Find out how Derbyshire journalist Tina Clough got on when she spent the day as a property dresser

Kirsty Fisher of  Lemon and Lime Interiors with Tina Clough
Kirsty Fisher of Lemon and Lime Interiors with Tina Clough

Professional property dressing is fast becoming a buzzword amongst the savvy seller, with more and more homeowners looking to tap into ‘a lifestyle’ as a means of selling their home.

Journalist, Tina Clough, was lucky enough to spend the day with one Derbyshire firm and, as she learnt, the process is far from just ‘cushion fluffing’ and more blood, sweat and tears ...

Julian Sheppard, Tina's husband.

Julian Sheppard, Tina's husband.

If someone had told me that I would be six months pregnant, ready to pop, and renovating an old barn in a rural suburb, I would have laughed - but as fate had it, this is exactly what I ended up doing in the winter of 2017.

Newly married, with a realm of possibilities and the world at our feet, our ‘dream home’ had just fallen through on our honeymoon and after finding out that I was expecting a bundle of joy in true ‘Bridget Jones’ fashion, stood in an Italian pharmacy working out the correct way to say ‘I may be pregnant’, my husband and I were left shattered when our dream country cottage had vanished into the abyss.

Never one to let things get the better of us we began viewing again as soon as our feet hit the tarmac at East Midlands Airport.

It wasn’t until we stumbled upon an old barn dating back over 150 years, with bags of character that our journey - and my love of interior design really began.

It was a labour of love, there were tears (especially when I found a slug in the oven - yes a slug!), and when the task seemed impossible for us to complete with my sizable bump.

We added a new bedroom to the property, put in a new kitchen, re-carpeted the whole house, painted all of the door frames, and staircase, from dark wood to white, and completely decorated each room, with help from our obliging friends and family.

We also began to see the frequent 11pm finishes as the norm.

Picking out furnishings, reading interior design magazines for inspiration, and looking for bargains in antique shops, I really came into my own - and if I wasn’t the director of a PR firm, I was certain that I would take this up as a career in another life.

The proud moment finally came on Christmas Eve 2017, before our daughter arrived and we finally completed our task.

The barn was finally complete. Granted, it probably wasn’t the best project to undertake whilst pregnant, but it is certainly the place that we now all call home.

Months have now gone by, and although I still love to visit a flea market from time to time, I thought that my interior design days were over- that was until I was given the once in a lifetime opportunity to become a professional property dresser for the day with Lemon and Lime Interiors.

People often imagine what it would be like to trial a new career, but to my delight I was actually given that chance, as I was asked to write a feature on the latest trend sweeping the residential property scene known as professional property dressing, or ‘home staging’ in the American market.

It was a warm sunny Tuesday morning and I was asked to meet Hannah, the design consultant from Lemon and Lime Interiors at their huge warehouse at a secret location in Derbyshire.

It is from here that the magic (and intense preparation) really starts.

From the moment that I arrived, I was totally taken aback.

The warehouse was packed floor to ceiling with beds, dining tables, sofas and soft furnishings.

The warehouse looked more like a factory belonging to a high-end interiors shop, than something belonging to a property dresser.

You would be forgiven for thinking that the process of picking the furniture would be a stressful experience, but as Hannah informs me ‘everyone is always in good spirits in the warehouse, and I prefer it to be like this, rather than it being rushed and stressful’. Today’s removal men, Mick and Chris are helping us to load the removal vans which will take the carefully selected items of furniture and decorative touches to the home we are dressing - The Larches, a four-bedroom home at the sought after Swarkestone Gardens development, in Chellaston.

As the items are loaded into the vans, blankets are laid over them to protect them and Hannah fills me in on where these items come from in the first place. ‘The furniture is picked out depending on the style of the house’ she says. ‘The items are bought as and when we see something that we like, and some of the furnishings are bought specifically for the house in question.’

Plans are drawn up at the office to instruct the dressers where each item will be placed on arrival and as the remaining fragile items are loaded into Hannah’s car for safety, along with a bag of cleaning products and a tool box, away we go! I can’t help feeling like I’m on the set of ‘Changing Rooms’ and I am excited to see what greets us when we arrive.

On the way, Hannah tells me that she is studying interior design, and before landing her dream job at Lemon and Lime Interiors, worked as a visual merchandiser, which gives me an insight into what it takes to do this as a career.

As we pull into the development, it becomes clear that we are on a tight timescale. There is a VIP opening at the development tonight and it just so happens that the property we are dressing is the main attraction!

It’s all hands on deck and the previously calm atmosphere is replaced with busy workmen rushing to complete the snagging process, carpet fitters working around us, and vehicles galore clogging up the road outside, making it hard for Mick and Chris to get our removal van in place.

Alan Radford, one of the investors, looks tense but greets us with the warmest of smiles and proceeds to tell me that this whole area once belonged to him and his neighbours. ‘A friend of mine came to me with a business proposition to turn this area into a new housing development, so we put together a package and talked to our neighbours about selling us the two-acre site. It has been ten years in the making. Tonight marks the official opening of the show home and the end of the first phase.’

Ever wondered how the show home looks so pristine? With an order of 300 blue shoe covers, three big hydrangea plants, and a road sweeper on its way, I think we are about to find out!

My teachers for the day are Linda Bridgen and Sara Morgan- two of Lemon and Lime Interiors’ finest dressers, and I am met with open arms by Kirsty Fisher, the company’s project manager, holding a box of interior goodies. I am told that each room has been pre-planned back at the office and that dressing new build properties takes more time, because you have to prepare for the unexpected!Already the house is a hive of activity, with a cleaning lady making a start on the kitchen, the partners rushing around, our dressing team placing the furniture and the Lemon and Lime Interiors handy man putting up shelves, pictures and artwork in the correct places.

The house exudes luxury and I am told by Kirsty that this has to be replicated in the furnishings. I am taught that an orchid should always be placed in the bathroom at an angle, along with a mirror, and that the bedding should be perfectly ironed and measured to be precise on each side. I also learn that any cosmetics and toiletries placed in the bathroom are specifically selected for the clientele it is hoping to attract.

Turns out today, that the cosmetics left in each room, are in fact empty boxes of Charlotte Tilbury, Chanel and White Company products!

Each coffee table should also be adorned with relevant magazines too. I place a copy of Derbyshire Life on the coffee table, and I am quickly told that I have turned the magazine to a winter feature- only summer features should be shown in summer months! I never realised that property dressing consisted of so much detail - it really is a precise art.

After walking into the master suite, we realise that the floor to ceiling glass windows could be a hazard during the viewing process and we quickly print off some ‘do not open signs’, and some of our work is delayed as we await some state of the art fitted wardrobes to be fitted in the dressing room.

All of the finishing touches and furnishings are hired out to the property from the Lemon and Lime Interiors warehouse and remain in the property until it is sold. Kirsty tells me that in some cases, the buyers love their work so much, that they ask to buy the furnishings too- and this is something that they are happy to arrange. The only item which always stays with the property are the blinds, which are made to measure and ordered by the team.

The day ends with a race against time in true 60 Second Makeover fashion, and we are all ensuring that the property looks perfect, that the pictures are hung in the right places, that each room is snag free and in pristine condition.

A world away from the picture I had previously built in my mind of property dressing, this experience has taught me that if done correctly, the process really can sell a property, boost profits, and sell a lifestyle.

Often costing less than one per cent of the property’s value, it begs the question- why aren’t all estate agents opting to offer this as a service, and will the future of the property market become reliant on such services, especially as consumer expectations around estate agency look set to soar?

For more information please visit: https://www.lemonandlimeinteriors.co.uk/