In her advertising career, Lori Bitter learned that it all comes down to helping spark people’s imaginations. This is also the whole idea behind property staging, which is what Bitter does with her five-year-old Napa firm Dalia Staging & Design, Inc.
How Bitter, 62, found herself in this particular line of work is, she said, “a twisted tale.”
“I was in advertising my whole career,” she said. “When my husband, Dwain, (now 63) who worked for IBM, was transferred and we moved to San Francisco from Champaign, Illinois, about 20 years ago, I decided to go back to school to get a design degree.”
It was something that always interested her, Bitter said.
“I went to Berkeley’s extension program in San Francisco and gradually started designing some of our own things and for friends,” she said.
“By the time we moved to Napa, Dwain retired and went into real estate. I had heard of staging and thought I’d do staging for his listings. I went to a couple of Realtor meetings with him and mentioned it, and suddenly people were shoving business cards in my hands, and it really took off.”
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The idea of home staging — creating an impression of a place with color, furniture and accessory placement; styling and furnishing a property for sale in such a way as to enhance its attractiveness to potential buyers — is believed to have been invented in Seattle in 1972 by Barb Schwarz, Bitter said.
The concept made perfect sense to the marketing expert in Bitter.
“Because I come from a marketing background, I can see a home as a product and how to package it as a product as opposed to a pure design perspective,” she said.
“Often sellers are not thinking about how to bring out the best way to tell the story of that house. We do a little more layering and accessorizing and get people to get a feeling about it.”
There are differing philosophies about this.
“The idea is to open the house up and make it more accessible to the broadest number of people,” she said. “I don’t think generic tugs at the heartstrings. I think it has to tell a story and make people want to live there.”
Not everyone can see a home’s potential through its current state, she said.
“It’s funny, because if you can picture something, it’s hard to understand that most people can’t,” she said. “Spatial relationships are difficult for many people, for example. Staging helps with that also. Vacant houses are difficult to imagine.”
Local Realtor Kelli Marchbanks said Bitter can “make a ho-hum house look dazzling, so buyers can see the potential in the home without having to use their imagination.” This often leads to better offers, she said.
Describing Bitter as “an amazing professional designer that works with my clients to realize a home’s full potential,” Marchbanks said that many say they regret not having called her years before so they could have enjoyed their house looking it’s best before they decided to sell.
Bitter’s palate of decorating skills sets her work above many others, Marchbanks said.
“Lori has a range of services, from a brief consultation to help clients choose what to pack up or how to arrange their existing furniture, or helping clients pick out paint colors — interior/exterior, sometimes even just a new front door color — help with replacing out-of-date light fixtures, and she can bring in a whole house full of beautiful furniture to make the house show at its absolute best,” she said.
“In the age of the internet and professional photos, videos and Matterport Tours (where buyers can examine every nook and cranny) it’s worth it to make the house look like a model home.”
Bitter said Dalia Staging is able to keep costs down to around $2 to $3 per square foot because the firm maintains a large warehouse full of various types of furniture and other items, while some other such companies rent what they need on a per-case basis.
Even so, it’s a balancing act, especially when the owners are still living in the home, she said.
“You have to let the house shine through and not the belongings — for occupied showings — which is challenging,” she said.
Bitter, who along with her husband, raised two daughters and a niece, and now has four grandsons, also does consulting and redecorating.
In selecting a name for her business, Bitter said she was looking for something that wasn’t specifically about her and that also made sense.
“I wanted to denote wine country, and found this word Dalia — Hebrew for “of the vine” — and found Dalia is also the Lithuanian goddess of good fortune and my grandmother was Lithuanian. I took it as a sign. We have an actual Dahlia flower in the logo.”
Dalia Staging & Design is a full-service provider of real estate staging services to realtors and homeowners in the North Bay, Bitter said. This includes vacant home staging and preparation of occupied homes for sale.
“We also provide specialized services like photo styling, color consultations, and materials recommendations for renovation,” she said.
“The design side of the company does color consultations, full home design services or project design, short-term rental design and styling, and product sourcing. To date we have staged more than 600 homes in the area and have dozens of design projects.”
Bitter said the best thing about what she does, is that “it’s an opportunity to use my creativity every day. Even an interior designer doesn’t get a new challenge every day. It’s like a puzzle to solve every day. And we do it in a day, literally. From the color palette to the accessories, and style and it’s very satisfying. To look at it and know it’s going to sell fast and it’s very satisfying when it does.”
And each property has a story, and those are also interesting, she said.
“To hear people’s stories, of why they’re moving … We meet a lot of really wonderful people when they’re leaving town. Young families moving up to their next house, leaving that first home, or retirees moving to be close to their grandchildren. Hearing their stories and seeing people take that next step in their lives, and it’s really fun to help make that happen,” she said.
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You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 707-256-2218 or [email protected]