Call it impractical or old-school: For the purposes of selling your house, your formal dining room (if you have one) should look like… a dining room.
But according to the National Association of Realtors’ 2017 Profile of Home Staging, 71% of buyers say a staged dining room is important.
Laura Sanders, a 17-year veteran agent in the Coral Springs, Florida, region, echoes:
“I had a recent listing that took me a long time to sell, and the biggest complaint was that it has no formal dining room. I also have other listings without dining rooms in these new build areas and a lot of people are having a really hard time reselling them.”
So rather than try to showcase versatility with a makeshift game room or den, follow these dining room staging tips that embrace and accentuate the original purpose of the space—eating, entertaining, and bringing family together.
Tip #1: Too much clutter = Your goose is cooked
In real life (not your perfect, staged life that you want buyers to see) your formal dining room has likely become a catchall for junk.
Your table is a makeshift office, stacked high with paperwork. The china cabinet’s become the craft cabinet, and the corners are crammed with old toys and under-used exercise equipment.
“Most people are mentally making their decisions to buy based on the listing photos,” says professional stager Jenn McCormac with Carousel Home Staging. “A clean, simple dining room will show well on camera, and make buyers want to come see your property. But a dining room with a desk, office gear, and toys will feel cluttered and confuse your buyer.”
Anything that doesn’t naturally belong in your dining room needs to be packed or tossed, and that includes personal items.
Pack away all of those family photos on the sideboard, that adorable wooden sign featuring your surname on the wall, and those handprint plates your kids made that are displayed in the china cabinet.
When buyers come for a showing or look at your home’s photos online, you want them picturing themselves sitting around the table with family, not wondering about the dining habits of the family that already lives there.
Plus, if your dining room shows signs that you don’t use it, chances are buyers will think that they don’t need the space either.
Tip #2: Clean like the queen is coming over for supper
When you’re prepping your dining room to host your next holiday shindig, you’ve probably got a go-to plan of attack. Brush the crumbs off of the chairs, run a duster over the buffet, slap on a tablecloth to cover the waxy buildup on your dining table’s finish… and you’re good to go.
That level of cleaning may slide when you’re hosting a family gathering, but when the guests are potentially your home’s future owners—a quick clean isn’t good enough.
Scrubbing every single surface is a must, and we mean everything.
Before you list your home, the dining room needs a thorough, crown molding to baseboard (and everything in between), deep cleaning. Think of it like you’re the royal housekeeper who needs to pass the white-glove test.
Don’t be intimidated by the amount of time it’ll take to get this done—there are plenty of great products and life hacks to make your job easier.
For starters, instead of hand-scrubbing the dust from your ceiling, moldings, walls and baseboards, grab a clean mop with a new head, a bucket of hot water made sudsy with a little dish soap and get to work wiping away those splatters, stains, and fingerprints.
Tackle particularly stubborn marks, like crayon scribbles or shoe scuffs with tools specifically designed for the job, like the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser mop. Keep the dust away from your dining room’s moldings and baseboards for the duration of the home sale by running a fabric softener dryer sheet over them.
Finish off the floors by cleaning them with the appropriate tools, cleaning solutions, and techniques for your specific floor type.
Once the room is spick-and-span, it’s time to take on the furniture. Taking out water rings or other stubborn stains is easier than you might think—and you can use household products you have around the house, like baking soda, toothpaste, or salt.
If your dining table and chairs are solid hardwood, the smartest choice to clean them is a silicone-free furniture polish that won’t leave a waxy residue. Restore the look and life of older hardwood dining sets with a furniture oil that both polishes and conditions.
Between dried, caked-on food and beverage stains, cleaning your chair upholstery is the toughest task you’ll take on in the dining room.
If your stains are too tough for a standard upholstery cleaner, you may need to rent or buy a carpet cleaner that comes with upholstery attachments.
For fabric that’s too far gone, recovering your dining chairs may be your best option.
Luckily, dining chairs are easier to reupholster than most furniture, so if you DIY the project, it’ll only cost the price of the upholstery fabric, staples, and extra padding where needed.
Tip #3: Keep paint colors in the neutral family, but lean into the dramatic
Dining rooms with a bold, bright accent wall were popular in the early 2000s. Red was all the rage! So there’s a good chance that your dining room staging process will call for some fresh paint. (Plus it’ll cover up any stubborn stains you couldn’t remove.)
The best home staging paint colors are beiges, whites, and greiges—because yes, neutral is the new red.
However, because there’s something romantic about a formal dining room and these spaces are often used in the evening, you can get away with a darker, more dramatic look in this space than the rest of the house.
But you must stay in the neutral family!
Here’s some paint swatch inspiration to get you started:
Painting the dining room in a separate color will run you up to an additional $600 to $1,090 on average, depending on the size and complexity of the space.
Tip #4: Update your light fixtures to match the style of dining room
So, if you’re still eating under the same light fixture the builder installed, it’s time for a new one.
