really jibe with your West Elm look? It might be time to store it or let it live in another room with similar family heirlooms.
Next step: Tackle any stuff that piles up—toys (if you have kids), shoes by the door, mail on the dining table. At the very least, find places for your stuff to live in a more organized way; an upgraded closet with beautifully sorted nooks and crannies looks luxurious. (Pro tip: We love Pottery Barn’s build-your-own pieces.)
You may not have time for intensive cleaning on a weekly basis, but a once- or twice-yearly deep clean is an easy way to make your home look far more luxurious. After all, you rarely see a mansion with dirty baseboards.
Go through your home and search for overlooked areas that have become dirty and downright gross. You’ll want to pay special attention to the grouting, says designer Young Huh.
“Having old tile cleaned and regrouted makes a huge difference in having your bathroom look sparkly and fresh,” she says. Best of all: The process is simple and inexpensive.
Get sparkly new floors–minus the refinishing. Try steam cleaning wood floors for an immediate lift to the finish.
3. Add—or rearrange—lighting
Designers use lighting to define spaces and separate rooms, making a small space grand.
Think of your living room—where you might have a reading nook, sofas and chairs for company, and a television. Visually differentiate among the areas by using different kinds of lighting: Add a table lamp beside your cozy reading chair and sconces behind your couch for conversation. Consider a dimmer for overhead lights. Architects and lighting designers swear by them. Installing is a relatively simple DIY.
Bonus cheapskate tip: Use warm-colored lightbulbs, Huh says. Cool tones are a “sure-fire way to make your home look down-market,” she says. Daylight bulbs work best for reading nooks.
4. Upgrade your hardware
Don’t have a kitchen renovation in the budget? You can get a similar effect for much less by swapping out old, dated hardware for new.
Tired of your brushed-steel drawer pulls? Try gold, bronze, or even crystal—or make an adventure of it and scour your local thrift store for vintage hardware that screams your style.
It’s not hard to find attractive options in any decor style for next to nothing (a drawer pull, for instance, might start at just $3 or less). For hard-to-find designs, search etsy.
Changing the countertop and faucets is another change that can make your home look much pricier, Huh says. If you have the budget, exchange your dated sink accessories for something fresh that matches your brand-new hardware.
There’s no simpler way to make an old home feel new than painting.
“This is the most important part,” Huh says. “Repaint and choose beautiful colors for an instant makeover.”
You can’t go wrong with classy neutrals. Minimalists might love a bright white combined with a bold accent wall; DIY decorators might enjoy a tasteful, sandy tan tone, which pairs well with any number of woods.
Paint isn’t just for your walls: Add some color to your front door, window trims, or even the floor, if you’re brave (hardwood can look amazing when painted white).
6. Focus on the devil in the (decor) details
Does your home feel a little meh—and you’re not sure how to change it? Try vignettes—combine decor items (e.g., vases, frames, and objets) that add visual interest to an otherwise bland area—perhaps a shelf or console table.
Organize your vignette around a theme so that the decor items are unified and tell a visual story. Go around your house and cull items you love that need a new home (see tip No. 1 on decluttering).
For example, take that silver tray you’ve been wanting a use for, add a glass tumbler with a fresh flower, that postcard your parents sent from Thailand, and a white bowl filled with colorful candy. Voilà: You now have a magazine-worthy vignette!
Another way to go: Grouping together multiples of the same object (e.g., glass vases in the same color) is an instant update. Decorators often use odd numbers because they are said to be more appealing.
Before you know it, you’ll be posting pics of your gorgeous home.
Jamie Wiebe writes about home design and real estate for realtor.com. She has previously written for House Beautiful, Elle Decor, Real Simple, Veranda, and more.