Friday, December 23, 2011

Sparkly and Shiny Bits for Crows and Magpies

As much I love using natural greenery, this time of year my inner crow and magpie tendencies take over for a while, and I indulge in holiday sparkle. Over the years I've acquired enough stuff, mostly hand-me-downs and souvenirs from my travels, plus odd bits and cheap thrills from junk shops and after Christmas sales, to fill the house and add considerable cheer. These "creations" would make me shudder at other times, but in the winter I enjoy the way they light up dark corners and add energy to otherwise dull spots, like a hallway. Some things are especially meaningful as a way to be connected with my absent family. At the moment there are a couple of Aunt Joanne's mismatched candlesticks on the coffee table and my grandmother's rhinestone snowflake pins on a cushion on the bed, to accompany the crow and magpie-favored sparkly and shiny bits scattered here and there...

Roger goes along with all this in his usual good-natured way, and sometime even says that he likes my crazy ideas. This time of year some of what works for me is admittedly over the top, but after the Christmas and New Year celebrations are over, I'm equally happy, even relieved, to put it all away.

Here are some pictures for those of you who also appreciate a little seasonal excess. As I looked at them I wished I'd done a better job with the arrangements, but I was in a hurry to transition from Autumn to Winter, and things got jammed in vases, instead of being artfully arranged. Oh well... In person the individual shortcomings aren't as apparent, and it's possible to enjoy the cumulative effect.

Great Room Mantle
Dining Room

Master Bath 1
Master Bath 2

A Dark Corner

Family Room
Great Room Coffee Table
Family Room
Great Room

Downstairs Hallway

Kitchen  Island with Baci in the Window
Powder Room
My grandmother's snowflakes

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Two One-Eyed Cats - A Christmas Story

Four years ago Roger and I decided that our Christmas present to each other would be to adopt a kitten from All Creatures Great and Small, a controversial local shelter that was in the process of closing. When we went there we found Baci, a very tiny feral ginger kitten, who came home and joined the family, to our continuing delight.

I also met Milky and Caramel, two one-eyed brothers who, as I was told, had injured each other during a fight. They both were so charming and affectionate that I didn’t see how the story could possibly be true, but there they were with their rakish pirate charm, and little chance of being adopted together, which was required because of their strong bond of devotion.

With so many healthy single animals there urgently needing homes, the chance of someone taking on two special needs cats was very small. Something had to be done to help them, so I told the staff that I would give a $100 adoption bonus to the person who would take them both. Someone on the staff of All Creatures told the Times-News about the bonus, and I was asked to come back to the shelter for an interview and picture with the boys. About a week after the story ran, no one had claimed the reward so I called All Creatures and was told that the kittens had been adopted, but they couldn’t be located for the routine follow-up the Human Society was conducting. Fearing Milky and Caramel were dead, or worse, I blamed myself for calling attention to them, and for the next few months, whenever I thought about them I was deeply sad.

One day I went to the Post Office and found a letter with a return address that said only, “Milky and Carmel”. They were alive! I was so stunned and relieved I burst into tears in the middle of the parking lot. When I pulled myself together and opened the envelope, I found a note from the boys saying how happy they were, and several pictures to prove it. A few more times since then I’ve had cards and pictures of “Kumal and Sangha”, as they now are called, but the kind and still anonymous person who took them in has never asked for the bonus money.

Today I received a Christmas card that said, “My how we’ve grown! Four years old, still together and enjoying life. Haven’t forgotten your kindness…” Inside the card was a fuzzy picture of them looking very well-fed and content, the latest chapter in their remarkable story which I’m happy to share with you. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Green Bouquets

One of the rewards for all our hard work in the garden is the ability to create green bouquets in winter by clipping the evergreen shrubs here and there. Most of the year these conifers and broad leaf evergreens like pyrancatha, loropetalum, nandina, privet and various members of the holly family sit quietly in the background, but now their true value comes to light.

These unassuming plants are really stars in waiting who offer beautiful colors ranging from purples, reds and golds to numerous shades of green. They come in a variety of forms from narrow and upright to bushy or trailing, and many also have berries in shades of red, yellow, white and orange.  Clippings from our evergreens provided all I needed to create long-lasting, simple arrangements for the mantle in the family room, and they were free...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Take A Picture

One of my tried and true design tools is a photograph of the project I've just completed, whether it's a room, a Christmas tree or a flower arrangement. Try as I do to achieve balance, when I've worked to create something I don't see it objectively right away because I'm too close to it. Taking a picture gives me a chance to see my work with a fresh viewpoint and recognize what works, and what doesn't.

