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Selling? Tips to try from model-home designers


When Patrick Planeta of Boston-based Planeta Design Group designs a model unit in a newly built residential property, he knows how to focus attention on the features the developer wants to shine and minimize potential stumbling blocks.

“I find that a well-done design should feel like a great party . . . all the details have been carefully considered,” said Planeta, who recently completed three model apartments at Watermark Seaport. “Though not immediately recognized at the time, it is vivid in your mind for days.”

While model units function as practical tools to showcase finish options and offer suggestions for furniture layouts (“Everyone wants an open concept, but when they stand in the empty space they are overwhelmed,” said Ken Smith of Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty in the South End), they also sell a lifestyle. At Newport Beach Club, an oceanfront community in Portsmouth, R.I., the Radiance Beach House model evokes a luxury vacation atmosphere. It should. They spent $250,000 outfitting it.

It comes down to capitalizing on how people want to live. Andrew Terrat, regional visual director forMitchell Gold + Bob Williams, who recently furnished models at Allele in South Boston, said it’s about understanding how people see themselves. “Often people move into these types of places because they’re seeking something totally different than what they have,” Terrat said.

How does a designer intuit customers’ real estate reveries? In the case of the Radiance model design (by Ally Coulter of Greenwich, Conn.), David Tufts, president of The Marketing Directors, explains that they devised a profile of the target buyer, including preferred pet (golden retriever), collection (sea glass), and leisure activity (paddle boarding). “The paddle board in the mudroom is a subliminal message that people can have an active lifestyle here,” Tufts said.

Dominique Sampson, vice president of sales and marketing at The Green Company, creates a fictional character for each model’s scheme, thinking about everything that person would like down to the type of plants. For a model at The Pinehills in Plymouth, Sampson imagined the occupant to be an event planner and set up the home office with a mannequin dressed in a bridal gown and her own kids’ wedding photos on the desk.

Such constructs are referred to in the industry as “memory points” — those wow moments that become etched in customers’ minds. It might be a simple cue that tugs at an emotion, like the bow tie Terrat draped over a lamp in a model apartment at Troy Boston. “It tells a story and makes people giggle,” he said. Or it might just be a notable design element, like a bright accent color, a shiplap wall, or a distinctive piece of furniture.

While models must be memorable, designers can’t go rogue. They must balance practicality with creativity and be sure that the décor itself doesn’t overshadow the unit as a whole. “The goal is to sell the home, so I have to complement the space, not show off my interior design skills,” said Chelsi Christensen of North Hampton, N.H.-based Design East Interiors, who has designed models at The Pinehills. “Too many designers do not pay attention to scale and overwhelm the buyers with too many over-the-top details.”


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