Building Your Personal Style (Part II)

In the blog post last Thursday, I started going over how to find your personal style. The first step is to recognize that everyone has a distinctive brand. What makes you, you. Like everyone recognizes the Starbucks red cups during the holidays, or knowing it is Nike when they see the swoosh. 

It takes take the time to learn who you are and build your style. During your exploration, you may make mistakes, and that's perfectly okay. Here are my four top tips on developing your personal style:

Building Your Personal Style (Part II) | Staged4more Home Staging & Design

1. Find Inspirations

I believe beauty and inspirations are around us everywhere, even in the mundane, day-to-day moments. (In fact, there is a blog named Happy Mundane and it is one of my favorite blogs.)

There are TONS of information out there nowadays that are easily accessible, both online and offline. Take Pinterest, for example, there are 50 billion pins as of 3/31/2015, surely you can find something that's of interest to you. (source)

I sound like a completely broken record here, but I'm an avid Pinterest user. In additions to using Pinterest as a source of inspirations, I also use it as a tool to create internal mood boards for projects. I use my boards to communicate with clients. I also use boards to show styling examples on my blogs, like my boards on entry ways, living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens and different home styles, like Bohemian, Modern, Traditional & Transitional.

Building Your Personal Style (Part II) | Staged4more Home Staging & Design

I also read and collect a lot of shelter magazines, especially foreign ones. I especially love House & Home (Canadian), Elle Decor UK, Living etc. (UK). There are also many free online magazines, like Rue Magazine, Est Magazine and tons of interior blogs like Decor8, designlovefest, and Simply Grove, just to name a few.

2. Finding Your Core

So now you've found tons of information out there, how do you know what you like? Be picky and choosy. Most big brands go through a similar process. They brainstorm a list of keywords that describe their brand personality. Then, they distil everything down to the essential few words that represent their brands. For example, Anthropologie is all about the found experiences. That's why the store is merchandised like a Parisian flea market because they want the customers feel like they are hunting for treasures in unexpected places.

You can do the same with yourself. Go through all the images that you have collected, start eliminating things you don't feel that resonate with you 100%. Once you have accumulated a large pool of images (like 100), with a visual tool like Evernote or Pinterest, it is easy to start seeing similarities. See if you can find any common keywords that describe your core.

Here is an example, my Styling Inspirations board:

Building Your Personal Style | Staged4more Home Staging & Design

What makes Pinterest a great tool is that the board layouts everything visually, making it easy to see everything. This is the board where I collect inspirations for my personal test shoots, ideas I want to play with. You can tell that I'm interested in geometric shapes, muted palettes with pops of colors, simple layouts with play on negative spaces.

3. Learn from the Experts

Most stylists I know started by assisting senior stylists in their industry. No one is a "stylist" right out of the gate. We learn by observing the best doing what they do best. They always make everything look so easy, but it took years of practices and doing to master the skills. That is is why I find internships and apprenticeship so valuable. 

Me and on my first photo shoot, organizing props. I was very lucky to work on a shoot for O Magazine for my very first photo shoot. Photo credit: John Shin.

Me and on my first photo shoot, organizing props. I was very lucky to work on a shoot for O Magazine for my very first photo shoot. Photo credit: John Shin.

When I started working on photo shoots, I started to learn seeing the images through the camera lens, how to compose photographs and using negative spaces. I'm still learning every day. It does not stop. The more you see, the more you can hone your skills.

You can learn by reading blogs, magazines, and books. You can also learn from professionals by taking classes. No matter how you decide to learn, be hungry for information and opportunities to practice.

4. Practice, Practice, Practice

Photo credit: Nicole Eliason

Photo credit: Nicole Eliason

Similarly to seeing, the more you do, the better you will get. 

I am a bit embarrassed to see my early projects. Professional stylists didn't become who they are because they are design geniuses or born with that natural talents. In my experiences, sure, there needs to be a baseline of talent, but practices make artistry. A lot of creatives have an innate instinct. Over the years, they learn how to refine and deliver the results that they want. Like Malcolm Gladwell had said in his book Outlier, it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery. Why do you think professional athletes still put in hours and hours of practices every day? Michael Phelps did not become Michael Phelps by sitting at home on the couch eating bon bons

Start small, and work your way up.

Was this post helpful? Do you have a strong personal style? Do you have any tips & tricks to add?

