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Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works. — Steve Jobs

Just as the modern woman doesn’t go on a first date without a new dress and a bikini wax, a home shouldn’t be on the market without a little sprucing up. I don’t mean dusting a few shelves and putting away the dishes; this wasn’t cosmetic, applying cover-up here and using blush to accentuate there — this was invasive surgery. At least that’s what it felt like. Drawers were gutted, a cavity in the wall was filled, and a complete clutterectomy was performed. But that wasn’t enough.

“What’s a ‘stager’?” I asked David after he told me our agent was going to bring one by. “Is that like when a furniture store wants to use your space as a showroom for the stuff they’re selling?”

“A stager is someone hired by the realtor or seller to come in and rearrange your home to maximize its perceived value,” David said. I knew he’d have an answer. He may not be a Home Depot–loving weekend warrior, but when given the chance, David will sit through any program that airs on HGTV. I use those times to work on my Angry Birds score. Watching people paint, build, and garden is like watching migrants pick strawberries — boring and depressing.

“I thought they only used those people on empty houses. What can a stager offer us?” I couldn’t imagine anyone whose design sensibilities could surpass my man’s. David’s not just an artist but also a minimalist — after he cleared out 36 boxes of excess, there wasn’t much left to rearrange.

“Who knows? He might be able to suggest a better way to position our sofas,” David said.

The first phase of staging involved the stager — I’ll call him Mike — visiting our home to “get a feel.” I was pleased with his initial reaction to our domain, which involved oohs and aahs. So far, so acceptable; that was, until his perception of what it should be like to live in our home went flying off on a tangent, leaving a trail of plaid in its path.

It began outside, on our 360-square-foot skyline-view terrace. Mike was disturbed that he could see our bedroom through the windowed wall. “You need to get rid of that dining table. This area should be more an extension of your bedroom than anything else; you don’t want people thinking that one of you might be laying in bed while the other is out here entertaining.”

“Why would one of us have a party if the other one was laying in bed? It’s a corner penthouse — the idea of entertaining on a rooftop patio was one of the reasons we bought this place,” I said, testily. I caught the wince on David’s face and forced a smile. “But, sure, whatever you think. You’re the expert.”

Mike wanted to add two chairs to our bedroom. “We just want to demonstrate the use of all this space,” he said. “I don’t know if I have anything that can rise to the level of the rest of your things.”

“Aren’t you working with a store to provide furniture for staging?” Mike shook his head. “What? You just, like, have a garage somewhere full of stuff?” Mike nodded. So...we were relying on his taste, I thought. His taste. If his white sneakers and JCPenney shirt tucked into way-too-faded jeans were any indication, taste was not his strong suit. The same guy who thought it was odd to entertain on a terrace now wanted to put two chairs side by side, facing the foot of my bed. As if it wasn’t creepy to have someone lay in bed while two people sat and stared at him. Awesome.

We went into my office next, the room where I read and write, where I am most at home, my sanctuary. “We should get rid of that chair,” Mike said. “I have a chaise we can put against that wall.” I bristled at this but remained silent. That was my reading chair, the one piece of furniture I kept from my life before David.

When it was suggested that I replace my major source of inspiration — a beautiful four-foot-long painting of books, tea, and a vintage typewriter — with a mirror, I decided I hate stagers. “As much as I love to look at myself, that’s not going to happen,” I said. At least that’s what it sounded like in my head. In David’s version, I decorated my opinion with a variety of colorful words and phrases.

Back in the entryway, Mike pondered a piece he called a table but was really a sculpture that resembles a table. “What if we put those two stools underneath this table to demonstrate how much space is really here?”

“That’s a sculpture, not a table,” I said politely. It was a common enough mistake.

“Well, we wouldn’t put anything on it, just under it,” Mike said.

“You want to stack stools under this piece?” Mike nodded. “Great. Why don’t we also hang this painting in front of that photograph? That’d be good. Let’s obstruct all of the art.” I was no longer trying to suppress my outrage. It wasn’t just that Mike’s taste was terrible or that he was more accustomed to decorating 1920s bungalows than contemporary lofts — it was my awareness that I was no longer the authority on my surroundings; that this was the beginning of what would soon be an invasion of my home, with people treading in and out until one of them made the offer that will take it away from me for good.

David seemed calm for the most part. He agreed with Mike about the positioning of our sofas (parallel, rather than angled) and that we needed larger chairs in front of the TV (to better match the size of our sofas). But when Mike declared his intent to tart up a table with a large bowl filled with decorative balls, David could no longer contain his cool.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I can’t do balls in bowls. They’re pointless.” Then, as if he was concerned he’d come on too strong, David added, “It’s just a pet peeve of mine.”

Later, after Mike left and David and I were ranting about how difficult it had been to keep our hands from our ears while he was giving suggestions, I asked David what his deal was with balls in bowls, which I had considered less offensive than the empty, wire-mesh floor vases Mike suggested (and we nixed).