Take this Christmas tree, for example. I thought I'd done a reasonably good job of spacing the ornaments, but when I saw the picture I noticed there were clusters and gaps, and the tree needed a little tweaking.

Now I grant you that I may be a bit fussier about these things than most, but I always want to improve and I appreciate tools, like a picture, that help me make my work better. Try it for yourself and see what I mean.

By Sandy LeRoy

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Winter Decor - Needlepoint Cushions

The Christmas Rose
Over the weekend I began the transition from Autumn to Winter decor by switching out the Elizabeth Bradley needlepoint cushions. These are the ones I use to help create a warm holiday atmosphere here, even when it's cold and dreary outside.

My Elizabeth Bradley collection was years in the making. I often worked on a cushion while watching tv at night, and when I traveled, needlepoint helped pass the time on long flights.
Until now I'd never photographed the cushions, but I'm glad to start creating a record of them that I can visit any time, as each seasonal group is stored away nine months of the year.

Geometric with Ivy Border

Leaves and Berries
A Wreath of Oak Leaves

Christmas Wreath


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Where I Found My Right Brain

Years ago I had the good fortune to study color and decorative painting with one of the top professionals in the field, Joanne C. Day of the Day Studio-Workshop in San Francisco. I had recently left a career in insurance to start a business with my new husband Roger, who had just completed five years training in a union apprenticeship program and gotten his painting contractor's license. I knew I could contribute my business skills to our new company, but I also wanted to supplement Roger's painting expertise by learning about design and color so that we could offer services to our clients far beyond what they were used to, and set ourselves apart from the competition.

I researched the options for professional training and discovered that one of the best schools in the country, the Day Studio-Workshop, was a short ride away across the Golden Gate Bridge, and I wasted no time enrolling. Thrilled and inspired by what I was learning, I took one class after another, including Stone and Marble, Glazing and Gilding, Historical and Complex Stenciling, Color, etc. I also studied Casein and Color with one of Joanne's colleagues, Gale Laurence. Those classes changed the way I see the world, and changed my life because I went from using mostly my left brain (logical, analytical, objective) to discovering that I also had a right brain (intuitive, thoughtful, subjective), and beginning to develop it. We learned about asymmetrical balance, the "oval eye track", how to be inspired by shapes in the natural world, how to mix paints and work with color, and much, much more.

This part of my history came to mind the other day because I happened to think of some of the phrases Joanne frequently used, especially in the Stone and Marble class, where she taught us how to layer paints and translucent glazes to create incredibly beautiful and realistic-looking faux marbles and semi-precious stones, as well as many other special finishes. As we practiced Joanne would invoke our right brains by saying things like, "Avoid geometry and the alphabet.", "Create continental-shaped drifts."or "Contrast is the enemy.".

I know these expressions don't make sense out of context, but for example, the left side of our brain would take over when we began to learn how to create veining patterns, and they often looked like "x's" and "v's" (the dreaded alphabet). Eventually we were able to relax and use our right brain, letting inspiration from samples of veins in real marble guide our work. The comment about contrast had to do with making our faux marble samples with subtle contrast and depth like the real thing so that they looked as it they'd been created in layers over millions of years, instead like globs of paint sitting on top of a sample board.

At the time I had no idea of the long-term impact the training would have, but today I intuitively use the right side of my brain that I discovered at the Day Studio in just about every aspect of my personal and business life.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Exterior Painting - Color and Details Matter

When you're painting the outside of your house, one of the decisions to make is what to accent and what to hide. It's a decision every bit as important as choosing the right colors to flatter the permanent elements in the house, such as the roof or stonework. Here's a look at one of our projects that will show you what I mean.

On the right you see a house where just about everything had been accented.The list includes all, and I do mean all, the banding boards, the shingles in the peaks of the garage, the garage doors, the downspouts and many small details. Instead of looking unified and harmonious, the house appears to be an assemblage of bits and pieces, not only because of all the accenting, but also because of the high contrast between the dark gray wall color and the white trim.

