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Elmhurst woman turns decorating passion into business

Published: Saturday, July 13, 2013 2:31 p.m. CDT • Updated: Sunday, July 14, 2013 9:50 a.m. CDT

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ELMHURST – When Alice Merrill retired from teaching music in Schaumburg two years ago, she wasn't ready for the retired lifestyle.

"If you're still a little bit too young to not do much of anything, why not take off and do something else that you never got a chance to do?" she asked herself.

She knew exactly what she wanted to pursue thanks to her husband of eight years, Curt Merrill, who is also a retired music teacher from York High School.

"He was the one who introduced me to HGTV," said Alice Merrill. "I got so hooked on all of those home decorating shows."

Since they bought their 1927 Elmhurst home eight years ago, Alice Merrill been perfecting her newfound passion: home staging and redesign. She often finds herself planning how to rearrange or improve a space while sitting in a waiting room or taking a walk.

Alice Merrill found QC (Quality of Course) Design School in Ontario, Canada where she received her Home Staging and Redesign certification within 1.5 years, half the time that the program allowed. The program would send her study materials and assignments to complete on her own. She would then send her completed portfolios on topics like color, furniture and window treatments to her teacher for review. The course taught her both how to stage a home to be sold, and how to redesign a house for the existing homeowner.

"I was just soaking it up," said Alice Merrill.

For her first big project, she staged a friend's home, which had been on and off the market multiple times. Not long after Alice Merrill got her hands on it, the house sold. This spring, she officially launched her business: Stage Right Home Staging and Redesign.

"In our own homes we don't see what can be done, because we live there," she said.

People like their homes the way they are, Alice Merrill explained, so they don't realize the small changes they can make to appeal to more people. Many sellers also worry about spending money on a house they plan on leaving.

"It's very easy to understand when you're putting your house up for sale, money is a huge issue," said Alice Merrill. "Yet you don't have to put out a lot of money."

Alice Merrill collects small items that she loans out like a breakfast tray, which she puts out to help a buyer imagine where they could sit and drink their morning coffee. She has also sets out soaps on a towel in the bathroom like in a fancy hotel.

"A lot of people just don't have the vision," said Alice Merrill explaining that small changes help buyers picture living in a new house.

She always looks for the easiest, most cost-effective solution. She often uses existing items and just moves or re-purposes them. While she's heard stories of people who buy all new furniture in an effort to sell their house, Alice Merrill doesn't believe that cost is necessary in most cases. An exception may be a vacant home, but she would suggest renting furnishings in that situation.

"I'm very economically minded," she said.

After an initial consultation, Alice Merrill gives clients her suggestions, explaining each one and considering the particular project budget. Many times homeowners can implement changes on their own, but Alice Merrill does offer to shop for new items as well as organize closets and pantries.

While the majority of sellers on the East and West coasts stage their homes, the practice remains rare in the Midwest said Alice Merrill. She still believes a few extra dollars on key items that make a home more appealing is well worth it when sellers consider the cost of reducing their asking price after listing their house for months without an offer.

"It's giving your house that extra edge," said Alice Merrill.

Visit www.stagerightdesign.net to learn more about Alice Merrill's business Stage Right Home Staging and Redesign.

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