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Posted By Peyton Wes
Interior Design for Guest Experience – In Conversation with Home Stager Irene Farina

In an online world where most impressions and decisions are made in the blink of an eye, the aesthetic presentation of rental properties is incredibly decisive for bookings. Professionals called home stagers are trained to design interiors specifically for the commercial marketplace and are equipped to best prepare them for photoshoots. Bookiply sat down with Irene Farina, an experienced home stager in Italy, to discuss issues of designing and decorating vacation rentals to better attract guests.

Irene, what do you do exactly as a professional home stager for vacation rentals?

Irene: As a home stager, I prepare properties in an aesthetic and emotive way in order to either sell them or, in this case, to rent them out as vacation rentals. This involves creating or adjusting interior designs to better attract an audience – whether it be a specific target group or the largest possible, general audience. My job also includes ordering and installing furnishings as well as coordinating a professional photoshoot to best capture the character of a home for listings.

My work can be broken down into three categories of home staging:

The Blank Palette
The first kind of home staging is, in essence, working with a ‘blank palette’ – an empty property that is intended to earn additional income for the owner. In this situation, it is above all important that the design is functioning towards a particular objective, i.e. attracting a certain target group or a more general one.

Decluttering
The last category consists of interventions to declutter a fully-furnished property. Homeowners often put a lot of objects in the rental thinking that they could be useful to a guest. But this is not the case. Guests want cleanliness, space and a feeling of lightness and relaxation – these feelings are lost in a cluttered house.

Enhancement & Integration
The second category aims to enhance a semi-furnished property through the integration of new pieces. Oftentimes, this is when owners have placed some furniture from their main residence in the space and they are halfway towards a fully-realized design. In this case I evaluate what already exists in the rental property and decide which pieces to keep and what I can integrate to enhance them. This does not need to be expensive – usually I simply add low cost items. Very small touches make a huge difference.

You also mention on your website that the depersonalization of rooms attracts more buyers and renters. Can you explain this a bit and what style is then best for rental homeowners?

Irene: Guests will not feel at home in a holiday rental where there are personal items, like family photographs, everywhere. In this case, I neutralize rooms and remove everything that is too personal to the homeowner as well as those items that age the house in a negative way. 

The very first step in home staging is to determine whether you want to attract as many guests as possible or just a certain group of them. The neutral style is the ‘safest’ in the sense that it has been studied and proven to be that which is attractive to the most amount of people. 

Alternatively, the so-called ‘magnet-effect’ approach caters to a certain type of guest. This doesn’t have to mean, however, that it attracts just 10% of the market. A slightly more colorful and joyful setting in the home, for instance, could attract 70% of the market – drawing in guests that are more cheerful in disposition.

So are there different interior styles to better attract different kinds of guests? What would a style for family-oriented properties look like compared to one oriented towards international guests, couples or business travellers?

Irene: In terms of nationality, my target audience is always the world – the decoration is never just Nordic, never just Italian or French, but always global. In terms of practicality, however, you should ensure to have small amenities in your home that are used in foreign countries like a kettle, toaster or adapters for the power outlets. These will make those guests feel particularly comfortable and is a great way to get positive reviews. 

In terms of target audience irrespective of origin, there are differences in how you can set up a room. When styling spaces for a family, for example, I usually do not use particularly delicate fabrics, but more practical and natural ones, such as cotton or linen. I also avoid carpets that are too refined, preferring simpler ones that are easy to wash. For business travellers, I create areas with soft lighting where they can easily relax after work. After determining the right target group for your rental, it is time stop thinking about yourself and consider what kinds of experiences those travellers want to have in your home.

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After

In your experience, what do most homeowners do wrong when it comes to furnishing and decorating their rentals?

Irene: Very often homeowners put too many things in their properties that are not functional. They essentially use the vacation rental as a repository of their old furniture, the objects they do not know what to do with anymore. These are instances of the homeowner thinking too much in ‘the first person’, too much about themselves and not about their guests.