Here's the house after Roger painted it a medium taupe and accenting was limited to the door and window casings, certain secondary doors and the fascias. He also painted the foundation, the deck posts and the lattice under the front porch in the wall color so they would like more like part of the structure, and less like distracting (or overlooked) details.

In the entryway every banding board originally was accented, as were the mounting boards for the light fixtures and the tiny strips of molding in the corners between the sections of wall, detracting from the beauty of the porch and front door.

When Roger painted the house, he made all these details "disappear" by painting them in the wall color. In addition he refinished the front door, the bead board ceiling and the porch.

Along with the peaks in the gables, the large garage doors were originally painted white. They dominated the area and unfortunately were the first things that greeted visitors. The front door is down a path to the right.

Today the garage doors, peaks, banding boards and downspouts are painted the wall color. An arbor has been added at the beginning of the path to welcome visitors and direct them to the front door. It's the first step in renovating the landscaping in this area, with more planting to come.

As you can see, choosing attractive colors is just the first step. Equally important is making the correct decisions about what to accent and what to hide so that the result flatters the architecture of the house and looks cohesive . When you hire us to paint the exterior of your house, a color consultation and recommendations about how to treat the details are a free part of our service.

Working together, Roger and I made a significant difference in the curb appeal and value of this house, and we can do the same for yours. To schedule an estimate, call me at 828-685-0560.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Paint Costing More? Blame Titanium Dioxide.

If you've done any painting lately, you'll have noticed that the cost of paint keeps increasing. The reasons include supply and demand and higher fuel costs, but another, even more significant reason is the increased cost of raw materials, specifically titanium dioxide.

Titanium dioxide is the most widely used white powder pigment, added to paints because of its brightness and very high refractive index. It doesn't take much titanium dioxide to create an opaque white coating that 's resistant to discoloration under ultraviolet light in exposed conditions. Many colors start as a white paint to which other colorants are added, so titanium dioxide plays an important role, whether or not you're aware of its presence. Using this high quality material adds to the cost of paint, but it's a worthwhile investment. Budget grade paints are known to use a mixture of titanium dioxide with other inert pigments, but they lack the brilliance and tinting strength of professional grade color, and they don't perform as well.

Dow Chemical is developing a new polymer that's expected to reduce titanium dioxide use in paint by 10-20%, but it isn't here yet. In the meantime, keep in mind that with paint you get what you pay for. Whether you're painting it yourself or hiring a professional, it's wise to use the best paint you can afford to make the work last as long as possible."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What Color Should You Paint the Garage Door?

Because of its size, a garage door painted in an accent color commands a disproportionate amount of attention and, depending on its location, can detract from the entryway which should be the focal point of the front of your house. After all, the garage door is only the entrance to where your cars live, it’s not where you welcome visitors. 

The solution is simple: paint your garage door** the same color as the walls of your house, and choose a special accent color with a dash of pizzazz for your front door, a color that’s used nowhere else.  You’ll be amazed at the difference this simple change will make.

**Some garage doors can't be painted. Read the warranty.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Paint-Primer Hybrids-Do They Work?

The new paint/primer hybrids being marketed today are very popular with consumers who hope to reduce the work of painting, but do these products perform as advertised? The answer is perhaps they will in some situations, and definitely not in others. In spite of the marketing hype, these hybrids aren’t always the right choice, so it pays to get expert advice about your specific project.  

The primer you need depends on: 
  • What you’re priming (wood, drywall, plastic or metal)
  • Whether you’re working inside or outside
  • What you want to accomplish. 
The primer to use on a rusted metal railing outdoors is different from the primer to use on a water-stained ceiling.

The right primer will:
  • Improve adhesion, or the ability of the finish coat of paint to stick to the surface. 
  • Fill imperfections to create a smooth surface and make the finish coat more attractive and durable.
  • Marry two different types of paint, such when you want to use a latex paint over a surface previously painted in an oil base paint. 
  • Enable you to make a significant color change. (For maximum coverage, tint the primer to the color of the finish paint.) 
  • Reduce absorbtion of moisture to protect the item being painted, especially wood.
  • Retard the development of rust.
  • Block tannin, grease, wax crayon, water damage, rust or smoke stains, etc. from bleeding through the finish paint.
  • Retard odors from nicotine, fire damage, etc. 
  • Evenly seal the drywall paper and taped areas so that paints with a sheen will have a more uniform, attractive appearance.
Finish paints are designed to be:
  • Attractive
  • Durable
  • Cleanable to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the type of paint and the sheen
Paints aren’t formulated to do the same work as primers, and when you combine the two, it’s arguable that the resulting hybrid is a less effective version of both. In addition, because primers cost considerably less than finish paints, using the right primer followed by a good quality finish paint will reduce the overall cost of your project, and give you more attractive, long-lasting results. If all this has your head spinning, remember that one of the many benefits of hiring a professional is product knowledge. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Your Baseboards and Crown Molding - Should They Disappear?

