Playing Musical Houses

Musical chairs is a perfect analogy for the housing market. By Glen Peloso

I spent almost a year working with some clients, working my way through their entire house, room by room, from the main floor up. I was about to pitch an idea for the third-floor master bedroom when they hit me with the news: they’d been talking to a real estate agent. They were looking for a new house.

Our parents spent 30-odd years in the same homes. But in this city, there is a mania for moving on. I’m not immune, either. I have had four houses.

As a designer, this means I have to modify my clients’ approach to making improvements. Simply put, I have to rein them in. One man’s dream of a high-tech kitchen made of polished sheet metal, rivets and neon lighting will be another man’s nightmare.

If you are looking to make improvements, you either have to put your money only where it can be realized when you sell, or be dead-certain that this is your last move.

The “bones” are the first things that must be addressed in any home. If the furnace is 20 years old, replace it. If the wiring is knob and tube, replace it. If the roof leaks, fix it. There is no point spending the budget on finishes when the bones are not in good repair. It is the equivalent to getting a new paint job on a car that doesn’t run.

People don’t want to hear this, of course. It is understandable. You never hear anyone say,  “Oh, Jane did the most beautiful things with her wiring, you just have to see it.”  But these bread-and-butter issues matter to future buyers.

After you’ve addressed the bones, then you can start thinking about finishes. Kitchens and bathrooms are the most expensive rooms to deal with. But a real estate agent will tell you that those rooms are what help sell a house quickly.

There are basic rules that I follow when I know that the client isn’t planning on staying for long. While it isn’t as much fun for me, I don’t go with the things that are on the cutting edge of design. With big-ticket items especially, I urge the classic over the trendy.

Take the master bathroom as an example. I was recently working with a client who had just purchased a home where the previous owners had used a garish robin’s egg blue tile on the floor. She could not stand it. The tiles had been installed only two years earlier and were in great shape. Replacing them cost thousands of dollars – an expensive venture that was, I’m sure, reflected in the price of the house.

There was a simple solution open to the previous owner. He could have gone with a white or off-white tile and painted the rest of the room in his beloved robin’s egg blue, and achieved pretty much the same feeling without the permanence or the expense.

I advised my client to change the floor to slate, which achieved the feeling she was going for while creating a spa-like room. No one could find the finished room offensive because it had a Zen-like calm to it.

Since bathrooms are so expensive to renovate, high-priced fixtures such as toilets and sinks should be classic white or bone, and the faucets chrome. Try to choose a neutral tile. Since they are a natural product, stone tiles really don’t go out of style. Use countertops of stone and undermount sinks. Cabinets should be wood or a white finish.

In the kitchen, the same rule applies. Anything that isn’t easily changed in terms of colour should be neutral – woods, tiles, sinks in stainless steel or porcelain, chrome faucets, and appliances that are white, black or stainless steel. Get the zip you want in the paint colour.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have the avant-garde in your home. It means you should achieve it in art, paint and wall covering. These are all relatively inexpensive
 to change.

When you are playing musical houses and the music stops, you don’t want to find yourself bumped out of the resale game.

Glen Peloso, principal designer of Glen Peloso Interiors, Inc., has been designing spaces for commercial, corporate and residential clients for more than 15 years. You’ll recognize Glen as the host of television design shows like Restaurant Makeover, Take This House & Sell It and Renovate My Wardrobe, to name a few, as well as from his live speaking engagements at home shows across Canada.

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