See How a Stager Gave a Historic NYC Parlor-Level Unit a Cheerful New Look

published Jun 20, 2023
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Parlor floor living and dining area before home staging with blue walls, lots of patterned furniture, blue velvet sofa, wood floor
Credit: Hovey Design

It’s not often that you’ll find a parlor-level three-bedroom apartment for sale in New York City, not to mention one that’s been lovingly cared for by the same family for over 20 years. But with their newfound status as empty nesters, the owners of this 1,800-square-foot unit in a Brooklyn Heights brownstone knew it was time to let a new family move in and make their own memories.

The pre-war apartment had last seen major renovations in the early 2000s. While it was certainly filled with life and brimming with potential, it needed a stager’s touch to help it hit the market with a splash. Ian Katz, a real estate broker with Compass in NYC, explains that in this case, they decided the best approach was to wait until the existing owners had closed on a new condo so that they could refresh and stage it with all new furniture. This way, they wouldn’t disrupt the sellers’ day-to-day life or their emotional attachment to the home.

“We implemented my recommended pre-market plan which included a re-paint of the entire property and a staging program including furniture and light fixtures,” Katz says. To do that, he brought in sisters Porter and Hollister Hovey of Hovey Design, a Brooklyn staging company that specializes in iconic and quintessential pre-war brownstone properties. 

The apartment features 11-foot ceilings, a historic facade, old gas lamp lighting, and other antique touches that the staging was designed to emphasize in a way that felt bright and modern. “Hovey Design’s ‘heirloom modern’ design approach is absolutely perfect for making these historically special homes sing to the modern buyer,” Katz explains. “I was confident enough to give them full carte blanche on staging and light fixture selection, and they made the magic happen from there.”

The goal, according to Porter Hovey, was to bridge the historic features with a feeling of approachableness. “Even in the incredibly fancy homes, we don’t want anything to seem too precious. Everything has to be elevated but not intimidating,” Porter says.

When it comes time to paint a unit, the staging duo almost always chooses white. “The vast majority of the time, we recommend going white to provide a beautiful clean slate for the space. Benjamin Moore Decorator’s White is our go-to for modern spaces and new condos, while we like White Dove for pre-war homes like this one,” Porter says. The slight creaminess of White Dove adds a warmth that’s perfect for detail-rich historic homes, although she adds that they’ll only paint trim or accents if they’ve already been painted over, as it’s so hard to go back. In this space, the trim had already been painted, so they simply freshened it up.

The hardwired lighting also provided an opportunity for the stagers to add both art and function. “Some Brooklyn townhouses are so grand and ornate that it’s vital to add fun mid-century and high-design lighting to bring them down to earth for the young families that will live in them,” Porter says. “Keeping things purely historical can feel like living in a time capsule.”

Credit: Hovey Design

To emphasize the brightness of the white without making it feel too harsh, they recommend using 2700K light bulbs. “That warm light makes spaces feel comfortable and homey; 3000K or higher can feel incredibly sterile and cold, like a laboratory,” Porter says.

With lots of windows, thanks to its corner placement, as well as two fireplaces, the apartment was overflowing with charm. “It’s both extremely sunny and cozy,” Hollister Hovey says. “The front fireplace area is separated by French doors, so it felt like an ideal living room/library.” 

She used that inspiration to place the sofa and conversational chairs to draw attention both to the fireplace and the windows. The large footprint meant that an eight-person dining table easily fit, which is a rarity for this type of unit in Brooklyn. In the dining area, they used vintage Italian rattan chairs to lend extra seating without adding bulk to the space or distracting from the second fireplace. A floating desk helped fill up the abundant space, while also providing an opportunity for more styling moments, including fresh blooms.

The art in the home is instantly eye-catching — and it’s actually created in-house by Hollister, who typically leans towards a peachy pink palette to warm up spaces. “We used a massive pinky terrazzo-looking painting in the dining area, so the navy blue pattern field painting added some nice grounding over the mantel,” Hollister says. “A pair of Hans Agne Jakobsson candle holders and hurricanes add a nice glow, while a pretty gray and pale green Ingegerd Silow rug adds more visual interest there and works well with the vintage rattan.” 

In the living room, they used a large, almost solid coral peach painting above the sofa and echoed the color with a plastic parrot they picked up in Amsterdam 10 years ago.

They also played with the outside environment and took advantage of the listing hitting the market during the height of spring. “With all the faux flowers inside and the blossoms right outside the window, it felt almost like sitting in a Newport parlor with Edith Wharton, looking out onto beautiful gardens, yet right in the city,” says Hollister.

Katz notes that the price was set to maximize traffic — and it worked. The listing went under contract quickly, receiving more than 20 offers in just five days. “The staging helped accelerate the sale significantly and the home will close for roughly 30 percent over the highest price-per-foot comps for this type of apartment in Brooklyn Heights,” says Katz.