Decorating for impact Interior: The decor ofmodel homes is a result of "interiormerchandising," whichaims to show prospective buyers what can be doneto bring out the style in a house.

September 22, 1996|By Jill L. Kubatko | Jill L. Kubatko,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

So you thought all the cushy furniture, swanky artwork and theme rooms in model homes you've visited are just the fancy of a zealous interior designer.

Look a little closer. You are witnessing "interior merchandising."

"It's a retail approach to showing off spaces or homes," says Georganne Derick, president of Merchandising East and MS Interior Design in Laurel.

"You're displaying architecture, demonstrating function or the way a home will be lived in. This is what is different from interior design. Interior design is more a matter of personal style and personal expression."

Model homes were developed because most people "cannot visualize the finished product," explained Joanne Kinn, owner of Joanne Kinn Interiors in Ellicott City.

"Model homes are like a blank canvas and designers help to show buyers how it works. How do you live in this house? Where does the sofa go? How many seats at the dining room table? Where do the beds go? How do I get my dresser, armoire, chest in a room?"

New homes have been decorated since the 1950s, when "spec houses" were furnished by local retail stores. In the 1970s, models were decorated as if the buyer were visiting someone's home, featuring personal items scattered throughout the house, as well as trendy, colorful wallpaper, modern furniture and draperies.

Today the models -- rental properties, condos, townhouses and detached homes -- are jazzed up to impress prospective renters or buyers.

Model home "merchandising," combining retail techniques with market research in the design process, had its beginnings in California in the 1980s. Now builders across the country have caught merchandising fever.

"We take the merchandising aspect very seriously. It answers the questions of our buyers. You try to appeal to a broad base of the population," said Richard Azrael, president of Chateau Homes.

"We don't look at them just as interior decorators," Azrael said. "We look at it as interior merchandising. It's very important that the people who do our interiors understand who the buyer is. It comes from our market research and their research. We merchandise to the group of people who will be buying homes."

"We try to aim the decorating to meet the demographics of our projected customers," said Rick Kunkle, president of Patriot Homes.

"If we think that a certain price range would attract a younger buyer, they [the designer] may decorate with colors that lean toward a brighter contemporary look."

Designers consider the target market for a home -- whether there are children, or the buyers are empty-nesters or single, and their likely income -- in deciding how it will be used and what it should look like.

But even before the furniture is chosen, builders often consult with designers to check floor plans to make sure there are plenty of sofa walls and end table spaces, and proper window height, to eliminate potential problems.

"We want them to critique our floor plan and do a layout of the furniture to make sure the space is livable," Azrael said.

Traffic flow and sight lines in rooms are considered, because they are factors in enhancing the visual square footage of a home. Builders want the house to look big.

Prospective buyers may look at a dozen homes in a day, and designers want to create a memorable image that will make a particular home stand out in their minds -- focusing on unique architecture, the use of color or combinations of color, accessory items, furniture styles, artwork, accent fabrics, or the theme of a child's room.

"When you start going to model homes to look for the one that meets your needs, the most critical thing is that the potential homebuyer falls in love or they will never come back and revisit it," Derick said. "At that point there is an emotional impact and that is the most critical thing, to get the person to select the home."

Kinn, an interior designer for 23 years, does not agree with the merchandising approach. She feels the process turns the home shopper into an impulse buyer.

"In my mind, that mode of thinking goes along with the house as an object rather than an environment," she said.

"Yes, you are building a house, but the merchandising is display. It is not believable; it is showy, like a showroom display window. The homebuyer is not looking at it that way. They look at it like an environment. It's an investment, a large investment. They are picturing how they are going to live in that house.

"My direction is to show it as a home. Things are believable -- no white upholstery in the family room. If they can sit down in a room and picture themselves living there, then it sells. It's important for the builder to show it as a home and it's for the people to try out as a home."

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