When you check out a friend’s new home, which room do you spend the most time oohing and aahing over?
If you’re like most people, it’s the kitchen. The kitchen has always been the heart of the home.
And with the rising popularity of open layout kitchens that transition seamlessly into the family room, that’s never been truer.
But the kitchen’s central location also makes it a room-sized junk drawer with mail, keys, cords, chargers, seldom-used appliances and the cooler from your weekend camping trip scattered across precious counter space.
These items are a distraction from your kitchen’s potential and buyers’ ability to envision themselves cooking their favorite pasta dish one night or entertaining guests with appetizers and wine.
That’s why top professional home stagers and real estate agents who have that special eye for design say it’s so easy to go overboard on kitchen staging to sell a home. All you need to do is keep it simple with tasteful, decorative touches.
How to Declutter, Depersonalize, and Clean Your Kitchen ‘Til It Sparkles
One of the top complaints from buyers is that the kitchen is too small, says Tanya Endicott, a real estate agent who ranks in the top 5% in the Dallas area. “You want the counters as bare as possible because you want to emphasize how much counter space you have in your kitchen,” she advises.
Ruthlessly Declutter the Countertops
So the first step in staging your kitchen is to give it a deep decluttering. That means everything on your countertops must go (anything that you put back on will be for the purposes of staging, not storage).
Start by removing stacks of paperwork and organizing bills, mail and personal cards into a storage option like this gray marble expandable box file folder from Target that’s functional and fashionable.
Collect any phone or computer chargers and put them all in the same storage bin. (Think about investing in some budget-friendly bins, such as these stackable white Nordic storage baskets with handles to keep smaller, like-items in one place.)
Now it’s time to put away the items you don’t recognize as clutter but are nevertheless making your kitchen look tiny: the paper towel holder, knife block, banana hammock, and blender are all things that don’t need to be on display.
You’ll notice in the staged kitchen photos throughout this article the absence of even your everyday appliances like the coffee maker and toaster on the counters. Indeed, you’ll want to get those out of sight for showings, but since you’re still living there after all, clear out some prime kitchen cabinet space so that you can easily access and use them as needed.
Depersonalize Your Fridge and Kitchen Walls
Next, you’ll want to take a look at your refrigerator doors and walls. Are they covered with family photos or items that are very specific to your individual taste, such as religious sayings, sports memorabilia, beer openers or a calendar featuring pictures of your dog?
All of that needs to go to make space for buyers’ imagination.
Put all of your fridge photos and magnets in a gallon-size ziplock bag and store it away in a drawer for safekeeping. Take down and store all of your kid’s art, monogrammed towels and wall hangings and put it in the storage bins labeled accordingly so you keep it all in one place.
“There has to be less of you and enough room for somebody to see themselves in that house,” says Endicott.
Give Every Surface in the Kitchen a Scrub Down
Next you need to deep clean your kitchen ‘til it shines.
Be sure to wipe down the outside of cabinets and the countertops with a cloth and solution like Mrs. Meyers Multi Surface Everyday Cleaner to give the space a fresh, aromatherapeutic scent.
Wipe down the fridge inside and out and remove any grime that’s built up.
Scrub the sink and be sure to remove any hard water stains using a rag soaked in white vinegar for any tough spots. Pro tip: the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser is a godsend if you have a white sink.
Get rid of burnt food stains on the stove with a cook top scrubbing pad and Bar Keepers Friend. If you have a ceiling fan, dust the blades.
Then, mop the kitchen (the Swiffer Dry + Wet Sweeping Kit is great for between showings.)
Make small kitchen upgrades and top it all off with the right staging touches
Once you’re working with a blank canvas, you can make small upgrades and add in decorative items here and there to stage your kitchen like a showroom. Here are 5 ideas from pro stagers (with real kitchen examples!) to inspire your own kitchen staging plan.
1. Update your cabinets in a trending color
The average cost to replace kitchen cabinets is nearly $5,000, according to HomeAdvisor, and it’s not smart to drop a big chunk of change on pricey remodel before you sell because there’s no guarantee of a 100% return on investment. Even refacing cabinets costs about half as much as an install.