Another big mistake that homeowners make is that they furnish their rental homes expecting that guests will destroy it. If homeowners put this kind of low quality or outdated furniture in their homes, they will attract precisely the guests who do not want to respect the house and are more likely to maltreat or misuse the space. It is critical that homeowners convey love, trust and respect for their guests when creating an interior, because this is ultimately what attracts guests who will respect and cherish the house.

In terms now of outdoor areas – how important are they and how should homeowners decorate them?

Irene: Outdoor spaces are highly important and they must be understood as an extension of the interior space. Those who go on holiday want to spend time outside in their destination. Therefore, even a small balcony should promote a feeling of relaxation and ideally be furnished in the same style as the inside. The functionality in this case should take a back seat to aesthetics – if your small balcony is a good spot for a drying rack, put it close to the balcony but hide it from view! If you are fortunate to have a large outdoor space – a spacious terrace or garden – maximize its appeal by creating and maintaining inviting, comfortable lounge areas where guests could envision spending some hours.

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After

Maintaining a home with modern touches, then, seems important. Which aspects should you pay particular attention to when modernising a home?

Irene: The bedroom is the most important room to keep modern – pay special attention to the choice of mattress. After all, rest is the foundation of a good holiday! Additionally, the bathroom should always appear like a small, domestic spa. In both of these rooms, pay close attention to the colors of the walls. If a homeowner wants to decorate the rental themselves, instead of turning to a home-staging expert, I would recommend that he or she stick to a neutral style with neutral colors because it is less risky. If you are budget-conscious, you could also request a home stager to only take care of some finishing touches and the organization of the photoshoot.

Do you have other tips for making a difference with a small budget? What are some easy fixes?  

Irene: The neutral style is generally easy for everyone to follow and implement. Think of simple furniture pieces with clean lines and colors like white, beige and grey. Additionally, to complement this subdued base, decorative cushions, carpets and wall prints are simple, affordable details that lend a home warmth and character. If done well, this is an easy and effective style that just about everybody likes.

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In your experience, what kind of impact does a professional home staging have on vacation rental bookings?

Irene: Practically all of my cases have greatly benefitted from home staging and my professional expertise about what the market searches for in holiday homes. One concrete example is a woman who owned a luxury penthouse in the centre of Cagliari with a nice interior design and professional photos. Still, few people were looking at the apartment online because the character of the home, its soul let’s say, was undefined. The apartment had style but no soul. So I intervened by selecting a few accessories, making a small change in the bathroom and ensuring that the new photo shoot perfectly captured the style I wanted to represent and the soul of the house. Its views shot up from 28 to 282 over the course of just one month!  

However, it is important to note that home staging is just one aspect of a larger set of components which contribute to a listing’s success. If the listing is not optimized – perhaps it has off-market prices, limited flexibility for check-in’s and length of stay, excessive extra costs or poor description texts – the intervention of a home stager will not work miracles. There must be a synergy between the home stager and these other factors.

After you have designed or adjusted home interiors, it is time for the photoshoot. How important is this step and what tips can you offer to those preparing for it?

Irene: The photo shoot is absolutely critical as it is the last step of home staging and yet the first aspect of the house that will be seen. The photo shoot encompasses all the previous design work and simultaneously enhances it. Here it is essential that the photographs succeed in telling a story, in conveying a sense of the soul of the house. Again, as with the quality and care to the furnishings, the photographs must convey love and respect for the guests that we want to welcome into the home. In terms of tips: Be sure that the house is spotless because photos will highlight any areas with dust. Make sure that there are no unintentional objects in view like brooms, slippers or bags. Finally, do not try to imitate the special arrangements you see professionals do in their photoshoots. If you decide to not hire a professional, it is better to go for simplicity – less is more.

If you are interested in learning more about Irene’s services, visit her website.