How a Home Stager Brightened Up a Living Room

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Do you remember the “spot the difference” picture game from childhood? It’s the one where you compared two very similar images, scanning them for where a tiny detail like a hat or window might be different.

Looking at the before and after on this mid-century Santa Cruz, California, home is a little bit like that. You know something is different — and way better — but you can’t quite put your finger on it, until you start looking closely. 

That’s because Ashley Tapley, owner of House Candy Home, rose to the challenge of using most of the seller’s furniture when she was brought in to stage the home. The job wasn’t a total overhaul where she took everything out to bring in neutral staging items. Instead, it was a refresh, using what was already there but tweaking it to make the space lighter, airier, and more appealing to buyers. 

This 2,000-square-foot mid-century home was built in 1978. It didn’t feel like a 1970s time capsule, thanks to a 1998 renovation, not to mention that earth-tone tiles and wood-beam ceilings are back in style. But like any home, this one needed some sprucing up before hitting the market.

That’s when listing agents Cara and Tim O’Halloran brought in House Candy Home for a presale consultation, color and design consultation, staging, and styling. Once Tapley was in, the process went into overdrive. 

“The homeowners moved out for two weeks for updates, staging, and to sell the home,” explains Tapley. “In that time, we had the home painted inside, made updates including new door hardware throughout the house, new carpeting downstairs, and staged the home with their own furnishings.” 

The decision to stage the home with existing furnishings was made because the homeowners planned to move back into the home once it was under contract. Looking at the two images of the room, the sectional is the same, the bookcase behind the sectional is the same, even the accent pillows are the same. Yet the feel is completely different — and it’s not all photography tricks. 

Tapley replaced the large rectangular coffee table with a petite and leggy round table to take up less visual space. She removed the leather ottoman that, while functional, took up significant walking space. The floor lamp moved from one side of the room to the other, making room for a large fiddle leaf fig to echo the greenery just beyond the window. 

“We brought in a new rug. Always size a rug as big as you can,” Tapley says. “Leave pathways wide enough for people to walk around it so they don’t straddle the rug or need to decide to walk on or off the rug.”

The big rug adds softness and warmth to the soaring space. “We added a mirror and removed the fireplace screen,” Tapley adds. “And we removed the heavy window treatments and added in something lighter.” She brought in small plants wherever she could to bring in a sense of life and movement. 

Tapley also swapped out the art, and she didn’t hang up the typical home stager art you see again and again in open houses. “The seller collects art, so we got to hang all of her art and photography collection wherever we wanted after the home was painted,” she says. “She enjoyed seeing where we chose to put her pieces since it was totally different from where she had them.” 

The process of staging to selling, start to finish, only took three weeks. “We pulled out all of our items before they moved back in, so luckily most everything was theirs and styled for them to enjoy,” says Tapley. The owners got to live in their newly styled home, with their own comfortable things, while they waited for their house to close — at 20 percent over its listing price. 

Would it have gone for that much had it been listed as is? Tapley doesn’t think so. It’s those subtle, spot-the-difference changes that made the space seem bigger and more welcoming, appealing to a family looking for a home with a ‘70s Santa Cruz vibe. “I cannot state enough how preparing your home for sale creates magic and top dollar outcomes,” Tapley says.



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