When painting the inside of your house, you not only have to choose attractive wall and trim colors, you have to decide where to put them. One important decision is whether or not the baseboards, crown molding and other details should be accented.

I firmly believe that you should accent only the details that are:
  • attractive 
  • suitable to the design of the house, and
  • in the proper scale with the room
Many of today's houses have narrow, utilitarian baseboards and crown molding that don't deserve special attention, but people go on automatic pilot and paint them in the trim color, usually a white. This creates awkward, skimpy white lines at the floor and ceiling that draw the eye, and when the wall is a rich color, the high contrast makes their shortcomings even more obvious.

Crown Molding Enhanced With Paint
Don't worry, I'm not suggesting that you replace your trim! There are two simple solutions. You can either make it disappear, or you can enhance it.

  • To make trim "disappear", paint it in the wall color so it becomes texture. The ceilings will look taller and the room more unified and spacious. 
  • To enhance the trim, use masking tape and trim paint to redefine it, as was done in the above example from one of our projects. Notice how small the wood section of the crown is, and how much larger and more attractive it looks after Roger enlarged and painted it in a golden bronze metallic I chose to complement the blue walls, gold ceiling and the mirror frame. 
If you want to enhance your trim, you don't have to have a fancy look and metallic paint. The technique works just as well in less formal rooms.

Our two hour color and detailing consultation ($225, plus travel charges in some areas) includes suggestions on how to make the most of the details of your house. If you hire us to do the painting, the consultation is free as part of our services. To schedule a consultation or a painting estimate, call me at 828-692-4355.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Where Are Your Window Treatments?

Roger started a new interior painting project today, and last week I visited the homeowners to help them choose colors, a free service for our clients. While I was there the conversation drifted, as it often does, to other design issues. 

One of my recommendations was that they bring more light into the house by re-hanging their window treatments at the top of the wall, instead of at the top of the window, and that the panels come to the outside edge of the window casing, instead of hanging over the window. If you have a valence over blinds, the bottom of the valence should hide the stack - but that's all. Moving the window treatments will make the room look larger and brighter, and it won't cost our clients a cent. Look at the impact of this simple change. The windows are the same size, but the one on the right looks much larger and has a lot more pizzazz.

Between the window treatment rehab and the spiffy new paint colors, this lovely house will look even better, and be a more cheerful, enjoyable place to live.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

This Isn't the Time To Relax!

If your house has been on the market for a while, you're probably feeling a little battle fatigue from having to keep it in showing condition at all times, especially if you haven't had many showings. With the beginning of Fall a couple of weeks away, you may be tempted to relax and let things slide, but that would be a mistake.

From the "Smart Selling" column archives, here are some ideas on how to prepare for the Fall buyers who'll be coming to visit.  :)

Selling Strategies For Fall

If your house hasn't generated the interest you'd hoped for, it isn't too late. Get a staging consultation for an objective analysis and and recommendations, with emphasis on solutions that won't break the bank. Call me for an appointment at 828-685-0560.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Renting Furniture to Stage Your House - Is It Money Well Spent?

Yesterday I had a call from a local REALTOR asking if I had furniture to rent. She had a client with a vacant house, and she thought that adding furniture would make it more appealing. I told her that although I had a few things, I didn't think that renting furniture was a good idea, so I usually recommend against it. (I think she was surprised to hear me say that).

In my experience, the furniture that's available for rental is often unsuitable for a particular house because of its quality, size, color, design or condition. If you stage a house with odds bits of furniture here and there, or with the wrong furniture, it looks a lot worse than no furniture. Having some furniture definitely is not better than   having none.