The typical price for installing a new light ranges between $151 to $804, which is mostly dependent on the cost of the light fixture itself.
And boy, do you have options.
Remember that the light fixture is the main focal point of the space that’s staying put after you move (unlike the furniture you’ll be taking with you), so the fixture decision is an important one.
It may be tempting to go with a glammed out statement chandelier—especially if it goes great with your existing dining set. But smart sellers keep in mind three factors when they pick out their dining room light fixture. It must:
1) Reflect the style of the house
2) Appeal to most buyers
3) Complement the broadest range of decor styles
For example, while a fancy chandelier might reflect the formal ambiance of your French Provincial home, it’ll turn off buyers looking to bring a more modern vibe. So if you’re looking to sell, pick a more flexible fixture with both modern and formal elements.
Instead of this…
Just remember that it’s not only style that matters, so make sure you pick a fixture that fits the space and hangs at a good height over the table. While there are no hard and fast rules, 30 inches above the tabletop is the standard.
Your ideal size varies depending on the size of the room and the shape of the table. Luckily there are online chandelier size calculators to help you figure out the right light for your dining room.
Tip #5: Deploy the old mirror trick
The mirror trick is a favorite for home stagers when they’re dealing with dining rooms that are on the small side or lack natural light.
A massive mirror in a small dining room reflects the space back onto itself, making it appear larger than it actually is—much like the infinity rooms created by famed artist Yayoi Kusama.
In a similar way, a large mirror reflects existing light in a dark dining room, magnifying its impact on the space. By placing a large mirror directly across from the dining room windows, you’ll amplify the natural light, as well as the artificial light of the chandelier.
“One of our all time favorite dining rooms had an entire wall covered in raw, barn wood planks, and we hung a huge mirror framed in galvanized steel that looked like angel wings,” says home stager McCormac. “We always hang at least one mirror in the dining room to reflect the light and add some sparkle.”
Tip #6: Skip the place settings and create a tablescape
The table dominates the dining room, making it the focal point that’ll draw the buyer’s eye—so it’s got to look as good as a department store window display.
No, that doesn’t mean slapping a fake turkey on a silver tray to simulate a holiday meal. You simply have to set the table as if you were getting ready to serve that feast… kind of.
Remember, you’re not actually serving a meal so less is more. You can get away with just a gorgeous centerpiece and a few pretty place settings. You only want between two to six place settings, even for the largest tables that can seat 8 to 12 people.
For example, consider a mid-sized rectangular table that seats 6 in a smaller dining room. Instead of putting place settings at each seat, pull out all but four of the dining room chairs and set only four place settings along the sides rather than on the ends. The table top will look crisp and neat, and the room itself will look larger without all of the chairs.
And skip the silverware, glassware, serving dishes, and salt shakers—they’ll only serve to clutter up the table.
The question is—what dishes should you use?
Your everyday dishes may be chipped, chintzy or not in keeping with your dining room’s style. On the other hand, you don’t want to risk setting out your expensive, fancy china while strangers are traipsing through your home during open houses or showings.
The answer is—pick up some attractive, inexpensive dishware at a discount home goods store. You’ll find a wide selection of dishware options that are sturdy, inexpensive (without looking cheap), and in a variety of styles to fit any dining room decor—including classic, modern, and eclectic.
Once your home is sold, either donate these home staging place settings or replace your worn out everyday dishes with the new purchases.
Of course, your table decor doesn’t actually have to be food-related at all.
“Table settings can feel a little too formal in most of today’s houses,” advises home stager McCormac. “Instead, we like to build a tablescape with a table runner and centerpiece. We love an over-the-top centerpiece, like a beautiful collection of faux plants, or a cut-crystal bowl filled with unique orbs that catches the light of a chandelier.”
Sticking with the “less is more” home staging theory, you can get away with just a simple, elegant centerpiece on the dining table. And it doesn’t need to be a bouquet of flowers, either. (It’s not ideal to keep replacing live floral bouquets that die and smell over time when you’re in the midst of moving, anyway.)
The one thing you definitely want on the table is a full-on tablecloth—especially for the photographs that’ll go online. Whether it’s patterned or one solid color, the tablecloth becomes one big blob in the photos, stealing focus from the room itself.
“I definitely freak out every time I see a picture with a tablecloth on it,” says top agent Sanders. “When you’re looking at pictures online, you want to see a crisp, clean look.”
Some sellers think they need a tablecloth to hide their ugly, scarred, or stained table. That may be okay when you’re showing the home, but it needs to be off in the photo shoot. If your table’s flaws are big enough to be seen in the pictures, the photographer can always mask them in the editing process.
Even in the age of TV dinners and busy schedules, dedicated dining rooms show best as areas for hosting sit-down meals and holiday get-togethers. With these staging ideas from the pros (no plastic food allowed, please!), you can help buyers see the full potential of this classic, formal room.