TRICKS OF THE TRADE
Meet the show house designers who know how to add value to your home
When you prepare a house for sale, a few tweaks can make all the difference. Three top interiors specialists reveal their show house secrets to Liadan Hynes
WHILE it may seem like a sellers’ market — so short a supply is there of second hand stock at the moment — it pays (quite literally) to get your house into as good a shape as possible before you put it on the market. Having saved for a deposit, buyers in today’s market have little extra money with which to embark on extensive renovations or overhauls, so as much as possible, they want a house that is turnkey ready.
Most buyers, says Brian Dempsey of DNG, buy a home, not a house. They buy into a lifestyle. Spending an additional €5,000, he believes, can increase the value of your property by up to €50,000. From a seller’s point of view, this means creating a neutral, spacious, uncluttered look in your home before opening it up for viewings.
What do the experts say? We asked three show house veterans, Helen Turkington, Arlene McIntyre, and Nicki Cloonan, what their priorities are when it comes to fitting out a show house. Where is your money best spent if you do redecorate? And what are the insider tips in putting on the gloss?
1 DUMP IT Decluttering is the top tip of any professional. Make like Marie Kondo and get rid of all that built-up ‘stuff ’ to create a sense of space — a priority for potential buyers. “If you’re trying to make your house look like a show house, clearing it out is number one,” says Arlene McIntyre, of Ventura Design. A cluttered house will also imply a lack of storage space. “You have to allow the person to think ‘there’s room for my stuff here’,” points out Nicki Cloonan of CODA Architects. “So a major declutter is in order.”
2 STAY NEUTRAL “For us in designing a show house, every person walking in should be able to envisage themselves living there,” explains interior stylist Helen Turkington. “That’s why we keep it all quite neutral, everything very simple. Whether you’re 65 or 35, it fits in with everybody.” Style your possessions; photo frames in groups rather than spread all over the place, books stacked neatly, bedrooms free of all but some non-personal items. “Style your house the way you want to dress,” says Helen. “If you buy something really flamboyant, you’ll wear it once or twice. But a really elegant black dress or pair of trousers you’ll wear time and time again.”
3 LESS IS MORE Interior designers will often under-furnish a show house in order to increase that sense of space. “I would definitely be looking at removing pieces of furniture in a living room, where people might want to see a nice flow in a room,” explains Arlene. “In the real world people might have a sofa and two armchairs. But in a show house you want to make the space feel open for hundreds of people that might be walking through; it’s very important to create space in all of the rooms of the house.”
“Your furniture grouping is one of the most important things,” says Helen Turkington. “People tend to think they should have everything pushed against a wall. Actually that can look a bit like a waiting room. You should always pull your furniture a little bit into the room; make it feel much more cosy and homely. If you pull the furniture in towards the coffee table, you can actually walk around the room.” She also recommends dressing the coffee table with books, flowers or a candle. 4 CLEAN AND CLEAR Bathrooms are one of the first rooms people check out. You want to achieve a fresh, organised, neutral space. “Something that could appeal to anybody who might view your home,” explains Arlene. Clear out all personal items. Keep a fresh set of towels used only for viewings. Consider storage, is it sufficient? Buyers are looking to see if there is space for their belongings.
5 PLAY SAFE WITH COLOUR When a designer approaches the decor of a show house, their main aim is to appeal to as many tastes as possible. This is typically achieved by sticking to a relatively neutral palette. “You are trying to appeal to so many different audiences that are looking at it. My advice would be to keep the tones very neutral and perhaps accessorise with pops of colour,” recommends Arlene.
“I would use a very neutral background, and introduce accent colours with accessories, cushions, ceramics, throws, furniture,” agrees Cloonan, who in her own work with show houses uses books and magazines, “things real people have”, to personalise a space, and allow viewers to see the place as a home they might live in. If you are considering repainting, Cloonan recommends uniting the rooms with different shades of one colour rather than going for starkly different colours in each room.
Feature walls are an absolute no-no, says Turkington, explaining that they make the wall appear to come towards you and so shrink the space.
6 SET THE MOOD Arlene suggests changing all lampshades to something neutral. Adding mirrors to brighten up dark corners is another tip. Every room should have three types of lighting, explains Nicki; general lighting that you switch on to get into the room, ambient or mood lighting, for example, table lamps that cast a nice glow over a section of a room, and task lighting which could be spotlights over the food preparation area in the kitchen, or bathroom mirror, to ensure you can do whatever task is at hand in that room. For viewings, she recommends switching on mood lighting.
7 LINGERING SCENT Brewing coffee and baking bread before prospective buyers arrive are old chestnuts. Be very careful about introducing scent into your home during viewings. “One person might love a scent and another might hate it,” points out Arlene. “It’s very personal. If you are going for a scent, keep it fresh, something citrus.”
8 FOCUS ON THE KITCHEN The kitchen is a key room for potential buyers, so put in some time getting it right. You want to create the idea for potential buyers that this could be their future home. “You could style your kitchen to look like you’re having somebody over for tea or coffee,” says Arlene. “So it looks very inviting and welcoming, and people can envision themselves in that moment, in that kitchen.” Clear as much as possible off the counter — it will give the impression of more space.
See the room as if you are entering it for the firs time. Are windows obstructed by clutter or blinds? “People like to be able to have a clear view of the garden when they’re coming into show homes,” explains Arlene. “If possible ensure the purchaser can see right through out to the garden. Perhaps invest in some new curtains. If you have Venetian blinds have them right up so there are clear views.”
Helen Turkington recommends painting the kitchen cabinets and putting in new handles if your units are particularly dated looking. It’s a cheap and effective alternative that gives a lot of bang for its buck.
9 MAKE AN ENTRANCE Clear out the hall, invest in a new outdoor lamp, plant pots for each side of the front door. “Treat your hallway like a room,” says Arlene McIntyre. “I think a lot of people forget that hallways are rooms. They’re not dumping grounds.” Your aim, says Cloonan, is to create something that has an instantly homely feel, and leaves the impression that one could move in straight away.
10 REFRESH TEXTILES, TOWELS AND BED LINEN Replace all tea towels, and put fresh, ironed duvet covers on the bed for viewings. Plump pillows on beds, and cushions on sofas. You’d be amazed at how it improves the look of a room. If carpets, especially those on the stairs, are particularly tatty, this may be an area to consider investing in before putting the house on the market. Soft furnishings are a relatively inexpensive way to update the colour scheme of the house; throws, cushions, even a new rug. Check what colours are on-trend and, if it isn’t a colour clash, add accessories in those shades.
11 WHERE TO SPEND MONEY If you’re going to redecorate, you will get most value from redoing the bathroom; hiring a skip to aid with decluttering; retiling the bathroom or kitchen, or updating kitchen units as per tip 8 above. Repaint only to freshen the place up, but not if you’re trying to hide damp patches or serious wear and tear.
Classic style in a Helen Turkington sitting room at Knockrabo
Show house experts, from left, Nicki Cloonan, Helen Turkington and Arlene McIntyre know exactly what buyers want to see in a potential home.
Neutral palette with a splash of colour by Arlene McIntyre at Stepaside
Light effects by Arlene McIntyre at Ardelia
Welcoming kitchen by Arlene McIntyre at Marina Village
Organised space by Nicki Cloonan at Maydenhayes
Hotel perfect by Helen Turkington at Knockrabo
Clutter free at Arlene McIntyre’s Castleknock development