Renting furniture is also expensive. In addition to rental fees, sellers have to pay to have the furniture transported and installed, and to have the rooms staged. They probably will also have to pay one or more months rental in advance, and may not be able to pro-rate the fees if the house sells during the rental term. Then they have to pay to have the furniture removed. This money is usually collected in advance too. In addition, if the furniture is damaged or stolen, sellers are responsible for repairs or replacement. You can see how the costs add up, which is why some stagers are really in the furniture rental business. They love the months of passive income, and who can blame them!

My preference is for sellers to use their budget to do things that add value, create more appeal (both in pictures and in person) and convey with the house, such as painting. The key is to use the right colors, because attractive colors will add a "wow" factor and help to furnish a vacant house, along with a few well-chosen accessories in the right places.

Instead of renting furniture, sellers should invest in a consultation with a professional stager who can recommend smart solutions that pay off, such as new paint colors, and upgrades of flooring, lighting and other fixtures that would enhance the value of the house and make it more marketable. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Choosing Exterior Paint Colors? Use This Questionnaire.

 Many people find it difficult to choose paint colors because they don't know how to begin or what factors they should consider. To help guide you to a color plan that will make your house look its best, I've developed the following questionnaire.  


  •  How large is the site?
               The larger the site, the more color latitude you have. 
  •   What is the relationship of the house to the site?
                 The more secluded the site, the more color latitude you have.
  •   How close and visible are your neighbors?
                Do their color decisions affect yours?
  •    If your neighbors are visible, what colors have they used?  
                Your house should look harmonious, but different.
  •   What is the distance from the house to the curb?
                Is the front yard very deep or shallow? Color can adjust how it looks.
  •   Does your subdivision, neighborhood association or historic district have strict rules about color?  
                New colors may require formal approval.


  •  What is the architectural style of the house?
               Rustic, contemporary, colonial, bungalow, ranch, etc.
  •   Does the architecture suggest a color palette?
                 •   Regional colors (tropical, urban, mountains, desert)
                 •   Historic colors (Colonial, Craftsman, Victorian, etc.)
  •    Does the house have pleasing portions?
                You may be able  to make adjustments  by how and where color is used,  or by adding trim or  other decoration.
  •   Are there different siding materials?
                Don’t automatically accent them. The result could look busy or choppy.
  •   Are there horizontal or vertical banding boards?
                Banding boards are usually utilitarian, not decorative.   If they're accented, the house often looks busy and chopped up.
  •   What are the dominant colors in the permanent elements, such as the roof, stonework, walkways, etc.?
                Are the colors warm (red, orange, yellow), cool (blue, green purple) or neutral (black or white)? 
  •   Is the entryway a naturally attractive focal point, or is the garage door the first thing you see?        
               Paint the garage door with the wall color to minimize its impact.
                (All doors aren’t paintable. Check the warranty first.)
  •   Is the entryway recessed and dark, even in daylight, or shallow and  bright?
               If it's dark, consider a light or vibrant color for the front door.
  •   Is the front door painted or stained?
                •    If the door can be painted, choose a unique color for pizzazz, and to create a focal point. Coordinate with the other colors and the permanent elements.
                •    If the door is stained and in need of refinishing, coordinate the stain color with the paint color(s) and the permanent elements. 
  •   Is there a separate storm or screen door?
               •    Is the style compatible with the front door? Storm and screen doors often hide the features of the front door, or clash with it.
               •    Can the storm or screen door be painted the front door color? 
  •  Are any doors and windows pre-finished, with parts that are inaccessible, or can they be painted?
             If they can’t be painted, consider them permanent elements and incorporate the color in your overall plan.
  •  Are there attractive, paintable details to highlight, such as windows, doors,  shutters or trim?
             Don’t automatically accent every detail!  Consider its role and the effect on the house as a whole. Banding boards are a perfect example of a detail that usually shouldn't be accented, particularly in high contrast colors.
  •  Is the foundation visible?
              Paint the foundation in the wall color, or a coordinated one of similar value, to create unity with the house. 
  •  Are functional items visible, such as downspouts, cable or utility boxes, wiring?
              Make them “disappear” by painting them in the wall color.      
  •  What colors dominate the permanent landscaping?
               Consider the color(s) of foliage, flowers, fruit, and bark. Are the colors warm (yellow, orange, red), or cool (blue, green, violet) or neutral (white)? Paint and landscaping colors that clash is a common problem.


