Model makeovers

12 October 2013, The Daily Telegraph

Fashion shoots, hired Bentleys, new kitchens… There are no half measures when it’s time to sell, says Zoe Dare Hall

Some may consider its money to burn, but Cire Trudon candles that cost up to £700 a pop are merely the finishing touch for interior designer Nicola Fontanella, who completed the £1million redesign of a Regent’s Park mansion, now on sale for £42million.

Fontanella, founder of Argent Design, commissions almost every piece bespoke for her clients. On the stairs of Lethbridge House on Cornwall Terrace, for example, as well as an original Lowry seascape, there’s an £80,000 hand-cut Venetian crystal chandelier. Known for her Hollywood staircases, she has chosen a design in white onyx with illuminated Lalique panels for the house, and she is keen on exotic skins, stingray decorates everything from desktops to drawers. The walls are coated in cashmere wallpaper and wood pilasters are wrapped in lacquered goatskin, hand-dyed by craftsmen in Columbia. “The minute you enter the driveway to a property, every detail has been designed for a purpose. I can go to four countries for one piece of furniture,’ says Fontanella, whose clients include Madonna.

Vendors and developers will go to extraordinary lengths to sell a luxury lifestyle through soft furnishings and designer accessories. ‘You stock the fridge with goodies from Fortnum & Mason, hire a Bentley for the driveway and say “look how we live”, says Mark Crampton from buying agent Middleton Advisors, who sees plenty such ploys in his North Surrey patch, including St George’s Hill and Virginia Water.

Selling a lifestyle

Styling doesn’t necessarily stop at the property, either. Sometimes it involves providing a new whole identity for the owner, too, as Lucy Powel’s from Brahm Interiors discovered. “The day after buying a London house from a developer, one overseas client asked for all the soft furnishings to be reinstalled as the place didn’t feel the same without them. He also asked us to buy his clothes (he gave us his sizes) and CD collection and tells him where to eat and which members’ clubs to join. We created the ultimate style profile for him,’ says Powles.

‘Every brand that goes into the property is crucial to forming the profile of this inspirational life. We’ve worked with clients who hire everything from Steinways to beautiful women for the photo shoot. Vendors wish potential purchasers to walk around thinking, “I want to be the guy who lives here.”

Spending tens of thousands dressing a home to sell it may seem a pointless expense, especially when the new owner starts from scratch when they move in, but it is common practice. James Wyatt of Barton Wyatt estate agents recalls the buyer of a mansion on the Wentworth Estate in Surrey. “The owners could not sell for £3.75million, so spent £1.5million on remodelling the property. It sold for £6millionto a local couple who promptly ripped everything out, including the new £100,000 kitchen.”

But a certain level of styling is considered essential to set one multimillion-pound property apart from another. That means Chloe clothing and Louboutin shoes in the wardrobes (luxury brands loan items for the right calibre of project) and other hints of grandeur such as stationary embossed with the address, using a logo that is echoed in the frieze of the coving and monogrammed towels.

Daniel Kostiuc, who runs the interior design house Intarya, was called in to transform a small tired Kensington mews house specifically to sell. “The owner spent more than £100,000 on removing walls and converting the basement and we used a lot of glass, mirrors and slim line furniture to make it look bigger than its 1,000 Sq Ft. It sold instantly for double the amount the owner had paid for it a year before,” says Kostiuc, whose signature style includes £2,000 embroidered cushions, silk damask on the walls and hand-painted murals.

One Chelsea owner had a similar windfall when he called in the architect Hugo Tugman to make his ground/ basement-floor flat appear more inviting. “We removed some of the floor, turning the basement into a funky, double-height space and the flat sold instantly for £3million – twice what he had paid before the project,” says Tugman.

He adds, “Viewing is an emotional process- most people react to what’s in front of them, rather than being able to see what the property could look like.”

The owners of a house in Belgravia were hoping for that knee-jerk reaction to their eye for design, having spent £150,000 on dressing and refurbishing their property. This work added approximately £1million to its value, according to Simon Godson, partner at WA Ellis, which marketed the house for £7.25million.

Room Service

Added value may not always be quantifiable, but styling can make the difference between selling or not. Russell & Cheryl Agius, both actuaries in their early forties, built The Glade, a neo Georgian six bedroom mansion in Kingswood, Surrey, less than five years ago. When they decided to sell it – for £2million – they spent 10 per cent of the build costs on refurnishing the house, so that it was in line with brand-new properties on the market. “It’s no use building a Rolls Royce then dressing it in cheap seat covers,” says Russell, who sourced “classic meets contemporary” furniture from Italy and shipped it over.

Although some homes can be styled with a specific client in mind – for example, a £10million apartment in an Italianate Holland Park mansion might have a dark palette and marble features throughout to attract Middle Eastern or Russian buyers – high end show-home dressing can nonetheless start to look a bit formulaic. That’s why interior designer Louisa Grey travels the world to source one off objects that will inject personality into a client’s home.

“House styling has made the same transition as Victoria Beckham. It’s more about being refined and natural than flash and showy these days” says Grey, who adds that a Moroccan wedding blanket or Larusi rug, specially made for the house, are ideal statement pieces.

She is about to put her talents to the test as she prepares to sell her own three storey Islington House. Every room has been repainted, uplifting aromatherapy oils are dotted around and in, the bathroom, Pantene products have been replaced with Aesop toiletries and hammam towels – with her partner under strict instructions not to use anything. “The last thing buyers want to see is towels that have been used in the morning,” says Grey.

A vital consideration is that prospective buyers know where the dressing ends and your real life begins. “One African client bought a flat in Marylebone and negotiated the price on everything in it, including the owner’s laptop,” says Camilla Dell of buying agency Black Brick.

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