Staging Savvy


Prepping your home to sell is a little like putting your best self out there at a job interview. You dress to impress and play up your strengths. Same thing with a home sale. Adding oomph to the way your home looks may just land you the offer you’re after. While buyers see some homes that haven’t been prepped at all and others where all the trappings of everyday life are on display, it’s only human to expect they’ll be attracted to the beautiful ones. You want your home to be one of those. 

And when it comes to beautiful homes, Deborah Costa and Kristine Renee have it nailed. This mother/daughter team owns Design Alchemy, a popular retail shop and full-service interior design studio in East Sacramento. They work with architects, homebuilders, residential and commercial clients, and design their own furnishings (including pieces for national retailers). They also stage homes. Their interiors are knockouts: sophisticated, smartly edited, cohesive and accented with pieces you’re not going to see anywhere else. This spring, we watched them stage a home for general contractor Brian Bigelow, who remodeled a Carmichael house from the ground up and then put it on the market. Costa and Renee’s work made the complicated staging process look like a snap, which, of course, it is not. “Deborah is amazing,” Bigelow says simply. “She makes magic happen. She turned this house into a thing of beauty.” 

Designer info: Deborah Costa, one of the area’s most sought-after designers, collaborates with daughter Kristine Renee, who honed her furniture designing skills while living in Southeast Asia. They stage newly constructed and/or empty homes.

The house: Brian Bigelow of Carmichael updated almost every inch of this 1960s-era single-family home, adding spacious in-law quarters at the back. Asking price: $775,000.


Get up and out: Online viewing is OK, but there’s no substitute for judging work firsthand.

Think like you’ve already sold the home: “You have to sever the personal connection with your house,” Costa says. “We have to present it in a new light, and we’re going to do it differently than you would.” 

And for most of us, that’s a very good thing.


“Decorate” minimally: “Everything you put in should add value, not detract,” Costa says. “You have to set the tone. Everything has to be cohesive.” Your goal? To make buyers feel your home is a step or two up from the competition.

First (and last) impressions count: “People can decide within the first two minutes whether or not they like the house,” Costa says. “The foyer is the first and last thing buyers will see.” So plan to “wow” buyers as they enter and as they leave. “We always want to have something pleasant for them to look at . . . something that reminds them of nesting.”

Warm is the watchword: Place furniture so it breaks up space, but nix clutter. “We don’t decorate,” Costa says. “What we do is warm up the space and enhance the architecture. We want them to notice the space . . . everything we do will be geared toward highlighting that. The goal is to show how much flexibility there is with the floor plan.”

Quality counts: Don’t go cheap, unless that’s the impression you want to create. It’s true. Buyers judge the house, in part, by the caliber of the interior design.

Vignettes invite: Gathering spots plant images of togetherness in buyers’ minds. Costa and Renee created cozy seating groups in the family room, at the end of a hallway and off the kitchen. The dining room, outfitted with comfy, upholstered chairs Costa and Renee designed, presents as a secondary living space. You could linger there for hours.

Beautifully functional: “We often use a big piece of art in place of a TV,” Costa says. “People know that’s where the TV will go.”

In the kitchen: Yes, leave counter space for brochures, business cards and other sales materials.