About to list your home for sale? Nine times out of ten you should start preparing for your open house by taking all of your art and wall hangings down and starting fresh. “I would say 90 percent of the time, I ask my clients to take their art down and remove any personal items on the walls like family photos or diplomas,” says Becky Freeman, a professional home stager in Toronto.

Photo: Provided by Becky Freeman by Aristea Rizakos Photography

The art you choose to hang on your walls is a personal decision and it should speak to you. The art you choose for your open house should be the opposite. You want to appeal to a large audience of homebuyers who are about to shell out top dollar for your home. “My rule of thumb when I’m choosing art is whether it falls under a set of criteria: Does it make me feel happy, is it easy to understand, and is it clean, minimalist and not too emotional,” says Freeman.

Here, the highly sought-after property stylist shares the styles she gravitates to, which pieces you should avoid and how to install visuals that will truly sell your space.

1. Depersonalize your space.

Photo: Provided by Becky Freeman by Aristea Rizakos Photography

You want prospective homeowners to be able to imagine themselves in your home, instead of thinking about you. Start by removing all family photos, diplomas, framed newspaper clippings, etc. “You want to neutralize the home 100 percent,” says Freeman.

2. Select the right style, scale and color palette.

Photo: Provided by Becky Freeman by Silverhouse HD

Freeman often works with stylish clients who have impressive art collections. But their art often doesn’t work with the furniture and decor in her extensive inventory, which has a minimal, mid-century feel. When you’re staging your home to sell, it’s important for every room to flow into the next, and art can help keep the story feeling cohesive.

“Don’t be afraid to go big as long as it isn’t competing with something nearby,” says Freeman. A small photo of a cityscape won’t make much of an impact, but a large photo over a mantel will create a focal point and add visual interest to the space.

Many people also hang their art too high or too low. “You want to bring it down to an intimate level,” says Freeman. “The focal point of the artwork should always be around eye-level.”

When it comes to the color scheme, it’s all about balance and proportion in a room. “If you have a really neutral room, you might want to add a bit of color in the art,” says Freeman. “Every room, even if it’s monochromatic, should have tones of color even if that’s in greenery, or it can come out in the artwork.”

3. Avoid generic, mass-produced or potentially offensive pieces.

Photo: Provided by Becky Freeman by Aristea Rizakos Photography

Don’t hang reproductions of famous art. Mona Lisa belongs in a museum, not at your open house. The same goes for Bansky’s Balloon Girl, Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night and anything by Picasso. You want the art in your home to feel original.

You’ll also want to avoid mass-produced abstract prints or photography. A generic picture of the CN Tower or a sunset in Aruba will make your design look cheesy. Try working with a professional photographer or even combing through your own photo collection — like photos of the sea cliffs in Portugal or canals in Copenhagen.

Avoid hanging anything that could offend someone. While nudes can make a fantastic addition to your personal collection, they might make a buyer feel uncomfortable. You also want to appeal to a wide audience. Religious art should come down since it might not represent the same religion practiced by the buyer and can elicit a strong emotional response.

Lastly, avoid art that has typography. Word art was a huge trend that has come and gone — we’ve all seen enough ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ prints for a lifetime.

4. Simple abstracts, cityscapes, beach scenes and botanicals work like a charm.

Photo: Provided by Becky Freeman by Olivia O’Young Photography 

Abstracts work well for staging because they aren’t personal, can be an interesting focal point and depict mood effectively. “Just avoid anything dark, heavy, dramatic, moody and mysterious — that’s not really what we want,” says Freeman. Also avoid anything too busy — with lots of contrasting colors and cluttered shapes. Freeman gravitates to abstracts with simple lines, geometric shapes and a large scale.

If your budget is tight, you can try a DIY (at your own risk). “Minimalist design and decor is very in right now. Some of the art that I buy is literally a couple lines on a canvas,” says Freeman. “I would suggest going to an art store and buying a big canvas. You can put painters tape on it, come up with a cool design and go for it. Or just go freehand.”

Freeman loves using interesting local cityscapes, architectural photos, beach scenes, botanical prints and quirky animal photos. “I actually do a lot of my shopping for art on Etsy,” says Freeman. You can purchase a digital photo online and print it yourself — keeping costs down by sourcing the frames at IKEA or Michaels “If you go to any art gallery in Toronto, some of them are very open to renting,” says Freeman. “And if you know any artists, many are happy to rent. Don’t be afraid to ask them.”

5. Think outside the box with textural pieces and mirrors.

Photo: Provided by Becky Freeman by Olivia O’Young Photography 

Art can take many forms — it doesn’t always involve paint on a canvas, pen to paper or a photographer behind a lens. “If you have more colorful accessories or a bright pillowscape, the art can be more textural and neutral,” says Freeman. “Maybe not even a painting or a photograph, but a simple woven basket or macrame wall hanging on the wall to give it some texture.”

Repetition here is key. One straw hat on the wall might make your space look cluttered but if you hang a collection, it instantly creates a focal point. Even a trio of retro canoe paddles can be art.

In some cases, mirrors can replace art in a room. “Mirrors are very important,” says Freeman. “Every room should have some reflective surfaces.”

Photo: Provided by Becky Freeman by Aristea Rizakos Photography

6. Select art with personality.

“A lot of my pieces are fun and a little tongue in cheek,” says Freeman. “I’ve put up photographs of a cow in a living room with some funky wallpaper behind it. It makes people feel happy and can help spark a conversation. When you’re going through an open house or going to a showing with a realtor, it can break the ice or just make people feel happy in the space.”

Your staging should be clean and simple, but it doesn’t have to lack personality. “I think art brings a level of sophistication to a space,” says Freeman. “Everyone wants to know that the person they’re buying from is sophisticated and took care of their home.”

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