5 Staging Props You Need to Stop Using … Now!

By Justin M. Riordan, Spade and Archer Design Agency

There is good staging. There is bad staging. I mean, like really bad staging. In an industry with no regulations, no standardized accreditation system, and tons of “hobbyist professionals”, one gets what one pays for. The problem here is not if that inexperienced or bargain basement stager will do a good job, rather if they’ll actually stop your house from selling, dead in its tracks.

It’s true; good, thoughtful staging can most certainly help a house sell for more money and in less time. Bad staging can bring the selling momentum of a great house to a screeching halt. The absolute best way for bad staging to kibosh your sale is to have it offend potential buyers.

Here are five potentially offensive staging props that could threaten your sale:

J_alcohol1. Alcohol. Alcohol is a common thing found in many homes. It can raise both positive and negative emotions in buyers. We aren’t too worried about the positive emotions on this one as nobody is going to walk into your house and say, “They drink Chablis, I drink Chablis, let’s buy this house!” That being said, a potential buyer may very well be uncomfortable or even offended by alcohol for various reasons.  They could be in recovery or alcohol could be prohibited by their religion. For any reason, a buyer could be offended by alcohol sitting in the living room, on the counter, or next to the bathtub (tacky) in what could potentially be their new home. Even worse is staging with two-buck-chuck and offending the connoisseurs.

J_tipi22. The tipi (also spelled teepee or tepee). Cultural appropriation is a hot button topic these days. I’ve noticed a good number of home stagers using tipis in kids rooms and play areas.  I spoke to a friend who happens to be a Plains Native American to help me understand why the use of a tipi in home staging could be offensive. He explained that the tipi is a very sacred structure used for ceremonies and rites of passage and to use that sacred piece of somebody else’s culture to sell a house is less than thoughtful. It would be like using the pages of a King James Bible to wallpaper a bathroom, pretty but disrespectful. Whether you agree that using tipis is offensive or not, it’s important to understand that it may raise questions and emotions that are not related to “buy this house”.

J_animalparts23. Dead animal parts. These items are going-to-town, off-the-charts popular. Walking into staged homes all over the county is not unlike walking into an animal autopsy. There are pieces of the beast strewn on the table, tossed over the chair, laid out on the floor and even hung on the wall. Whether it is antlers, hide rugs, fur throws or pillows, these are all clearly recognizable parts of animals that were once alive and are now dead.  Don’t get me wrong, I love me some creepy dead animal decoration, but I know that I am not in the majority. Truly, it’s a very popular trend right now, but many of us are offended by it. A potential buyer might be vegetarian or vegan, an animal rights activist, or even just have a weak stomach. Needless to say, if your potential buyers are any one of these things and need to walk over the ripped-off epidermis of a recently murdered bovine, they might think twice about buying the house they actually love but can’t stomach the though of purchasing.

J_blowup4. Blow-up mattresses. Did you hear that? It was the sound of a blow-up mattress deflating. Or perhaps it was the sound of somebody crashing to the ground after sitting on a blow-up mattress, which was in-turn sitting on top of four 5-gallon buckets. It sounds an awful lot like a lawsuit, doesn’t it? Not only do blow-up mattress look like blow-up mattress (i.e. horrendous), they are unpredictable at best and dangerous at worst.  It’s a stager’s responsibility to demonstrate that a real mattress and box spring can get up the staircase and into that perfect bedroom your buyer had in mind.

J_woodart25. Word art. Do you really need a 3-foot tall E-A-T sign to get a buyer to understand that this room is the dining room? Shouldn’t the dining table surrounded by eight chairs tell that story that this is, in fact a dining room, designed for the specific purpose of E-A-T-I-N-G? Word art is fun, isn’t it? I always love to add one extra word or phrase to each one I see like “Life, Love, Family… Barf”. Ultimately, the staging should tell the story of how happy, successful, and fulfilled one could be if they bought the house. Word art is simply a lazy way to ineffectively send your message. (P.S. My favorite one so far? A big pink canvas that said “Dream Big” next to at toilet, with the lid up nonetheless. Ugh.)

When it comes to home staging, we all make choices. You can choose to simply pick the latest trends that you love and take the chance offending your potentially buyer. Or, you can make thoughtful selections that keep your buyer paying attention to the house and not the staging. Choices, darling… choices.

headshot_JustinRiordanABOUT THE AUTHOR: Justin M. Riordan, LEED AP is founder of Spade and Archer Design Agency, a home staging company with offices in Portland, Seattle and Palm Springs. As the creative energy behind Spade and Archer, Riordan fuses his formal training as an architect with his natural design savvy to create beautiful and authentic spaces for clients. Follow Spade and Archer on Instagram.

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This post was contributed exclusively for REALTOR® Magazine.

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  1. Thank You, Justin-

    These are all spot on. The blow-up beds always look wavy, and not crisp. The dead animals just creep me out; their cold, glass eyes follow me around a room. I also have just never understood the whole word thing either.
    I’d like to add to your list the small fake plants. Why all the plastic when a living plant can be bought for 4 bucks at TJ’s. Our homes in Seattle aren’t staged for more than 2 weeks, almost any plant will survive that long in low light.

  2. Theresa

    Agree with some but faux fur (pillows, throws, not taxidermy) is big and most people love the warmth and texture. It is not real and people know this. Air beds, I can’t really see budgeting for a full bed, box spring and mattress and moving of same for the average home. For a luxury property, I agree that a real bed is preferable. This may make staging cost prohibitive in many markets.