So if you’re looking to give your cabinets a facelift, your best bet is fresh paint! Younger, trend-savvy buyers are all in for bold kitchens, so while a fresh coat of white paint on old cabinets can work wonders, don’t be afraid to dabble in color.
“I absolutely love seeing navy blue on the lower cabinets and the uppers are white,” says stylist Linda Graveline of Eleven Interiors in Los Angeles. “And mint green is really popular right now.” Kelly green, charcoal and blush pink are also popular with the 20s to 40s set in the LA area.
Painting your cabinets will cost you in time, however—as it requires careful prepping and special application of a primer before you can even dive into the paint job itself. (For more on how to prep and paint your cabinets, check out this great step-by-step guide from Remodelista, a popular and trusted online resource for home design enthusiasts.)
Whatever color you select, be sure to pick a paint with a hard finish—like a semigloss, gloss or satin—so that it stands up to normal kitchen wear and tear. And brand-wise, the pros stand by Benjamin Moore Advance, which scores points for being affordable and durable.
2. Swap outdated knobs and pulls with fresh hardware
Dated knobs and drawer pulls are features you don’t even realize are dragging down your kitchen vibe until you replace them with brand new matching hardware across the entire room, and it instantly looks more put together.
This can be a simple project if the new hardware you select lines up with the same holes as the old hardware, so it’s just an easy swap.
If you’re trying to put knobs where drawer pulls were, or vice versa, then you’re going to be left with visible holes. In that case, you need to fill in and paint over any holes, which adds another layer of complexity.
Go for oil-rubbed bronze bin pulls for a traditional kitchen or sleek metal bars for a modern one, recommends Madison Modern Home’s Rachel Moore and Robin DeCapua of, a popular staging duo in Los Angeles.
3. Add colorful accessories to bring life and warmth to the space
Interior designer Sarah Robertson of Studio Dearborn in New York recommends spicing up a neutral kitchen by adding pops of color.
Choose a shade that works with the adjoining rooms and then use it in various places in your flower, pillow, and dish selections, as Robertson did for this award-winning kitchen in Greenhaven, Connecticut, with a gorgeous shade of coral.
As another example, in this staging for a home in Marina del Rey, Moore and DeCapua used vases of eucalyptus, a kettle and a small succulent to stage the kitchen counter and range.
“Think about the kitchen more like a living space, so put in pretty things you’d want like decorative wood bowls and plants and maybe hanging a beautiful painting on the wall, even if it’s small,” adds Jean Stoffer, an interior designer based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, whose interiors have an architectural, artful vibe. “It doesn’t have to be food or kitchen-related; it doesn’t have to be a picture of fruit.”
Stoffer is also a big fan of replacing kitchen mats with a beautiful woven rug or a bare polished floor, displaying cutting boards with gorgeous wood grain and putting dish soap in a chic amber glass pump.
The goal is to create a room that balances classic and modern fixtures with mixed metals, colors and textures.
4. Organize your pantry and shelves
It’s not easy to keep your kitchen ready for showings when you’re still living in the home, but one trick is organizing your shelves and pantry.
Organize your products by color to create a cohesive look inside your pantries and cabinets. Be sure the fridge is sparkling clean and arrange it in a similar, organized fashion.
5. Remove the screens before taking photos to maximize natural light
Having a kitchen with lots of natural light is important for many buyers, and it just makes the space feel inviting and warm.
You can maximize the amount of light coming through the windows by removing window screens in the kitchen before you take your listing photos.
“Screens block 40% of the light coming through the window, so it makes a huge difference,” says Robertson, whose kitchen design photos have been saved thousands of times on Houzz.
In this kitchen with stunning views of the Hudson River, they didn’t want anything to minimize the impact.
Kitchen staging: Should you DIY or hire a pro?
Even if you don’t have a kitchen with a view, decluttering using these tips and tricks will help you show off your kitchen’s best features and charm potential buyers into making an offer.
As for whether you should you stage it yourself or hire a professional?
That all depends on your design skills and budget. Staging a room is an art that requires solid interior design chops—and some experts recommend that you invest a few hundred dollars to hire a pro if you can afford it.
“[DIY] can go south pretty fast and look like something blew up on the house instead of a planned beautiful combination of things,” says Stoffer.
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