The collapsible furniture from Dandy Pack can be assembled easily and quickly in just a few steps, like this $341 faux sofa. Add a slipcover and it looks like the real thing. Nathaniel Nielsen, a son of the company founders, demonstrates the strength of the materials used in the products. Credit Wen Duan
Visitors to a recent open house at a co-op on East 14th Street might have thought they were experiencing a computer rendering come to life.
The alcove studio was filled with clean-lined contemporary furniture — a large boxy sofa, a desk with faceted legs, a sculptural coffee table resembling the ubiquitous one designed by Isamu Noguchi — but nearly all of it was made of corrugated plastic with a blank white surface. So was the art hanging on the walls and so was the bed, which was covered in a sheer curtain instead of a duvet and had pillows filled with packing peanuts.
However unsettling, it was no hallucination. What the visitors were seeing was one of the latest innovations in home staging: lightweight, flat-pack faux furniture sleek enough to enable buyers to visualize what an empty home would look like fully furnished.
This unconventional approach to staging made sense for Valerie Petersen, the seller, who had moved to Albuquerque more than three years earlier and removed all of her furniture. She didn’t want to spend a lot of money renting new furniture, so when she decided to list her apartment at 333 East 14th Street, her real estate agent, Frosty Montgomery of Brown Harris Stevens, suggested she use a company called inFormed Space.
The idea of staging her home with plastic furniture was unexpected, Ms. Petersen said, adding, “I was shocked when I saw it, because I had no idea it would be so inventive and so full of verisimilitude — I thought it was quite fantastic.”
Ms. Petersen’s agent, who had orchestrated a renovation that included new floors, an updated bathroom and fresh paint, heard about the budget-friendly staging service from a colleague and determined that it was exactly what the apartment needed.
“It does what I wanted it to do, which is to show how much space you actually have for a living room, dining area, desk and bed,” Ms. Montgomery said. “It’s very hard to visualize that, if there isn’t furniture in the apartment, especially in a studio.”
Of the 35 or so people who turned up for the first open house, Ms. Montgomery said, some were surprised to discover that the plastic furnishings they had seen in listing photos weren’t virtual stand-ins added in Photoshop. Nevertheless, the strategy worked. A bidding war ensued, and the unit is now in contract for more than the asking price of $485,000.
Douglas Pinter, who owns inFormed Space, started the company in 2012 to address what he sees as a common problem: the often exorbitant cost of professional home staging. In New York, for example, fully staging a small apartment can easily cost from $5,000 to $10,000 for three months, while larger, upscale jobs might be tens of thousands more.
Mr. Pinter’s company charges about $1,900 (plus a delivery and pickup fee of $350) to stage a standard studio or one-bedroom for two months, and about $600 for each additional month; larger homes cost a few hundred dollars more.
“I love conventional staging; it always looks lovely,” said Mr. Pinter, who has staged more than 80 homes in New York and hopes to expand to other cities soon. “But it’s very expensive to execute, because of logistical costs” — namely storage and delivery.
When the furniture is made from sheets of plastic that can be folded up, logistics aren’t much of an issue. “The pieces are collapsible, lightweight and rigid,” he said. “You can store many apartments’ worth in a small area. They’re also easy to deliver and bring up.”
Initially, Mr. Pinter used pieces that fastened with snaps, transporting them to jobs in sport utility vehicles booked through Uber. He has since redesigned the units to assemble with hidden magnets, and now uses a courier to deliver enough furniture for a whole apartment. And the entire load fits conveniently in two rolling laundry bins.
Karen and Kevin Nielsen had a similar idea when they started their company in Sioux Falls, S.D., in 2008. But instead of working with plastic, they created reusable flat-pack furniture made of cardboard and covered with slipcovers.
“I was a stager back in the early 2000s, and grew to having about 30 homes’ worth of furniture,” Ms. Nielsen said. Moving and storing all those furnishings eventually became too grueling, so she and her husband began making their own collapsible pieces under the name NextStage Furniture. They changed the company’s name to Dandy Pack last summer.
Marketed to home stagers but available to anyone, Dandy Pack’s reusable products include armchairs ($246 each), sofas ($341) and beds (starting at $255), covered with slipcovers in an array of colors. The company also makes a nonfunctional dining table out of wood veneer ($326) that is held up by built-in faux chairs.
Lee Presser, an associate broker with the Corcoran Group, used the company’s products to help stage the estate sale of a one-bedroom co-op at 315 West 70th Street. Although there were a few pieces of real furniture in the apartment, he added two cardboard armchairs and one cardboard love seat to make the space look larger.
“They were shipped to my office, and I threw them into the back of a cab,” Mr. Presser said. “I was totally set up in less than an hour.”
Of course, faux furniture isn’t the solution for everyone.
“I’m not sure this is a technique that would work terribly well if you had a high-end apartment,” said Ms. Montgomery of Brown Harris Stevens. While collapsible furnishings might work for smaller apartments at lower price points, she said, they don’t quite convey the aspirational lifestyle most home stagers hope to evoke at the top of the market.
Ivana Tagliamonte, an associate broker at Halstead Property who often recommends that clients use professional stagers, agreed. “We’re always trying to achieve something that looks like a real home,” she said. “And that’s only doable when you have real furnishings. People don’t want to feel like you’re setting up for them, or staging to trick them somehow.”
Then there’s the question of safety: What happens if someone sits down? Both Dandy Pack and inFormed Space provide signs that warn visitors not to sit, but there’s always someone who ignores it. Fortunately, cardboard and plastic are stronger than you might think.
Dandy Pack furniture, Ms. Nielsen said, has passed lab crush tests of 1,000 pounds: “If somebody sits on it, they’re not going anywhere.”
And inFormed Space’s chairs and sofas are strong enough to hold their own as well, Mr. Pinter said. “They’re not meant to be used, but they don’t collapse,” he said. “It just creases my little cushions.”
Thursday, May 26, 2016