Use What You’ve Got


LAST FRIDAY I HAD LUNCH with Allegra Dioguardi, a longtime professional home stager (though she prefers the term ‘interior merchandising’) who calls her business Styled and Sold. We found we had much in common. We agreed that feng shui is essentially good design principles, that color is key, and cleanliness is next to godliness, especially when you’re trying to sell a house.

We both studied interior design at Parsons in New York; Allegra went on to design model homes on Long Island and spent 22 years in Maryland, building a home staging business and working with realtors and homeowners to ready properties for sale. Now she’s back on the Island, living in Sag Harbor. She has developed a training program for aspiring home stagers, wrote an e-book on the subject, and blogs at this industry site.

Both of us know — she from long experience, me from anecdotal evidence and common sense — how a professional’s fresh eye can speed up a sale and bring a better price (Allegra sold her own house in Maryland to the first person who showed up), especially in a market that’s fairly flooded with properties.


Recently she added two-hour consultations with homeowners to her roster of services (her fee is $300). In the living room of the East Hampton house pictured at the top of this post (left, the miserable ‘before’), Allegra rearranged furniture for better function and flow, suggested painting the dark brick white, re-hung a ‘mish-mash’ of art to create stronger focal points, and generally de-cluttered. Not one thing was purchased anew, except a potted plant or two.

Allegra’s m.o. is to walk through the house with the client and have them take notes. All the while, she’s moving furniture, taking art off the walls and repositioning it, and making a pile of stuff to go into storage. In the case of the East Hampton house, the client called her handyman during the consultation to come over and help. “That was a first!”Allegra says. She then photographs the house and sends the client a list of additional suggestions.

There have been many times I’ve craved someone to come in and do just that, even when I’m not selling.


When Allegra works with realtors, she’s frequently dealing with a property that has been emptied out.

Here’s how she staged a Westhampton living room, right and below, in a house intended for summer rental, from scratch.


Below, see how Allegra freshened up a kitchen to prepare a house for market, with new appliances, granite countertops recycled from another job, affordable cork flooring, and lots of white paint on the existing cabinets.



About cara

I blog (for fun) here at casaCARA, and write (for money) about architecture, interiors, gardens and travel for many national magazines and websites.
This entry was posted in HAMPTONS, INTERIOR DESIGN, LONG ISLAND, REAL ESTATE/INVESTING and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Use What You’ve Got

  1. Quinn says:

    She’s a genius!

  2. Astor C. says:

    that was a really interesting post… more pix of her befores and afters…

  3. townhouselady says:

    Paint is a miracle worker isn’t it?

    Well, paint and a good eye that is.

  4. Keri L. says:

    Allegra is the go-to stager in the Hamptons!!!

  5. Cara,
    Thank you for this article, it so beautifully articulates what I do. It seems counter-intuitive to many people to invest money in a home for sale when in reality, most often it is the best thing you can do. A home is for sale becomes a “product”, and should be merchandised like any other product. Having said that, good professional staging should not be all about smoke and mirrors. It is based on good solid design principles and it should be about “setting the stage” for the best way that real people can live in the house.
    I often end up “staging” to dwell for people as well as “staging” to sell.

  6. JC says:

    Wow, that East Hampton after is amazing. What a difference those small changes make! I wonder: do sellers become remorseful when they see these kinds of transformations? Like, “If we’d only hired someone years ago, we would have been so much happier here!”

  7. Alexandra says:

    What great work! Thanks for bringing Styled and Sold to my attention.

  8. cara says:

    JC, I’ve heard of a case where the client was so pleased with the results of her staging, she decided not to move!

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