Julie Jay freely admits her passion borders on compulsion. The owner of Julie Jay Homes Staging sees every interior as a canvas for her to play with.
“I would drive you nuts if I came over for a cocktail, and I’ve changed the furniture layout in every hotel I’ve stayed in for as long as I can remember,” she said.
For the last 14 years Jay has operated the staging company that bears her name. The business has grown from humble beginnings in her garage to a company operating out of a 13,000-square-foot warehouse with three moving trucks.
The two-story warehouse in San Francisco serves as the heartbeat of the operation. Dozens of mattresses, scores of original paintings, ornate vases, stylish pillows and chairs ranging from simple to avant-garde are stored here. Also included in the warehouse are books for lining shelves, utensils for decorating kitchens and bathroom accessories. All of them have just come from or are about to be set inside a home for sale.
Born in Michigan and raised in the upscale Grosse Point neighborhood, Jay moved to San Francisco 25 years ago. She opened Muzzie’s Attic, a secondhand store in the outer Richmond neighborhood, a few years after arriving. The store featured items she found at consignment stores around the Bay Area and the shop was titled after a nickname her mother had.
Shuffling her stock from week to week served as a basis for her staging business, Jay said.
“Inventory was always changing, so you had to keep updating the look,” she said.
Shortly before going into business as a stager, she sold off the secondhand store, which has since been demolished, with luxury condominiums erected in its place.
The frenetic pace of San Francisco’s booming real estate market keeps Jay busy. She limits herself to 25 homes at a time and keeps track of her inventory through photographs taken at each listing.
“It’s too complicated to keep a database because things are always coming and going,” she said. “This way I can just look at the photos and know what’s where.”
The approach works for Jay, a high-energy entrepreneur who exudes passion for her work.
During her time in the industry, Jay has grown close to Realtors who rely on her to make homes as inviting and attractive as possible.
One of her biggest strengths is how she is able to keep her stagings fresh by not repeating her layouts, said Mary Fenton of Sotheby’s International Realty, who has been working with Jay for four years.
“I consider her part of my team,” she said. “Home staging is a necessity in San Francisco. It’s always worth the investment. I have clients from overseas who only see photos of the property online and don’t set foot in it until after they buy it.”
Fenton likened Jay’s approach to a chef creating visually appealing dishes to entice guests.
Making a home look as large as possible is crucial to successful staging, Jay said. Finding that balance while showing a room’s potential is the foundation of the craft.
Staging is more than placing some furniture in a home and calling it a shift. The pieces must pair with the ambience of the room, and sometimes a face-lift is in order.
Jay also has some firm rules for staging.
“No political books, and no garish nudes,” she said.
Jay avoids displaying politically charged material in a home to avoid taking attention away from a room or the sale. Semi-nudes, provided they are tasteful, are OK, she said.
Jay, like other stagers, also clears out any family photographs from the listing before potential sellers walk through.
Jay begins every assignment the same way – by walking through the listing and clearing out all the furniture. Unlike other stagers, who will incorporate some of the existing furniture into the room, Jay does not do partial staging.
With the room bare, she imagines a fictional family who lives in the home, and decorates based off that narrative. The story she develops will influence the furniture, rugs and decorations placed inside the home.
“Sometimes I think of them as world travelers and they’ve collected lots of art on their journeys,” she said.
If a home needs new paint, carpeting or other cosmetic finishes, Jay and her team can coordinate a renovation.
“We’ll refinish floors, put new handles on the cabinets and change the colors of the walls,” she said.
For staging alone, the cost can run from $6,000 to $35,000. Larger remodels with staging included have been priced everywhere from $12,000 to $150,000, she said.
Her standard deal stages a home for 60 days and gives the option to keep the staging longer if the home stays on the market. All of her inventory is for sale, so if a buyer likes an armchair, table or trunk, they can negotiate its purchase.
“I look for pieces that are elegant and unique,” she said. “The trunks in my warehouse were actually used as trunks at one point. It’s not like a trunk you buy at Pottery Barn that was intentionally distressed to look vintage.”
To highlight a room, Jay gravitates toward neutral colors in sofas and chairs and accents them with vibrantly colored pillows and accessories.
“People are learning they don’t want to buy a red couch because it’s harder to change the interior of the room,” she said. “If you have neutral colors as the base you can accessorize more easily and more often.”
Jay cherishes the sprint of quickly getting houses staged in time for open houses, broker’s tours and professional photographers who put pictures of her work online. Monday through Thursday is the most hectic, but Jay confesses she spends seven days a week at her job.
The Larkspur resident unwinds with water sports like paddle boarding in her spare time – when she has it.
Despite the booming real estate market, Jay hopes to carve time out of every week for consultations. She consistently has homeowners asking her for help setting up rooms, and wants to spin off a business to meet that demand, she said.
“I’m going to call it ‘Julie Jay House Calls,’” she said. “It won’t be full-fledged interior design, but I can consult with people about their spaces.”
Address: 1901 Carroll Ave., Portola Place
Phone: (415) 235-7637
Services: Home staging, cosmetic remodel,