House proud

Picture: Limelight Interiors Photography

Following her recent win at the House Wow Awards 2023, we caught up with local interiors expert Jane Lee, who specialises in home staging, downsizing and styling. Here she explains more about her passion for creating dream homes for both her face-to-face and remote clients – whatever their budget


Can you start by telling us how you got into the interior design domain?

I started playing around with room layouts as a child, experimenting with what looked and felt good – my parents were used to things being moved around! Back then I didn’t realise it could be a future career. I remember the excitement of being allowed to choose my own wallpaper and bedding, and I enjoyed tidying up my friends’ toys; their mums loved it when I went round. I don’t think it’s that unusual in this business to start young.


Did you immediately go into interiors or did you do something else?

I always wanted to be a journalist and after graduating, I landed a job as a trainee news reporter on the Evening Argus in Brighton. I moved to London five years later to work for national newspapers and started renovating my homes, moving every few years. Friends started asking for my advice and began encouraging me to take it up professionally.

It’s funny looking back how two of my childhood pastimes – rearranging and organising rooms – are the backbone of Jane Lee Interiors.


Have you been professionally trained and if so where did you study?

I decided to get some qualifications under my belt and after moving back to Sussex studied Interior Design at City College (now Brighton MET) alongside the Certified Home Staging and Styling Professional (CHSSP) Course while freelancing for interiors and property magazines. I loved every minute of both courses and started taking on small projects and getting my website together.


What made you make the leap from journalism to the wonderful world of interiors?

After a friend’s flat I’d staged sold for £10,000 over the asking price, and my Brighton house got three asking price offers on the open day, I knew it was time to go for it. I still write about home staging, downsizing and decluttering for local and national publications and websites but my heart’s now in my interiors business: I really enjoy helping people to transform their home, whether it’s in person or giving advice remotely.


You specialise in offering ‘occupied home staging’. Can you tell us what this is?

Home staging is a proven marketing tool that makes properties appeal to a broad range of buyers: the aim is to sell faster and for the best possible price. Occupied staging simply means they’re furnished, rather than empty or partially furnished. Some home stagers specialise in vacant properties and rent out entire room sets for a set period but my passion is working with what my clients already own. Because I offer a decluttering service I often attract people who are downsizing or just want to take less to the new home. I’m usually working in someone’s main home, a probate or holiday property.


How did you first discover the trend in home staging?

Home staging’s huge in Scandinavia. When I visited Stockholm I was captivated by the estate agents’ windows: every property looked like an interiors magazine. While it was great to look it did mean that none of them really stood out from the other: they were all gorgeous. Over here, where a minority of homes are staged, it’s the ones that have been that are likely to reap the rewards.


Tell us about your love of ‘shopping your home’ for clients?

Nobody wants to spend much on somewhere they’re leaving, which is why I’m keen to make the most of the existing furniture and accessories – or ‘shopping your home’ by moving things around: a picture in one room could work perfectly next to a chair in another. I’m looking at each space with a fresh eye. Besides being extremely cost-effective it’s planet-friendly too. Investing in staging is a drop in the ocean compared to the money people knock off their asking price if they can’t sell. It can be tricky to see your home with buyers’ eyes if you’ve lived there for a while. Unless they’re looking for a project, buyers are put off by poor kerb appeal, clutter, tired decor, and clunky layouts and room flow. I’m checking for issues that can lead to lower offers, there’s a lot more to home staging than plumping cushions.


And you believe that it’s worth investing in good photography too?

Beautiful photos sell everything these days but for some reason they haven’t been commonplace when selling our biggest asset. My photographer is amazing! You only get one chance to create a buzz when your home goes on the market so it’s vital to make a great first impression. Only 1 in 10 people can imagine a room other than how it’s shown, so make it easy for them to imagine themselves moving in. Increasing numbers of estate agents are working with home stagers and professional photographers and I strongly believe they improve the appearance – and saleability – of all types and sizes of property.


You offer in-person consultations and also virtual ones. How does the latter work?

I was already offering virtual consultations before lockdown, to help people further afield. Demand obviously grew when people felt uneasy about having a stranger in their home. People still needed to move – and of course a lot of people were having big clearouts and that’s when I launched the virtual decluttering and styling sessions.

We have an initial chat and then I ask to see lots of pictures of the exterior and interior – kerb appeal and any outside space too. Most clients simply WhatsApp over photos and a walk-through video is good too. I then have a good look, report back and together we come up with a plan.


Do you have virtual clients all over the country?

I’ve worked with people all over England including Yorkshire, Devon, Norfolk, Hampshire, Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire. I have family in Tunbridge Wells so know it well and am more than happy to visit or work remotely with your readers.


How do you manage not to cause offence if you are suggesting people change certain things in their home?

I’m naturally sensitive and extremely tactful! It’s important to stress that I’m not judging anyone’s taste or style, it’s just that when you move the target buyers are searching for a certain ‘look and feel’. That’s what I’m showing people how to achieve. I’m also sensitive to people’s timescales, budget and energy levels – how far a homeowner decides to go is up to them; I can also come back and provide hands-on staging, decluttering and styling.

It surprises me how many of my clients get totally on board and work through all of my suggestions, often updating me after a consultation before I’ve even driven home! Interior design is all about the owners’ taste, while home staging concentrates on creating a look that will entice a large range of buyers.


Is it a challenge having to stick to a tight budget?

Not at all, I really enjoy the challenge. I relish making the most of what’s already there – transforming rooms in low- or no-cost ways wherever possible. Most people have more than enough for me to work with! Together we can pick out the best vases, pictures, etc, and begin to start packing the rest away – or let it go. Most spaces can be transformed without breaking the bank when you know how. If there’s the budget and time I can suggest paint colours, flooring options etc but generally it’s ideas for new cushions, bedding, towels, flowers and finishing touches: things they can take with them.

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