  •   What colors do you like?
                Light, dark, neutrals, historic… 
  •   What overall impression do you want to create?
               Elegant, modern, rustic, cottage, grand, sophisticated, dramatic, subtle …


  • Pick colors that work with the permanent elements.
  • Plan how to make corrections with color where needed.
  • Choose the right things to accent. 
  • Camouflage the rest.
Details Add Up and Make A Difference…

Getting Started

  • Answer the questions in the survey.
  •  Determine what will be accented and what will be painted in the wall color.
  •  Decide what paint you want to use, then gather brochures to get ideas for color combinations. Buy the very best paint you can afford.
  • Choose two or three candidates for the wall color and buy the smallest amount of paint you can to create sample boards. View the samples under varying conditions and choose a color.
  •  Be sure you really do like the color by painting a small wall before buying all the paint you'll need.
  •  Choose candidates for the trim and front door colors. Create sample boards.  For trim, cut the board into strips and place around a door or window to show how the color would look in proportion to the wall.
  •  Analyze the effect of the wall and trim colors, then choose the front door color.
Choose paint colors that work well together and flatter the permanent elements in your house and landscaping, in all seasons.
©2011 Sandy LeRoy

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Painting Vinyl Siding

Last week I did a staging consultation for a couple whose house has been on the market for six months, to no avail. The house has vinyl siding with a great deal of dirt and mildew, and the paint on the trim and shutters is in poor condition, so cleaning and painting were among my top recommendations. The sellers had been afraid to pressure-wash for fear of damaging the windows, and they thought the vinyl siding couldn't be painted.

I understand their concerns about pressure-washing because all too often the person doing it is an amateur who uses too much pressure and causes damage. The answer is to use the right cleaner (and the right person) for the job, and to let the cleaner, not high pressure, do the work. As for being unable to paint vinyl siding, it's a common misconception.

Vinyl siding can be painted, if it's done the right way. Vinyl is a non-porous material that expands with heat and can buckle, making paint adhesion and elasticity key concerns. Look at your siding to see if it's already buckling because applying paint could aggravate the problem. Read the warranty on your siding if you're tempted to paint newer vinyl, just for a color change. You could void it.

Here are some other things you need to know:

  • Before you paint, thoroughly clean the siding to remove dirt, mold and any chalking caused by the deterioration of the vinyl.
  • Use a high quality latex paint with a blend of urethane and acrylic resins. It's easy to apply, has superior adhesion and is more likely to withstand the movement of the vinyl as temperatures change. 
  • Talk with the experts at your local paint store and ask them to recommend a product. Describe the condition of your house to determine if priming is needed. Some companies such as Sherwin Williams have a special line of paints designed for use on vinyl siding.
  • Avoid dark colors. The rule of thumb is for the new color to be no darker than the existing one. White vinyl can be painted, if you pick a light color and use the appropriate product.
  • For the paint to cure properly, don't apply it in direct sunlight, or on a hot day, or when rain threatens!    
The marketing hype is that vinyl siding will last forever and be virtually maintenance-free, but unfortunately vinyl does deteriorate and the color will fade over time. If your vinyl siding isn't looking its best, consider painting it, but do your homework first.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Don't Ask (Or Expect) Your REALTOR To Give Staging Advice

I'm usually frustrated when I look at pictures of houses for sale because 99% of the time the pictures are terrible. Either the house is so filled with stuff that you can't see its features, or it's so poorly presented, bland or dated that it has no appeal. Either the REALTORs didn't understand the importance of cosmetic appeal and communicate this to their sellers, or the parties tried to "stage" the house themselves after watching a few shows on HGTV. The seller is the big loser because those bad pictures will cost them money and time.

Don't ask or expect your REALTOR to give staging advice. Here's why:

  • Very few REALTORs have in-depth training and experience in the application of design principles to real estate marketing. At best some have taken a two day staging class, or they've read staging articles on the internet. It's not nearly enough! 
  • Even if the REALTOR has some training, most are reluctant to tell sellers all the things they really need to hear for fear of offending them, straining the relationship or even losing their business.
Just as you wouldn't expect your REALTOR to do the pre-listing home inspection, you shouldn't expect her to give staging advice. There's a lot more to it than getting rid of clutter.

