How a local artist found her niche in real estate (photos)

When this North Vancouver home went on the market, art and furnishings were included (Photos: Monique De La Cruz)

Styling a house for sale—a practice that’s been popular for years—now includes a burgeoning cottage industry for custom artwork, created with the express purpose of enticing buyers

When Homelife Benchmark realtor Lissa Greenwood put her own White Rock home on the market last summer, she hired Jean Burns of JB Home Staging to style the interior. To Greenwood’s existing furnishings Burns added new dining room chairs, end tables, lamps and accessories, plus art for the walls. The furniture and accessories were supplied by Wow Factor Staging Rentals. But rather than use artwork from Wow Factor or her own inventory, Burns decided to hire Fort Langley artist Lori McPhee to create more than 20 custom paintings for the home.

“When I brought Lori in, I said, ‘OK, we really need to do an outstanding job on this because it’s a great home to showcase your art—and hopefully we’ll sell it,’” recalls Burns.

A professional artist for 25 years, McPhee now works with several interior designers in the Lower Mainland, charging between $10 and $35 a custom-designed piece (depending on its size). “What I’ve learnt working with the designers is not everybody can do it,” she says. “A lot of artists get set in their ways, and they want to make what they want to make and they don’t like the guidance of the designers.”

Burns works with McPhee because, she says, “she can paint anything.” After Burns describes the colour scheme and fabrics she plans to use, McPhee visits the house and sometimes the warehouse to see the furniture. “Then I’ll say to her, I’m thinking a 48-by-48 or a 36-by-36,” says Burns. “We collaborate and we come up with a budget, because the price point depends on the size and number of pieces of art and different things that are going to be hung in a location.” Burns’s services, including initial consultation, design, furniture rental and installation, range from $3,000 to $8,000, depending on the size of the home.

In addition to contributing to the interior design, McPhee saves designers time. “Now they don’t have to shop all around to all the stores just to find the right piece for this home,” she says. “If they don’t see it in my inventory, then I’ll create something completely custom for them.”

Last December a North Vancouver house staged by Burns and McPhee sold with everything in it. Burns says that is unusual. The purchasers of Lissa Greenwood’s house bought all the artwork but just the main-floor furnishings.

Unsold furnishings and artwork return to Wow Factor, Burns and McPhee to be used again. Sometimes McPhee sells pieces to people who phone her after seeing her work in homes staged for sale, although she also markets her work through galleries, her website and a studio in Fort Langley. Prices range from $175 to $5,000. Otherwise the artwork goes back into her rotation collection until another suitable home comes up.

“Art is always thought of as the last thing that goes on the wall, but it’s actually the most important,” says McPhee. “It’s sad to see they’ve spent all this money on the staging with high-end furniture, high-end accessories, high-end everything, and then they put a print on the wall.”