Donna Dazzo and I have met a few times. I’m always interested in her perspective because she is so refined and so business oriented. Most of the home stagers that I meet are serious creative types that leave a lot of the business to someone else, or simply fly by the seat of their pants. Reading her bio, I’ve learned why.
Home stagers seem to come from all walks of life and a variety of backgrounds. It’s the life lessons that they picked up along the way that seem to make up a huge part of whether or not they will be successful.
How long have you been a home stager?
About 4 ½ years
Why did you decide to become a home stager?
I was working in financial services developing and managing financial products such as brokerage accounts and investment advisory accounts, and at the beginning of 2007 had a 9 months’ heads up that our division was being outsourced and we were all being laid off. I knew I didn’t want to do the same thing I had been doing at another company. I had been toying with the idea for several years of doing something different, like owning a bed and breakfast, becoming a real estate agent – but wasn’t sure. So the layoff was the “kick in the butt” to do something different and ease the financial burden of starting my own business because I was getting severance pay.
One of the reasons I wanted to open a B&B was I loved the idea of running my own business and managing all aspects of it – marketing the business, decorating the rooms, guest services, etc.
I decided a bed and breakfast wasn’t for me, but I always loved decorating the spaces I was in, ever since I was in high school. And being a resident of New York City, I often attend exhibits on design (objects, industrial, architectural, furniture) at the many museums here.
I became an HGTV addict after buying a second home in East Hampton in 2000. The only staging show on at the time was Designed to Sell, and I thought, I can do that. I would love to do that. So I just Googled “home staging” and found out there were training programs for this and signed up for two different programs while I was still employed. In fact my first staging job was a vacant home in the Hamptons which I staged while on vacation.
So, starting a home staging business combined my desire to run a business with my passion and talent for decorating and design.
What did you do before you were a home stager?
I basically answered that question but I will add that I was in financial services for about 25 years.
Tell us a little about your business, how it operates and who your clients are:
I primarily do home staging and would say about half are occupied stagings and half are vacant stagings. Almost all are done in Manhattan; a few occasionally outside of Manhattan such as in Brooklyn, Long Island or the Hamptons.
I don’t own any furniture inventory as I use a furniture rental company, but do own my own decorative accessories.
I also offer interior redesign services, but have found this to be a very small part of my business.
I would say I get equal business from real estate agents as well as the general public. Now that I’ve been in business for a few years, the agents are either repeat clients or have been referred to me by another agent. The general public finds me on the internet as Designed to Appeal is almost always on page one if you do a Google search on “home staging” or its derivatives.
What’s your favorite part of the business?
My favorite “passive” part of the business is the sense of pride and accomplishment when we have completed a staging. It’s kind of like having a baby (from what I’ve heard). All of the pain to get to that final moment is worth it once you behold the end result.
My favorite “active” part of the business is the creative process of feeling what the space is all about and having it speak to me about how it should be furnished and accessorized. It’s a process that sort of keeps building on itself. Once you get an inspiration, it just takes off.
What’s your least favorite part of the business?
Bookkeeping and inventory management are my least favorite though I’ve delegated bookkeeping recently to an assistant, and we are about to go on the Darby inventory management system, which should make that process a lot easier.
Everyone has a weakness and I would say that mine is Sales. While I love Marketing and do lots of it, Sales is another story. Calling on real estate agents, even those for whom I’ve done stagings before, is something I procrastinate about. Same thing with calling real estate offices to make a presentation. I should probably read more and take a course in the sales process, but of course have procrastinated about that as well.
Who are some of your favorite stagers?
Ones that immediately come to mind are Jackson West, Matthew Finlason, David Cieslak, Anne Pinsker-Brown. Nice people and I love their style. Don’t be offended if I’ve left you off my list.
Tell us about your best staging experience.
This is a hard one. I looked at my list of prior stagings and I think I would have to say that my favorite was a beautiful Tudor-style home in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. The owners had moved out and into the city to be closer to work and their children’s schools, but had left behind some furniture. Most rooms were not being shown to their best potential. A bedroom had a sofa in it and a desk. Another bedroom had no bed. Chairs in the den really belonged in the living room.
Not only was it nice to work in such a beautiful home, but it was very satisfying to have transformed the rooms into something that the owner and his wife were ecstatic about. Their exact words were:
“Wow! The house looks great! We are so impressed. It really looks like a million bucks! I am really, really happy with your work. You are a very talented stager and designer. We’ve fallen in love with our house again. It makes us so happy whenever we go there.”
The client continues to recommend me to his friends who are selling their homes.
Tell us about your worst staging experience.
I’ve had my share of “what could go wrong does go wrong” experiences, but my worst staging experiences tend to center around difficult clients. Thankfully they are gone out of our lives in a few weeks, unlike an awful boss or co-worker if I was still working in the corporate world.
One in particular was extremely mean and verbally abusive towards me, and constantly belittled me. The client from out-of-town had asked me to furnish an empty apartment that she was temporarily moving into while she was dealing with a personal crisis here in the city. I tried to understand what she was going through, but it was really a quite horrible experience.
What was your favorite room or art or accessory?
We were asked to stage an apartment on Park Avenue that was asking $35,000 in monthly rent (yes, I know, crazy, but this is New York and it’s Park Avenue). I love the way the living room turned out. It’s simple, elegant, and balanced. And I love the coral pops of color.
I would have to say my favorite type of accessory is throw pillows. I have a real addiction to buying them. If I see one I like, I have to buy it. Kinda like women with shoe collections.
If you were to pick a theme song for your career as a home stager, what would it be?
I have no idea. I am not good at that.
If you were going to write a book about your staging career, what would it be called?
The Stager Diaries (like the Nanny Diaries). I’ve seen and experienced all sorts of things (no matter the income level of the seller nor the price point of the home) and my friends keep telling me I should write a book.
What would you tell someone new, thinking of getting into home staging?
It’s not only about decorating and having fun shopping for furniture and accessories. You are running a business, and you have to be prepared for and be skilled at all it entails.
You know, just the other evening I met someone who asked me what I did and then, as a fellow entrepreneur, he said “I bet if you knew what you know now, you probably wouldn’t have started your business.” I told him I am so glad I didn’t know, because it IS possible it may have stopped me. I remember when I first got into the business, I attended a roundtable discussion consisting of local home stagers. One of them said to me sarcastically (but not meanly),” so do you really think you’re going to earn your “Wall Street” salary doing home staging?” I refused to believe she was right and thought I’d be different. Another stager was asked how she found the time to blog on Active Rain all the time. And she said “You see these circles under my eyes? That’s because I do it at 2 in the morning when I have the time!” I refused to believe that would be me.
So, while I’m not blogging at 2 in the morning , I am working from morning til 9 or 10 at night, as well as on weekends. And while I’m not making my Wall Street salary, I am still happy that I chose home staging as the profession for the remaining chapter of my life.
We’ve featured Donna several times in blogs here on SAR:
Donna Dazzo: Battery Park City: offered by Corcoran
Donna Dazzo on Selling NY. Take a look at her latest appearance.
To connect with Donna, visit her website Designed to Appeal or catch her on various social media channels:
Read more home stager stories in our, “I’m a home stager.” series.
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