Begged, Borrowed and Staged

NOTE: This is the post that was retracted last month due to “specious” legal concerns. I was asked to hold the post until after the sale closed, which it did last week. Listed at $509,000 the staged property sold for 8 per cent over asking.

When home stager Dennis Battler showed me photos of his most recent project, a small semi in Toronto’s Riverside neighbourhood, I was instantly struck by how much personality he had injected into the spaces. His blend of vintage furnishings from different eras mixed with industrial and rustic pieces revealed a very definite point of view that runs counter to everything you see on TV staging shows where the mantra is always, “neutralize, depersonalize and de-clutter.”

I was even more impressed when Dennis provided the backstory about a homeowner finding himself no longer able to care for and manage his house day-to-day and especially the challenging task of preparing it for sale. Dennis and the real estate agent rallied friends and neighbours who pitched in to strip and clean the property. Furniture was then borrowed or purchased for as little as possible on Craigslist and from thrift stores — the set of dining chairs was sourced for just $50. Dennis blended the wall colour himself from paint store mis-tints and although the hue is much darker than is typical for a staged home, it definitely adds personality and because it’s used throughout, it lends cohesion to the various spaces across two floors.

One of Dennis’s stipulations for getting involved was that he be left alone to work his magic. “Being questioned relentlessly, micromanaged, manipulated and/or doubted by a client is every designer and decorator’s nightmare,” he says.

When I toured his own small piece of the world, Dennis discussed his ability to tune-in to objects, to “listen” to things and intuit how or if they should be deployed in a space. The same intuition guided this staging exercise: “The pictures show well and experiencing the house leaves a very good feeling,” he notes. “Everything feels like it’s in the spot it’s meant to be in, each piece performs in relation to another, there’s a sense of purposefulness, which is quite striking when you consider the disparate array of sources.”

“I’m a space magician,” declares the stager, “There, I’ve claimed my talent! Can I help it if rooms and fabric and vases and cushions and furniture talk to me? Or that I listen to them? They’re my friends and I am theirs. Really, that’s the truth.”

“I relate to and treat houses like my children,” he adds. “Each one has its own needs, own merits and own desire for expression. My job is to love each house and encourage it to reveal itself. In this instance, I listened and provided it with what it was willing to accept, with what it needed and what I thought brought out the best in it.”

“Often staging and especially gutting a house disrespects the soul of the house. Both can be brutal and insensitive. This is more about house healing, giving the house (in the words of one viewer) a new life, to begin again with renewed dignity, beauty, peace and purpose.”

The real estate agent was dutifully grateful to Dennis for such a miraculous result. “It’s a very hopeful interior,” he observed. “Honestly, it’s beyond belief! I’ve been staring at the pictures of the house all night, especially the back bedroom with the dark grey walls and that pink chair. I just can’t bear to see it taken apart, I have fallen in love with it!”

Photos by Geoff Parkin/GP Photo

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011 by Chris
This post was written by - who has written 865 posts on styleNorth.

22 Comments For This Post

  1. Kathie Says:

    Wow wow wow wow. This strikes right to the heart– the neighborly helping hands, the appreciative homeowner, and OMG, the wonderfully heartful and comfortably eloquent atmosphere. wow.

  2. shescomeundone Says:

    Kinda just blows the lid off formulaic “staging”! Bravo Dennis. I was struck by the awe evident in the faces of several open house attendees who seemed to understand that they were in a special place where human virtues like dignity and grace and compassion had emerged to great effect.
    Om Shanti

  3. Home Flooring Pro Says:

    What an amazing design. Every room looks great!

  4. David Says:

    I missed the original post, but I really like that lamp =)

  5. Cathy Says:

    Darn… I missed the original post. Hope all is well and you didn’t get into trouble!
    Great grouping on the table.

  6. Wanda Says:

    …and great table too!

  7. Sandra Says:

    “Specious”, def. superficially plausible, but actually wrong.