Finding Your Personal Style (Part I)

Have you wondered why well-dressed people always seem to have well-designed homes as well? It is not an accident.

I come across this very often, where the homeowners have nice things. They are well traveled, cultured and collect stuff. But the way they display their beloved collections can come across as clutter. This way of living is totally fine if they are okay with it. 

Finding Your Personal Style (Part I) | Staged4more Home Staging & Design

If not, the best solution to fix this problem is learning how to refine & edit themselves and be very clear about their personal brand. This personal brand comes through in every single way: their personal style, the way they live and how they address the world.

I had said this in the blogs and on the podcasts as well: a very big part of styling is editing. 

Anyone can lump many things together, but to display, to create and to build an environment takes editing, playing, and refining. You then repeat this process over and over again until you produce a satisfying result.

I once attended a business lecture given by Chip Conley, the founder of Joie de Vivre Hotels (JDV Hotels). Joie de Vivre Hotels is an eclectic, design-driven collection of boutique hotels with signature restaurants and day spas. (source) When he talked about the branding and conception of his hotel, he said something that genuinely struck me: he created each hotel's persona by centering around the potential visitors' favorite magazine.

This is a very clever business trick. Like I talked about in the #30DayHomeStaging Challenge, before you can sell the house, you need to determine who the potential buyers are. Corporations have been doing this for years. The magazine industry is especially so. A successful magazine needs to have a very strong visual identity to attract the right readers. They hone into their specific niche to deliver the right content for their targeted demographics. For example, Southern Homes vs. Dwell. Once the readership is up, ad revenues are up, therefore, more profits for the publication. Magazines invest a great deal in creating the right types of images for their target demographics.

Just like a hotel, magazine, or whatever, people have their personal brands too. Branding is not just for products. Think of celebrities like Lady Gaga or Katy Perry. They are both pop stars but have very distinctly different brand. It is the same with you.

You have a brand. You have a reputation, the way people feel when they think of you, or how people talk about you, that's your brand. Your personality and brand come through in everything you do. When we meet people who are powerful, they have a very strong personal brand that emits energy and attraction, making people feel drawn to them. 

There are not that many differences between styling to live and staging to sell. The way we live should reflect our brands. Similarly, the way we sell the home should reflect the potential buyers' brand. 

Here are three of JDV's hotels in San Francisco. As you can see, one city, three distinctive styling & design. Three types of different audiences.

Photos courtesy of JDV Hotel: Phoenix Hotel, Hotel Carlton, Galleria Park Hotel.

Photos courtesy of JDV Hotel: Phoenix Hotel, Hotel Carlton, Galleria Park Hotel.

In the blog post next Tuesday, I will talk about how to find and define your personal brand & style.

What did you think about this post? Do you feel that you have a distinctive personal brand?

Try This Unusual Styling Trick at Home: Off-Centering Your Art

People who know me know that I like quirky little details. Ultimately, I think that's how real living is. It is the water rings on your table top. It's the mismatched dishes in your cupboards. It is not the perfectly placed, choreographed shots on Instagram. It's the asymmetrical aspects of our lives.

Try This Unusual Styling Trick at Home: Off-Centering Your Art | Staged4more Home Staging & Design

It sounds completely counter-intuitive, not centering the artwork? We are taught to line things up and make perfect, even spaces in between each artwork arrangement and creating the perfect Martha Stewart gallery wall. There are more than one ways to display art, and asymmetry can be a great technique in creating balance and beauty in the room.

Try This Unusual Styling Trick at Home: Off-Centering Your Art | Staged4more Home Staging & Design

I love this surprising placement of the art next to the window ledge. 

Try This Unusual Styling Trick at Home: Off-Centering Your Art | Staged4more Home Staging & Design
Try This Unusual Styling Trick at Home: Off-Centering Your Art | Staged4more Home Staging & Design

Art doesn't have to come in frames either. An everyday object, like the cutting board, can be used for display. I love this sweet vignette in the corner of this kitchen. The muted wood finish juxtaposes the black and white geometric tiles.

Try This Unusual Styling Trick at Home: Off-Centering Your Art | Staged4more Home Staging & Design

When I am staging, I like to incorporate this trick as well to make the home feel more live-in and stylized. 

What's your take on this? Are you pro-off-centering or anti-off-centering?

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How Much Should A New Home Stager Charge?

Hi guys! Starting today, Fridays are now all about business. Every other Friday, I’ll publish a new post on running a creative business. I’m kicking the new business column off today with a reader question.

