Decorating To Please Yourself, Not a Future Buyer

By Bill Primavera

The Home Guru

When I was 13 years old, I got the urge to decorate my own room as my breakout effort to establish my own identity and, with my mother’s permission, I painted my room bright red.

There was nothing too odd about that, but convinced that the room looked too stark and needed some pattern, I dressed the two windows with drapes that I found in a storage trunk in the attic.  The problem was that the drapes were a green, yellow and pink floral print on a white background. Can you visualize the end result?

A couple of years later when my family decided to sell our home and the first prospective buyers visited, the wife entered that room and exclaimed, “Oh, my God!”  My mother was convinced that it was my room alone that scared them away.

I had never heard the term “too taste specific” until I got into real estate, and lately I’ve been hearing it a lot. Maybe it’s that, in the recession, homes for sale have to appeal to the widest possible audience. And indeed, conventional wisdom has told us that the more “neutralized” the interior, the better.

But maybe we’ve taken that principle too far.

I’ve noticed that some interior designers who blog have started posting their frustrations with clients who are timid about expressing their true selves in decorating for fear of offending some future home buyer.  Flying in the face of “vanilla and white bread,”  more decorators are now advising their clients not to trap themselves  into an existence of visually blah surroundings, waiting for the approval or at least the tolerance of some one else.

One of my new friends who never bowed to others’ opinions about her decoration is Maxine Oliver, a homeowner who recently contacted me through this column and invited me into her split-level home for a broker’s price opinion.  She had given me no advance indication of her interests or decoration, but when I arrived and introduced myself to her and her husband Tom, I looked around and knew that I had found one of the most “taste specific” interiors I had ever seen.

Maxine is an avid hobbyist who collects dolls, including some that she made herself in porcelain, and various types of china and figurines which are displayed wall-to-wall in her den/hobby work room and in her dining room.  In addition she does exquisite bead weaving for a budding jewelry business and is a fiber artist as well, displaying many of her quilts and other wall hangings on her walls. 

While her home currently serves as the repository of the countless items produced by Maxine’s hobbies, the inventory could be thinned out or packed away were the Olivers to place their house on the market. But, there is another home hobby that is evident in a more permanent way:  Maxine’s love of wall stenciling and hand-painted wall murals.

Her dining room and den walls meet the ceilings with meticulously stenciled borders.  In the dining room, the technique she employed is theorem, where several difference layers of paint and wash are applied to add depth. With that one border alone, Maxine said, “I had to apply five different layers of paint around the entire room,” requiring that she paint in an uncomfortable position above her head and repeat the process five times. The project required a solid two weeks of full-time work.

But her piece de resistance was yet to be revealed. Her bedroom, which physically is not large, features a hand-painted mural which places the visitor inside an open Tuscan villa, with Ionic columns and stone work painted with wash, and flowering vines executed free hand with acrylics.  As I gaped at how a medium-sized bedroom was converted to an expansive faux vista, Maxine turned to me and asked, “Do you think I should paint over all of this if I put the house on the market?”

Perhaps influenced by the blogs I had been reading, I replied with great emphasis, “Absolutely not!  This is not a scary wallpaper, and it’s not a horrid paint color. It’s art!  Keep it.”  My feeling is that somebody will fall in love with Maxine’s art and, who knows? It could be the “something different” in a nicely updated but otherwise standard split that would have it move faster than another home of similar size and character.

Maxine admitted that she watched too much HGTV, but still listened to her own instincts as she used her home’s walls as her artistic canvass. She shared with me a story about one of her friends in North Carolina who called a realtor in when it came time to sell her home. “He insisted that my friend paint the entire interior white and to empty out all the furniture and accessories,” she said. “She took that advice and, instead of selling a home, she found that she was trying to sell a big white box! When people looked at the rooms online, they couldn’t tell which room was which.  They all looked the same.”

In support of stepping out of neutrality when decorating, one interior designer recently blogged that “Life is over faster than anyone wants to admit.  So, leave a mark already!” 

Another blog posting I liked from a savvy realtor was, “When a home stager insists that something is ‘too taste specific,’ what she’s really saying in a polite way is that it’s just too damned ugly to remain!”   

Bill Primavera is a licensed Realtor® (, affiliated with Coldwell Banker, and a marketing practitioner ( For questions or comments about the housing market, or selling or buying a home, he can be reached directly at 914-522-2076.