When Carole Eichen decorates a model house for a builder, she doesn't just throw in a couple of sofas, a few plants and a coffee table.
Eichen, an interior decorator from California, decorates with Ming vases, romantic lace bedspreads, leather chairs and family photos: items, in short, that appeal to people's inner desires and make them want to buy.
"In my designs, I try to create a mood that makes people say, 'I've got to buy this house,' " said Eichen, who specializes in helping builders sell homes by decorating models. "I try to make people feel at home, comfortable, but also enchanted. I decorate to push their hot buttons."
While most houses and condominiums are sold unfurnished, builders usually decorate a few models to give the buyer a feel for how the unit could look furnished. Some builders also use decorating to camouflage problems or create the impression that the unit is larger, with such standard tricks as walls of mirrors and extensive drapes.
Eichen's approach, however, is to decorate the model in a way that will appeal to a buyer's subconscious.
"I design for what makes the prospective buyer feel good," Eichen said. "It's turning them on to buy that house, to give them a rush of feeling that says they could live this way."
Pushing the "hot button" for men means decorating the spare bedroom as a "macho" study, a room that will make the prospective buyer feel like a "literary lion, even if he just reads John D. MacDonald novels."
Pushing the hot button for elderly couples means creating a "nostalgia" wall, where they can hang family photographs. And in the models, Eichens hangs her own family pictures, or those of her staff, because "real pictures you can spot and people feel at home with them.
"The nostalgia wall really tugs at the heartstrings," she said. "Every grandma likes it and it's believable."
She said the the key to her business has been her demographic research and surveys of buyers, which help her target models to a particular segment of the buying public.
When hired by a builder, Eichen helps put together the marketing plan, starting with demographics on the area where the development is situated and incorporating information on employment opportunities, income, spending and life styles.
She then creates a profile of the kind of buyer likely to purchase the units and decorates in a way that will entice that family -- or people similar to them -- to buy.
If the units she is decorating are in an area and price range likely to attract young families, Eichen decorates the kitchen as if it were ready for a happy, busy family to sit down for a cozy breakfast, complete with a high-chair with a bib and the kids' lunch boxes sitting on the counter.
The point is not that most families sit down together for oatmeal every morning, but that seeing a house that gives that impression makes young mothers want to live there, Eichen said.
"I'm not trying to trick them. I'm just showing them this is a creative way to do it," she said.
Eichen has decorated homes all over the country, from California to Staten Island, and around the world, including models in Japan and France. In each location, she has to adjust her design schemes to fit the preferences and profiles of families in the area.
On Staten Island, for instance, Eichen found that "they didn't want California styles shoved down their throats." She instead decorated with dark, traditional colors and shapes, creating a sense of security and stability. "They loved that."
In Japan, Eichen said, she turned away from the romantic designs that were popular in the United States and instead used furniture with simple lines and quiet colors.
"They don't go in for a lot of clutter," Eichen said. "I didn't do ducks with bows in Japan."
Eichen has become known in home building circles for her surveys of young buyers, research that shows young people prefer comfortable, friendly, more traditional styles.
"Young people aren't angry anymore," Eichen said. "In their house they want to be able to kick back and relax with their friends in a comfortable environment. They are in love with the charming look, brass headboards, Berber carpets, dried grass arrangements, wood floors and roaring fires. If I could put a roaring fire in every room, I could sell units in minutes."
Eichen said she usually decorates one or two steps above what the target family actually could afford. "We take them to what their desires are," she said.
Like the trick with the family photographs, Eichen often personalizes the units by giving names to her imaginary family and using the names in the decor.
In the model decorated for the young family, Eichen set out four hooks in the mudroom labeled Scott, Susan, Mommy and Daddy. On each hook she hung a slicker and, below, a pair of rainboots.
"It makes people feel like someone lives there, someone they would like to be like," Eichen said.
In one model, said Eichen, she had to decorate a large, spare room. She rejected the easiest solution -- making it into a recreation room -- and decorated it as a bedroom for imaginary twin girls. She gave them identical beds and identical divans, each equipped with a princess phone. She hung pennants from local schools and set out director's chairs with their names on them.
She also takes into consideration how buyers will look at a model home, such as a tendency among women shoppers to go directly into the kitchen and stand at the sink.
"Women love gardens and when they stand at that sink I want them to see something nice out the window," Eichen said. "I get into everything, the setting and the landscaping. It all works together to make that person get emotionally involved in that house and say, "I can't live without this.' "