How Much Should A New Home Stager Charge? | #BizChatFridays | Staged4more Home Staging & Design
Hello Cindy!
I'm very grateful to have found your website. I'm very new at staging. A month ago I did some light staging for a friend of a friend who is a broker. It was a 3 bedroom/2ba vacant condo. I had so much fun. ( it was a complimentary job). Yesterday she called to refer me to a friend broker of hers for a 4 br/ 2 ba soon to be vacated home double the price of previous mentioned condo. I think this one will entail more staging as far as the bigger furnitures I didn't do on the first one. I'm excited but feeling some fears if I can really do this. I also haven't purchased any inventory (outside of a few from first condo) so this will be the big jump financially to purchase the furniture and use movers, question is, as a beginner I'm not sure what I should charge and how flexible I should be, and how much investment is wise at beginning as I don't want to waste money I don't have.
I really like the quality and elegance of your website and the philosophy you share on it seems like it's how I would like to approach as well. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you so much for your time!

Hi Kathryn!

Congratulations on completing your first job! It is a very exciting time in your business. Here are a few suggestion I’d make:

1. Don’t EVER work for free anymore

You can't command the price you want if you are giving it away all for free. The issue with working for free is that, if you are going to charge a rate you want, it will be a significant price increase the next time you do the project for the same client. The other problem is that you had purchased a few inventory for the first project, plus you worked for free, it is not a sustainable business model.

Down the line, people will call you to see if you will stage for free for business opportunity, exposure, charity, blah, blah, blah. DON’T, even when HGTV came calling. I do do projects with a pay cut if I think it’s interesting or I can boost my portfolio. If there is an unique project, like when I was approached to design & install holiday decoration for Union Square Ice Rink, I’d take a pay cut. But I NEVER work for free.

2. Buying inventory is incredibly scary, but it is necessary.

I was very scared too when I first started and not sure if I should buy inventory. My mom (who was a dentist and had her own practice) was very decisive about it. She advised me that inventory is my tool to generate business and I have to do it if this is the type of business I want.

I’m going to pass the same advice onto you.

3. When you invest in inventory, invest wisely.

Ok, so here is the thing: what kind of stager do you want to be? I used to want to stage these giant, grand projects all the time in this town Hillsborough, where homes start at $1.5M and above. In fact, I had it on my vision board. But when I started getting booked for those Hillsborough projects, I realized that I actually don’t enjoy doing larger projects.

My warehouse is set up for storing smaller furniture for starter home market, where I can have faster turn around, buy smaller and less pieces and do more projects. So I got clear with how I want my business to be. I now only do projects within a certain square footage. My business boomed consequently after I chose my niche. I'm no longer wasting my time on appointments where they are not a good fit for me and have little chances to get.

When I decided on my niche, it also allowed me to be very focused on what type of inventory I buy, which subsequently lowered the cost of business.

4. DON’T ever get into significant debt without a building a sound business first

Debt is healthy for any business, like your credit card bills is a type of debt. However, I will never advise you to get into unnecessary debt.

I still remember this very clearly. A stager who was going out of business called me and wanted to see if I was interested in buying her inventory. She had racked up $40,000 in credit card bills and had done zero jobs so far. I didn’t buy any inventory until I got the deposit payment for my first job, then I went shopping.

5. Decide what kind of stager you want to be

Usually as a new stager, you are still trying to figure it all out and deciding what’s working for you. But you should still have a baseline on what is the minimum you want to make per project and what your professional policies are. Then depending on the general feedback, tweak them as you go.

As a new stager, you will be charging on the lower end of the spectrum. Once you started building up your client base, then you can adjust the pricing accordingly. Regardless what you will charge for your hourly rate, bill for everything and everyone that is involved in your business. For example, if your friend helped you out on the job for free, you still want to bill for assistants' time in your fee.

Let's say you didn't. When you are hiring assistants who are billing you for the day, you will have to put that in your pricing. Then that will be a significant increase for your clients, which may not go over too well. 

You should also try to figure out what kind of business model you want. There are stagers who have a warehouse and inventory, like mine. There are stagers who have bigger business operations, who own trucks, have a whole crew and $million worth of inventory. There are also stagers who only do redesign projects or consultations. So decide what kind of stager you want to be. This will help you determine how much to invest in the business.