    Hmmm…as a Toronto realtor, I saw the post, great job and kudos to Dennis it was an amazing job. Glad I checked in early. In actuality there was no address listed, no price listed, and no exterior photo to identify the property, and no agencies identified, so in my opinion it was not an issue. Also RECO (Real Estate Council Ontario) regulates REGISTRANTS, not home stagers. So as far as the post went there was nothing to create a conflict. Hoping whomever wanted it taken down will reconsider, Dennis deserves the credit.

  8. Dennis Battler Says:

    Thanks Cathy!

    And thanks Sandra – Chris did a great job pulling together a fitting account. I hope to see the original post again.

    Dennis Battler

  9. Chris Says:

    Sandra, I believe you’ve nailed it. I chose the word specious very carefully.

  10. Lois Says:

    Good afternoon, awww I missed all the excitment…Lois of disappointed

  11. rouquinne Says:

    Chris – Thanks for sharing this lovely space.

    Dennis – did you make the cushions on the daybed in the room with the pink chair or would you be willing to share the name of the store where you bought the orange one?


  12. margo Says:

    I am speechless perfection at it’s best, thanks for sharing.

  13. Dennis Battler Says:

    Re: cushions on daybed came from Homesense on Elglinton east of Victoria Park. That Homesense actually has an excellent collection of goods.

  14. Lois Says:

    Good morning, well done, but what strikes me most, is the old fashioned *pulling together* to make something important happen. Kudo’s to you Dennis Battler and glad Chris found this. My favorite blog of the entire year.

  15. Bev Says:

    Beautifully done and not overdone. Thank you Dennis and Chris for sharing with us.

  16. Taylor de Sa Says:

    Thanks for sharing such talent. This is such a great example of how a properly staged home need not look “staged” but as if it were styled personally and carefully in good taste! The home looks spacious and clean… perfect for its next owners. :)

    Great job, Dennis!

  17. Taylor de Sa Says:

    By the way, I’m also not sure why this great post was initially deleted. As a fellow Toronto realtor, I agree with Sandra that is didn’t seem to be breaking any of the rules. I do however think that it may have been in the seller’s best interest for any reasons for selling or challenges in staging not to be disclosed until after a firm sale and it sounds like it has worked out for the best!

    I’m sorry I missed this the first time around but the pictures were certainly worth the wait!

  18. kim Says:

    Gorgeous! Dennis, how do we contact you?

  19. Dennis Battler Says:

    Hi Kim
    Just noticed your request to contact me … Thanks for your interest and I hope to hear from you.

  20. Pamela Says:

    Hello….I was provided this site to view as I met Susan through the sale of something different. We started a brief conversation and I happened to mention I’d just finished my Staging Course – she was more than happy to offer me your site as she touched on the story – very heartfelt and I was pleased to hear it, I’ve recently suffered a very important loss in my life, so I totally get the compassion element around wanting to ‘do the right thing’. All said and done – yes, the place looks wonderful, cozy, homey, modern, rustic, elegant, tasteful, peaceful, fun, clean, organized, easy, friendly, somehow all rolled up into one Great Big Right-On Space and much more importantly without spending any money unnecessarily!!! BRAVO! This is the kind of STAGER I intend to be!!! We Stager’s need to get back to Basics – STOP trying to be Interior Decorators / Designers…..just Stage! Enjoy your Success both physical and Emotional in seems you and the Seller are well Deserved!! Pamela – just a passerby:)

  21. Pamela Says:

    Oh by the way……what is the Paint Color? Thank you – Pam

  22. Dennis Battler Says:

    Just checked in for a review … if you’re referring to the grey paint: custom, from greys and a brown “miss tints” I personally picked and mixed saving hundreds of dollars. If you go to Paint Depot on Queen St. just east of Logan its on record as “Bill’s Grey” – we had it matched when I redid the listing agent’s house. He loved it and this project so much we completely redid his bedroom and living room from the extraordinary experience I introduced him to through this project. Its called “Listening to what the room is asking for.” :) If you need help with that just email me.

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