Lila Francese of Ojai Home has been designing and flipping homes for 13 years. Five years ago she and her husband moved to Ojai from Los Angeles to plant roots and raise their daughter (now 9). They decided to forgo the flipping, which was no longer a family-friendly endeavor since it meant moving every year or two, and focus instead on home staging. With a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, Francese keeps current on what buyers want by talking with realtors, shopping (a lot) and following the trends as reported by the National Association of Realtors.
What exactly is home staging, and why do it?
Home staging accentuates the best aspects of a home, creating flow, beauty and a story buyers will visually learn through marketing pictures or a live showing. Home staging diminishes a home's flaws, and buyers are able to imagine how they will enjoy the fulfilling lifestyle they will have in the home. The whole point of staging is a fast sale at a higher price.
How is staging different than interior decorating?
It’s different from decorating because it’s not personalized. (With staging), I’m doing two to three homes a week, whereas with decorating I might take six months. For example, if I were decorating a home, I would put a rug in the entrance area. But if I were staging, I wouldn’t. (For buyers), a little echo goes a long way!
You’ve called your signature style “getting Lila-fied.” What does that mean and what style works best in home staging?
We do it based on the science of staging, based on what 90 percent of buyers like according to the National Association of Realtors, like white towels and spring colors. Women (or the more feminine side of a relationship) usually make the final decision, so the staging design tends to be more feminine. I want life to look easy in the houses I’m in – decluttered and light colors to make your soul feel lifted.
Do you have a design manta?
“Less stuff equals more space, which equals more life.” Less is more. We don’t need as much as we think we need. (After decluttering), clients often tell me, “Why didn’t we do this 10 years ago?”
How emotional is the process?
Everyone’s process is different. Some call it psychological warfare. I worked with a woman who lived in her home for 50 years and lost her husband. There was a lot of crying and a lot of hugging. There’s a whole process that’s cathartic.
The homes you stage range in price from $300,000 to $3 million. How do you feel about tackling homes with a lower price tag?
Those are fun to do because we can do them quickly. The smaller homes sell faster and above asking price. In this price range, it’s going to look like you’re in a Pottery Barn store. When we can, we try to work with what clients own. We did a $400,000 bungalow for just $600, plus her handyman re-hung the drapes. It sold right away, but the home next door had been on the market for eight weeks.
How does your pricing work?
Sometimes we’re full service, or I can do a verbal staging, where (the clients) do all the work and I’ll just tell them what to do. No job is too big or two small. It can range from $300 to $6,000 – that was for an $8 million house. I had to work on that house for two months.
What difference does it make?
We know what works to seduce buyers into the home. I had one lady in Ojai who had agents walk through (the home she was selling) and they told her she couldn’t get the price she wanted. We packed her up, we stored her stuff, and we re-did the driveway. She spent $6,000 with us. We had the agents come back, and they set the price $120,000 higher, and it sold.
How have design trends changed?
Effective staging evolves with industry demands. People used to just want pretty, but now they want a little bit sexy. I like to envision who the buyer might be. We used a blue mohair sofa recently and a mid-century ottoman as a coffee table.
Talk to me about shopping.
Home furnishing shopping is my hobby. It’s my family’s hobby – my nine-year-old can quote furniture prices! One of our favorite things to do is go to resale stores in Palm Desert. Palm Desert is particularly good at stocking brand new looking high end furniture – a result I am told from all the model home sales in the area.
White walls, yes or no?
Yes – when selling a home. White walls make rooms feel bright, open and clean. Always leave ceilings white – colored ceilings shorten the height of a room. For colored rooms, I love the color wheel Restoration Hardware sells for $10. You can match other brand paint to it as well, and they really have perfect hues of almost every color.
You’ve said always choose shiny chrome instead of brushed nickel to make spaces look brighter, bigger and more expensive. What other DIY design tips do you have for our readers?
My favorite tip: I think everyone hangs their drapes wrong! I believe that people should “White House hang” from the ceiling (yes, just like the home on Pennsylvania Avenue). If you hang your drapes at 94 inches, your room will double in size. You can find 94-inch drapes at Target or Pottery Barn.
Don’t have a throw pillow for 20 years. Go to T.J. Max or Home Goods and get a down-filled fresh pillow for your sofa. You can do that for your bed, too.
White orchids are timeless and beautiful and work anywhere. You can buy one at Trader Joe’s for $9.00. Put it in your bathroom with white towels and white soap, and your bathroom looks amazing.
Don’t be scared of white. White lightens a room. White makes a house feel fresh and clean. You can use bleach on white, but you can’t on colors. White sheets and towels are great because you can wash them in hot water.
Make beds looks like Macy’s department store beds.
Put a French Laundry cookbook in the kitchen.
If a hallway is too long, put a great vase or art piece at the end of the hall.
The same rules that apply to fashion apply to home staging, like having a Gap T-shirt and a Prada handbag. Buy an inexpensive couch from IKEA, and then buy expensive pillows – you only need two!
Cost Plus rugs are thick and plush and inexpensive and look just as good in a million dollar home as in a $300,000 home.
What will become of that sexy blue mohair sofa?
It is part of our permanent inventory collection. Who knows? It may retire in my living room some day.
For more, visit OjaiHome.com.