“Balls in bowls is just a page out of the lazy interior decorator’s playbook,” David said. “For some reason they feel that a basket of brown papier-mâché balls is the universal solution to successfully decorating any room. I blame HGTV.” He sighed heavily and gave an exaggerated, angry roll of his eyes. It felt good to know I wasn’t alone.

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nan shartel April 20, 2011 @ 7:06 p.m.

and those lacy balls in bowls Babs...WTF??!!

they're even worse!!!

love this one kiddo....;-D


Javajoe25 April 21, 2011 @ 12:53 p.m.

What? You guys don't get the "balls in the bowl" thing? I'm surprised at both of you. It's supposed to be subliminal, but it's so obvious, it's ridiculous. You see, the bowl is the receptacle--who's the receptacle? And the balls, well...who has the balls? Right. So, you put the balls in the bowl and la-dee-da! A happy home! Personally, I'm much more intrigued by the "You put the lime in the coconut..." Now that, is something to ponder.

Hey, I hope putting the house on the market doesn't mean you guys are leaving us. I would miss these weekly peeks at "life in Sandy Eggo" that you provide. Whatever the story, I hope you are catching this market in the upswing.


Barbarella Fokos April 22, 2011 @ 4 p.m.

Ha! Nan, I know what you mean. And Java, no, we're not going anywhere -- San Diego is where my heart is. We'll probably move a few miles away from where we live now. We just want to spend more money on traveling, and less on mortgaging. :)


Lindsey468 April 23, 2011 @ 3:36 p.m.

Barbarella, I remember your column some time ago about your big weight loss. For some people, maintaining such a loss is harder than the initial loss. Would you write an updated column on that topic?


Barbarella Fokos April 23, 2011 @ 3:52 p.m.

Hi, Lindsey! Yes, that was in 2007, and it wasn't a column, it was an extensive cover feature, so an "update" by way of column isn't something I had in mind. I will tell you that after losing 100 pounds, I have been yo-yoing up and down the same 20-30 lbs. over the last 4 years, but have kept more than 60% of the lost weight off the entire time. Maintaining weight-loss is WORK, especially for someone whose life involves endless cocktail and dinner parties (wink), but I currently jog 3 to 4 days a week and lift weights daily, try to eat well (as a foodie, "well" means sourced-locally and varied more than low-cal), and live life reasonably. When I want to go gung-ho again and seriously lose the excess, I have to do what Charlie the trainer had me do for the two years I was on that rigorous plan that led to the big lose, and that's a little more work than I'm prepared to do right now. So I continue to focus on my HEALTH, as I mentioned in that story, rather than my WEIGHT. I hope that satisfies your curiosity. :)


Barbarella Fokos April 23, 2011 @ 4:29 p.m.

Follow me: and the Reader: on Twitter!


antigeekess April 23, 2011 @ 5:53 p.m.

Cat lady version:


That stager sounds like a bit of a doofus. I'm really surprised he uses his own stuff. Is this the norm? I also thought they used items borrowed from furniture/design stores. If that's not already going on, it seems like a good idea for them. Possible angle for some salesy individual to work.

Regarding weight, last week I got some bloodwork done that revealed what I've suspected for decades -- my thyroid is a lazy bum. I always knew there was no way what I ate could reasonably account for my weight. Supposedly, hypothyroidism is very underdiagnosed in women. I've ordered what appears to be a good thyroid supplement to boost my metabolism. You might want to have yours checked as well.


Joe Poutous April 25, 2011 @ 7:48 a.m.

I don't think I would have been able to handle the stager's suggestions with the grace that you displayed.

  • Joe

nan shartel April 25, 2011 @ 8:45 p.m.

i think more thyroid problems exist then Docs and professionals r willing to say

60% off for 4 years??

..u dun good gurl!!! ;-D


Grandpuba April 26, 2011 @ 11:56 a.m.

Personally I can't stand marbles/gems in a vase. Also if someone is going to come into my condo to make it chic it better be Franck Eggelhoffer not walmart bob.


Joe Poutous April 27, 2011 @ 6:23 a.m.

No. Balls in a Bowl is a definite no.

I remember growing up, My great grandmother had these purple glass grapes in a leaf shaped bowl on her coffee table. Each grape was perfectly round, about 2.5" in diameter. There were about 25 of them, attached to a stem with curly-ques and leafs at the top.

I wish I had a set of those grapes!

  • Joe

heather_m May 19, 2011 @ 11:06 a.m.

You know what's more boring and depressing than watching migrant workers pick strawberries? Reading an entire column by a narcissistic brat about staging and selling her downtown San Diego column. Yawn. Come on down from the clouds, Babs. Those are real people living real lives that you're insulting. Please think about it.


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