An unstaged or poorly staged house results in bad pictures and little buyer interest. Don't let that happen to you. Before you list, have a consultation with a professional home stager with the training and experience to transform your home into a competitive product that will photograph well and motivate buyers to visit in person. Contrary to what you might think, staging is not expensive. A two hour informal staging consultation with me is only $225, and I look at everything on the inside and outside of your property, starting at the curb. Compare that to the typical, first price reduction when your house hasn't sold. 

Let REALTORs concentrate on the things they do best, the things you really need them for. The list doesn't include staging!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Vision Henderson County Alumni Breakfast

This morning a group of graduates from the Vision Henderson County leadership program got together for breakfast at Mike's on Main. It was a pleasure to see people whose paths don't cross mine nearly often enough, along with people I see more often, but seldom get a chance to talk with beyond a quick hello.

Jeff Miller introduced McCray Benson from the Community Foundation whose inspiring message about working together to make our community a better place left me with much to think about. He left each of us with something else: a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that I've tucked it in my wallet as a reminder.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Steve Jobs' Recent Commencement Speech at Stanford

"I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it.. No big deal.
Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: "We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?" They said: "Of course." My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it.. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn't know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down - that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple's current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.

This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope its the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960's, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off.
Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much."

Thursday, April 7, 2011

"How To Create Curb Appeal"

When I do a staging consultation there are lots of questions about how to make the front of the house more attractive, so I thought it would be a good idea to develop a course on the essentials of curb appeal.

My areas of expertise don't cover the entire topic, so I'm very fortunate that two noted local experts, landscape architect Ed Lastein and Mickey Lively of Garden Gate Nursery have agreed to work with me. Our new course, "How To Create Curb Appeal", is coming to Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock beginning May 19, 2011, and to Isothermal Community College in Columbus beginning June 9, 2011. The material is being designed for people who are building, renovating or selling - in short, just about everybody, whether you plan to do most or all of the work yourself, or hire professionals.

I hope those of you who come to the class find it as enjoyable and informative as I'm finding the process of working with Ed and Mickey to put it together.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Thank You, Polk County!

Thank you so much for helping to make the first session of "How To Be A Smart Home Seller" such a success. On the way home, Mary and I couldn't stop talking about the support and warm welcome we received.

Special thanks are due to:

Kate Barkschat, Director of the Polk Campus of Isothermal Community College and Shane Ramsey for expert technical support.

Kathy Toomey, President of the Tryon/Polk County Board of REALTORs

Janet Sciacca, Executive Director of the Carolina Foothills Chamber of Commerce

Samantha Hurst, Editor of the Tryon Daily Bulletin

Most of all we appreciate the participants, a lively crowd of home sellers, REALTORs and business people. Thank you for your great comments and questions. This course is for you, so keep 'em coming!

The phrase, "it takes a village", was brought home to us yesterday. Thank you, everyone.

Mary and I look forward to next Wednesday when we present the second session, "How To Prepare Your House For Sale".

Friday, March 11, 2011

Refrigerator Carton Spray Booth

When our new refrigerator was delivered we decided to keep the large carton it came in to use as a spray booth, and it's come in handy already.

Our laundry room had one of those terrible flush mounted "breast" light fixtures that you see everywhere, and it was really getting to me. I found an inexpensive tin light fixture that had a simple, attractive design, and Roger used the spray booth to transform it into wrought iron, with a 99 cent can of flat black spray paint. He just suspended a board with a cup hook across the top of the carton and hung the light while he painted it. The spray booth will also come in handy when he refurbishes our outdoor furniture and accessories, especially if he wants to paint them when it's too wet or cold to do it outside.

When we're not using the spray booth, we collapse it flat to store along a wall in the garage, behind the old refrigerator which now lives there in disgrace for causing our huge water damage loss last Fall.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Enhancing Architectural Details With Paint

Crown Molding Enhanced With Paint
Problem: The crown molding in our dining room was too skimpy for the nine foot ceilings.

Solution: Instead of replacing the crown, we used paint to make it look larger and to add a little pizazz. The walls are a dusky blue and the ceiling is antique gold, so Roger painted the crown and a one inch strip just below it in a matte antique gold metallic paint. It worked beautifully and the cost was negligible.

Paint is an easy, inexpensive way to correct the proportions of certain architectural details, like skimpy crown molding. Try it!