When you carry inventory, you will need storage and movers. There is no escaping of this. If you don’t want to deal with that, look into rental or only doing consultations or redesign work where you won’t need to carry inventory (at least big pieces anyway).

Hope this helps, and good luck!!



What did you think of my advices? Do you have any more to add? Please share them in the Comment section below!


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Avoid the #1 Mistake When Staging Your Home for Sale

This is the most common mistake that I see home owners make when they stage their homes for sale: forgetting the differences between interior design and home staging.

Interior design is all about you, how you like to live, how you like to express yourself through your style and how you want to design the space to tailor to your needs. You can do whatever you like. There are basically no rules. If you want to live with a lot of plants and make your room look like a jungle, that's totally a-okay. But when it comes to showing the homes to the public, you can't do that since potential buyers won't be able to see how big the room is.

When it comes to home staging, it is all about the buyers. It doesn't matter that you don't like off-white paint colors, it is not for you. It doesn't matter that you like to use your spare bedroom as a gym, it is now going to convert back to a bedroom, because that's how buyers buy. 

I've put together a few key differences as a reminder for you here.

By putting your potential buyers in mind, it will help you when you are staging your home for sale. A little extra effort into your home staging game plan, you have the potential to reach a greater audience, show well, and get offers.

If you would like to print this out as a reminder, download the PDF here.

Did I forget any? Leave them in the Comment below.

Did you like this post? This is exactly the stuff we teach in the free #30DayHomeStaging Challenge.

4 Tested Questions for Staging Every Room (plus a bonus room ready check list!)

I recently came across a photo on Facebook and thought it can be a great opportunity to discuss how to space plan. I actually was just talking about space planning in our latest podcast episode. These are 4 questions that are tried and true and can help you making sure your staging is on point.

4 Tested Questions for Staging Every Room // Staged4more Home Staging & Design

To be honest, I was a bit hesitant to publish this post, because the intention is not about criticizing the stager or the seller of this home. We don’t know the full background behind this photo. The seller can be working with limited budget and this is all they had to work with. This post is not meant to judge them or their styling decisions.

We are going through this exact topic right now in the free #30DayHomeStaging Challenge. So when I saw the photo, I thought it would be great for our challengers. I wanted to use this opportunity to show how you can make sure your staging will boost your home's appeal for potential buyers.

4 Tested Questions for Staging Every Room // Staged4more Home Staging & Design

I see a few things potential issues here:

1. The Room Looks Washed Out

There are not a lot of colors in this room. Because of the lack of colors, the room looks pretty beige and beige all over. There are no visual interests to draw the viewers in.

Because of the lack of colors in the room, the two lines on the ceiling become an accidental focal point, which also draw attention to the lines in the ceiling. The way the room is shot and the angled ceiling also draw our eyes up to the ceiling. For someone who is looking at this at a glance, potential buyers may think: What are those lines on the ceiling? Are those tiles on the ceiling?

2. What is the best use & purpose of this room?

The shape of the ceiling makes the room looks like an attic. By having a dining set in the room, it tells the buyers that this is a dining room. Well, think about it: will someone want to eat dinner in the attic?

When you are staging, stage the room according to its original function. Let the family room be the family room, not a gym, not an office, not a play room for the kids. It is the same idea with the spare bedroom. Turn it back into a bedroom. Buys can easily imagine themselves using the room other than a bedroom, but it may be difficult for them to do so to see past the stuff in the room.

3. Does the Furniture Make Sense?
Is the Furniture Plan Enhancing or Handicapping the Room?

Base on the small dining set in the room, we can get some idea of the size of the room. But it is unclear how can I, as a potential buyer, use this space. As I mentioned before, because of the angle of the ceiling, plus the doors on each side of the wall (which can be for crawl spaces), can give people the idea that this is an attic. So it may be better to stage it as a family room, where family members can come in and relax, instead of a dining room.

The other important aspect when it comes to staging is scale. Are you putting in furniture that is proportionate to the size of the room? Do the pieces in the room relate to each other? Coming back to the dining room example, why is there a side table / lamp in the corner? How does that relate to the dining set? These are questions to consider when you approach staging.

4. Lighting

I’m going to venture a guess that the side table lamp combo was put there because there are not enough lighting in the room. I recently wrote about lighting in a 3-part series, you can check them out here:

I’ve put together a handy check list for you to evaluate your room after you finish staging. This can help you to see if you have missed anything.

Have you joined our free #30DayHomeStaging Challenge?