The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Gene Weingarten: To sell his house, he had to make it as bland as possible

(Illustration by Eric Shansby)

I am selling my house. Perhaps you have seen photos of it on a real estate website. It’s the one that looks nothing like my house.

Before selling one’s home these days, it is considered de rigueur to first move out and then hire “stagers,” who are people you employ to inform you — in words or substance — that you have all the interior design skills of a herd of lop-eared goats. They do not say this out loud (usually), but the assumption seems to be that your existing furniture is held together by the snot smeared on the underside of chairs and tables. So it must all go, replaced by other, presumably less disgraceful furniture. This rule is always followed, even if your house is furnished entirely in Louis Quatorze period pieces and early, original Renoirs.

In my case, the art on the walls had been mostly old clocks and other antiquarian things, the better (we thought) to decorate a house that was nearly a century and a half old. The stagers replaced these things with artwork designed to offend no one, stuff that was blander than turnip crudités served with a pureed-cauliflower-and-cottage-cheese dipping sauce. These paintings were technically “abstract” in that they didn’t look like anything at all, except perhaps the remnants of the previous meal, smeared on canvas.

The stagers also plopped down a few sculptures. The first one you see on a tour of the house, in the living room, probably has a title like “The Elevation of Humankind.” It resembles a giant bowl of french fries recovered from a soot-heavy fire. Most important, it is gray.

Actually, everything is gray. The house also got repainted according to reputed modern home buyer tastes, which may be described as: gray. Not gray as in, say, a shark. That would be way too exciting. Gray like plumbing. Gray like generic sweatpants. Gray like those creepy cow skulls in the desert. Gray that must be spelled “gray,” because “grey” is too outré.

The whole house is spotless, as though it belonged to Felix Unger, who every morning encased his body in one of those thick plastic zip-on couch covers to avoid soiling the furniture or countertops. The only sign the house might actually be inhabited by human people was one book, placed on a dresser in a bedroom, open to “Flemish painters.” Also, a cookbook propped open in the kitchen, on a bookstand, next to a basket of lemons. The book is open to a recipe for “lemon bars.” Because, you know. That is what people in a house like this customarily whip up for dessert. Also in the kitchen, on display, are a tub of Crisco and a bottle of Wesson oil.

Kidding, kidding! There are only three dressings on display: Tuscan seasoning oil, sesame oil and grapeseed oil.

“People like to look at a house like this and say, ‘I’d like to live like this!’ ” says my real estate agent. “And then they buy it, and all the furniture gets moved out, and their own furniture comes in, and they live like they always have.”

Anyway, I objected to none of it. I know these stagers are experts. But it did bug me just a little bit. It’s not that I took it personally — it’s a nice house, I’m proud of it, and if the pros think our tastes were too funky, so be it. But it does bother me that they think so little of American home buyers that they have concluded that bland, pretentious, modern generica is a selling point.

The house went on the market very recently. I just got off the phone with my agent. It sold in minutes.

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