  3. Beverly Carlson

    I have never seen a stager put a dead animal on the wall; those are the seller’s trophies! As far as the teepee, I don’t stage with much children’s items, but a teepee is much cuter than toys, books, posters, and other hanging things everywhere.
    If you are going to gripe about a blowup bed, I suggest you look at mine. They are propped up yes, but seriously, the house was empty before; no one should be messing with the beds. True story, I went to pick up a bed in a pickup thinking I had put a real bed in the house and then when I got there it was a blowup and I could have just put the whole bed in my trunk. So blowup beds depend on the stager. Not every house sells in 2 weeks and silk green plants are so much better than nothing green. Remember the house was empty before! I use fresh flowers for the first open house, but flowers are expensive in Texas!

  4. Carla

    This seems more like personal opinions and not based on facts. The entire tone of this blog screams bad attitude; my opinion. A sheepskin, empty bottle of wine, a child’s teepee and word art are hardly “offensive”…just because these items – clearly – get on one person’s nerves, doesn’t mean they’re offensive. Could mean someone is overly sensitive, though.

  5. Rachel

    Let’s be honest, all stagers would love to use high end furnishings and accessories, however the client’s budget doesn’t allow for this in many cases. That being said, using an air mattress is a great alternative and keeps the client within their allowed budget. In my experience, I have NEVER had a client complain about the use of an air mattress.

    One other point, I don’t think the word art is going to be the reason for not buying the pink bathroom home…

  6. Jacqueline Balcells

    Relax… take a breath…. don’t be offended by everything you see or you’ll give yourself a heart attack!

  7. Susan

    I respectfully disagree. If people are so offended by a bottle of wine that it will turn them off to a house, they may be living in the wrong place. I may not put out a bottle of wine in my home state of Texas, where there are lots of Southern Baptists, but I certainly will in the state where I now reside, where folks seem to *really* love their wine. I agree that wine in the bathroom is just tacky unless you are specifically going for that feel (no pun intended!).

    Dead animal parts. I agree that animal heads, skulls and stuffed animals are never appropriate. Most fur is faux, and it is often very hard to distinguish real from fake. Fake animal fur is almost perpetually in style and can lend a warm and cosy feel that few other materials can match. In a mostly monochromatic room it adds a wonderful bit of texture as well.

    As far as the word art, that is a very popular way to decorate now and really speaks to the under 40 crowd in particular. It fits right in with hardwood floors and grey or greige color schemes. As an agent, I keep a few on hand for homes I am selling to add a nice warmth and to send a subtle message. A couple of my favorites say, “Home Sweet Home” and “Home Is Wherever I Am with You.” I love to study how our brains work, and such things as word art really can have an impact on our subconscious. I put motivational signs in my kids’ bathroom in hopes that they will read and internalize it as they are brushing their teeth, or yes, even going to the bathroom. They certainly won’t do affirmations on their own (again, very powerful!) but reading them is almost as good.

    With the tipis, it really depends on your market. Here where Native Americans make up 0.1% of the population or less, it probably wouldn’t be an issue. In New Mexico or Arizona I would definitely reconsider. Though personally I think it shrinks the space. If the corner needed anything (doubtful, and certainly not in the article’s picture), a child-sized reading chair would be more visually pleasing.

    I guess it all boils down to knowing your market. But to be honest, I feel that most of the things you mentioned are either neutral or positively perceived in many markets.

  8. Dave

    Well, that was a waste of time…..dead animal parts. Really, come on man!

  9. Lee

    Well, I always tell my clients that have animals mounted and displayed in their homes to make sure that they are dead first. Seriously, it really depends on the area and type of home that you are marketing (and if it has acreage on which to hunt). The “dead animals thing” is an over generalization. I often use photos in my marketing and it works.

  10. Christine Elsasser

    While I agree with some of your comments (mostly the part about you get what you pay for) I think you’re way to easily “offended”. Staging sets a tone in a house. The comfy faux fur pillows, throws, and maybe rugs are to exude the feeling of comfort and coziness. I would never use dead animal parts (as you suggested), nor have I ever seen dead animal parts in my 20 years of staging. The wine thing? That’s ridiculous. There are way more important things to worry about when selling a home.

  11. Christine Elsasser


  12. Linda

    And here I thought the article was going to be on towels tied together with silk ribbon or raffia and artificial wreaths on the front door regardless of season…

    Let’s face it. Certain markets can and will tolerate certain design styles. Cabin in the mountain? I don’t imagine a seller will be turned off by fur–on or off an animal. Kid’s room? Motivational or word art is certainly appropriate and usually gender neutral. Wine on a bar? Come on, it’s a BAR, it’s not like someone is going to use it for a Smoothie Station. Personally, I try to minimize the alcohol in the same way I try to minimize or remove religious artifacts. You want to appeal to a broad base and lessen anything potentially offensive. Air mattresses? Not wonderful, but as many others have said, not everyone has the budget for anything else. Checking on them from time to time and using flattened boxes on top and with thick bedding can help to disguise the hollows. I’m also an author, so I get that the writer of the article needs content to write about, but I don’t think you can use such a broad brush when it comes to staging.

  13. Years ago, unbeknownst to me, I had a problem with number 3. The Sellers were cowboys and the “odd” object on the fireplace hearth was a skull. I put the house on tour for feedback as to why it wasn’t selling, and turns out everyone knew what is was, and said it had to go.

  14. Kerry

    As a buyer I have walked out of for sales with dead animal heads on the walls. Hey, some of us respect all of God’s creatures and find it horrendous.

  15. Ted C

    Makes me want to stage my house with a teepee. The idea of “Cultural appropriation” is ridiculous.

  16. Gone are the days when we would use these in our home staging. These won’t work on most of the buyers of today!