Behind the Curtain

Lisa Snider talks with Ojai’s Lila Francese about sexy design, psychological warfare, and the science of home staging

By Lisa Snider

Photo by Ojai Real Estate Imaging

Drapes hung at the ceiling line accentuate this room’s height, while an antique Parisian mirror adds a sophisticated “punch.”


ila 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. 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./p<>

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 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. I’m staging 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 potential buyers], a little echo goes a long way.

How would you characterize your home staging style?
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—uncluttered, with light colors to make your soul feel lifted.

Do you have a design mantra?
“Less stuff equals more space, which equals more life”; less is more. We don’t need as much as we think we need. [After de-cluttering], clients often ask, “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 too small. It can range from $300 to $6,000—that was for an $8 million house; I had to work on it 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, stored her stuff, and 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.

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 brands of paint to it as well, and they really have perfect hues of almost every color.

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.

Designed by Darwin McCredie, this Ojai residence is listed at $799,000. Contact Char Michaels (805.620.2438) or Sharon McClung (805.637.4467) at Keller Williams Realty. Plant staging by Ojai Plant Works;, 805.259. 8423.

Clean-lined furniture emphasizes the home’s contemporary style. Mirrors create the illusion of more space, while fresh white orchids from Ojai Plant Works add panache.

Light spring colors and a ‘50s-era Danish bench converted into a coffee table work with a blue mohair sectional and museum-quality art to lend the interior an air of sophistication.

Plush down pillows invite potential buyers into the master bedroom, one of the key areas of focus for home stagers.


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