It was like being invited inside an HGTV show. The project: Staging a house, all 6,256 square feet of it, a wine country estate, sitting amidst its vineyards and surrounded by 360-degree views of Napa Valley. It would go on the market for $7,985,000.
To show it to its best advantage, the owners had turned to Melina Bartlett, who has staged homes throughout Napa and beyond for the past three years.
She had one week to complete the project.
The house was huge. On the ground floor, the entrance was flanked on one side by a sitting area with a fireplace, and on the other by a dining room with an adjacent wine cellar. These defined spaces open to a space comprising a huge kitchen and family-room area with massive built-in shelves and cabinets, and windows making the most of the views, mountains to the east, mountains to the west and vineyards all around.
At one end of the house was the master bedroom suite that included an office and an impressive bathroom/closet area (into which this writer’s entire house might fit) and office. At the other end was a bedroom with a bathroom, an entertainment room with two levels for viewing, and, not to be forgotten, the laundry room.
Upstairs were two more en suite bedrooms, a second office and an exercise room.
The staging would extend to the outdoor space, the covered patio adjacent to the great room, the pool area and second kitchen.
It was entirely empty.
This is not the best way to attract potential buyers, Bartlett explained. “Most people have trouble visualizing a space. We need to stage it so that they see how they could live in it but keep it neutral enough for a range of buyers.”
Bartlett is often sought out by Realtors and has found herself staging as many as 17 houses throughout Napa Valley at a time. To manage this, she maintains a warehouse full of items to draw upon, from sofas and dining room tables to bedding and towels to works of art and flower arrangements.
As trucks were delivering furniture to the three-car garage, inside painters were completing the first step of Bartlett’s staging plan: painting the Tuscan yellow walls an appealing neutral white background throughout the house.
Bartlett had also asked the owners to replace light fixtures in the kitchen, breakfast area, including one over the a dining nook that opened up the view, and another over the kitchen island, to replace distracting pendants.
Now, she said, was decision time, as she figured out what to bring into the enormous spaces.
“One thing you have to keep in mind,” she said, “is that most people are going to see the property first on the internet. The photographs they see there will capture someone’s interest — or not.”
Two days later, the house looked like moving day: boxes were everywhere. Bartlett had brought in beds for each of the four bedrooms, and outdoor furniture had appeared: bar chairs around the outdoor kitchen, a group of patio sofas and chairs around a low table beneath the pergola. Another small round table and chairs had appeared in a garden area at the front of the house, and an over-sized lantern was sitting by the front door.
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It still looked pretty empty. This was the point where, on HGTV the dramatic host would be asking: Can she finish it on time?
Bartlett was considering the best placement of furniture for the open space at the heart of the house: how to maximize the views from floor-to-ceiling windows, but keep an easy flow to the kitchen. Oversize built-in bookshelves of dark wood also presented a bit of a challenge. “I’d paint them white but the owners didn’t agree,” she said. “So instead, I’ll lighten them up by putting white things on them.”
How did she learn the art of staging?
“My father says I am self-taught,” Bartlett said. “But I might have learned some things from him.” The father in question is the well-known Napa Valley interior designer, Thomas Bartlett.
Staging, is an entirely different process than creating a personal space to satisfy a clients’ personal tastes and wishes, Bartlett stressed.
The cost can vary widely for a staging project, she said. “Sometimes it’s a question of editing what the homeowner has and adding a few pieces. Sometimes, like this one, it’s entirely furnishing a house. Sometimes, someone will tell me oh it’s just a little house and doesn’t need much, and then I get there and it’s 5,000 square feet that needs everything. I don’t do any proposals or editing without seeing the property.”
“I always tell people, “The investment of staging in your home is far less than a price reduction on your home.”
One week later, the project was completed on schedule, despite the power outages. It was a house transformed. The dining room had a table, chairs, a sideboard, and wine in the cellar. The white coverings on the dining room chairs were repeated in the furniture both in the great room and the smaller sitting space. The beds were made up with luxurious linens, and white towels were hung in all five bathrooms. The media room was newly lit by a playful row of fixtures that recalled Art Deco movie house sconces, and it was furnished with over-sized swiveling chairs. Even the laundry room had new details, green plants and fluffy, folded towels.
Throughout the house, accessories tended to be black and white — white candles, and sprays of orchids, black candle-holders with white candles and art work in black frames, Vivid splashes of green added freshness, and wood accents, like the top on coffee table, echoed the beams and hardwood floors.
Bartlett had added details judiciously: books in the offices, a white basket of fruit in the kitchen, a pair of wine glasses and a bottle of wine in the living room.
The overall effect was of understated elegance, and that, Bartlett said, was what she was going for.
“You could go overboard in a space this large and fill it with a lot of things,” Bartlett said, “but I’d rather keep it simple. It gives you the sense of this space. Like the dining room, for example. There’s a large table and eight chairs but still there is a lot of room.”
She was ready for the photographer Frank Deras, who would be capturing the project for viewers on the internet.
“It’s not anything I ever thought I would get into,” said Bartlett as she surveyed her project with satisfaction. “I absolutely love it.”
Melina Bartlett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (707)738-7107. More information on the property is available through Golden Gate Sotheby’s in Napa.