The Short List: Shana Jacobs’ Seven Secrets From a Model Home Designer

by James McClister


Shana Jacobs is the interiors design director for MP Studio working in Houston.

Every week, we ask a real estate professional for their Short List, a collection of tips and recommendations on an essential topic in real estate. This week, we spoke with Shana Jacobs, interiors design director for MP Studios, who shared her seven secrets from a model home designer. 

Inevitably during every install of a model home, I am asked a variety of questions from buyers, sellers and agents who want general design advice. People love to walk model homes. They do it to gain design ideas for their current home, ideas for staging to sell, to find trends in color schemes, paint selections, etc. However, most leave still not knowing why something works in a model and is just as difficult to execute themselves. Below are some of the secrets to a successfully staged model home.

7. Furniture placement is key – You may not have noticed, or maybe you’ve wondered why we set a room up a certain way, but staging a model home is all about the first impression. For example, we do not always arrange a room exactly how one might use it in actuality. We might put a sofa in front of the main windows facing the entrance, and not facing the television. People want to be ‘wowed’ by what they see, and walking into the back of a sofa is not exciting. We space plan every room to make it seem as welcoming and large as possible. Make sure the rooms do not have an overabundance of furniture, and that it is laid out in such a way that people want to enter the room

and can envision happy family gatherings.

6. The Happy Family Trick – Another secret to designing model homes is that we try to make you feel like you’ve just walked into a happy home, where the perfect family has just left. People can see how great it is to live in this home, and how happy their family will be here too. To accomplish this, we use accessory vignettes. When staging, everyone knows to de-clutter. This is so important, however, you do not want your home to appear cold. So, when bringing back a few well-placed accessories, try to vignette them in ways to show off the successful areas. For example, on a clean kitchen island, we might put a single, lovely tray with coffee mugs and a carafe. Now the buyer is thinking how nice it would be to have a friend for coffee in this kitchen or nook.

5. Tighten your color pallet – You do not have to go all beige for a buyer to be attracted to your listing. However, we do think cohesion is very important. When someone has painted every room in a home a different color, with a different feel, it is off-putting and distracting. For staging for selling, I would suggest keeping paints neutral, but they do not have to be light. Play with grey-beiges in different intensities. Don’t underestimate how great furniture and art look on a darker neutral wall. A great color we love to use often is Sherwin Williams 6144 Dapper Tan. Now for the accessories. When we design model homes, we stick to a strict color pallet of 3 colors in general. If you are behind us when we are shopping, you can easily tell exactly what our color scheme is. If a seller can afford to purchase new things, advise them to pick two colors and white/cream, and buy everything in those colors. If they would like to stage with their existing items, have them narrow items down to a color they have the most of, and go with that!

4. New bedding – with layers – When designing a model home, we pay special attention to the bedrooms. Buyers look to these rooms as sanctuaries, and a poorly designed bed ruins that illusion. It does not take much to make an interesting bed, and nothing makes a bed look more comfortable than layers. We start with a ready-made comforter folded at the end of the bed over a solid color fitted sheet or quilt. Pair these with a pressed bedskirt and layers of shams to complete the look. New, clean linens can make a huge difference. (We also feel this way about towels in bathrooms. If the buyer has a towel bar, adding new layered towels will make the buyer feel the bathroom is newer. Dusty decorative towels, or wet recently used ones will make the bathroom feel used and dirty.)

3. Art vs. Non Art vs. Negative Space – At our firm, we take art very seriously, and there actually is a formula to it. We never want too much art of one kind near each other, unless it is a gallery wall. We call this making sure your art ‘dances’ around the space. For example, in a room with four walls, two walls should have actual art, one wall can have Non-Art (or sculptural art), and the final wall may be blank. There is nothing wrong with blank walls or negative space to show off the art you are featuring. The rule is to make sure your eye dances around the room to see the next item, but that it also has a respite from too much art or accessories.

2. Dress your windows – Every time we install a model home, we always end up saying, ‘The window treatments are the best part!’ This is because they complete a space. They are a final layer that is so important, and often overlooked in under-designed spaces. We understand they can be expensive, and investing in custom drapery is not feasible if you are selling. We recommend adding window treatments to the important main rooms: living room, dining room and master bedroom. They also do not need to cost a fortune. Ready-made panels (in at least 96” long) and inexpensive hardware can be found everywhere. Many buyers will even see this as a bonus item and may pay more for the home.

1. Fluff before every viewing – We cannot walk through a model, ours or even our competition, without fluffing the accessories, pillows, bedding, etc. Over time, things move out of place, or additional clutter accumulates. It is important to check your vignettes, and other items to make sure they are still positioned how you intended. A 15 minute run through can make all the difference and give you the first impression edge over the next seller.

Shana Jacobs resides as design director of MP Studio, a national, full-service interior design firm specializing in single-family and multifamily interiors. After graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in interior Ddesign, she gained experience as a project manager for two of the country’s most reputable design firms. She moved on to own a successful single family design firm before later partnering with Meeks + Partners Architects to form the interiors firm MP Studio. Shana has over a decade of experience in interior design, and is an allied member of the American Society of Interior Designers.

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