September 7, 2011 at 9:00 pm EST | by Valerie Blake
Our own gallery walls

Writer and poet Oscar Wilde said, “Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known.” Just look around your own home and you’ll know it’s true.

We all go to open houses now and then, whether we’re searching for a home, checking out the competition, being nosy neighbors or looking for new decorating ideas. What we see on the walls can range from personal photos to framed posters to one-of-a-kind pieces from renowned artists. And our responses run the gamut from “How stunning!” to “What were they thinking?”

When I first visit a home that I may be hired to sell I look at it with a critical eye, not to pass judgment on the taste of the owner but to determine whether there are improvements that should be made.  I tell my clients that now is not the time to showcase their individualism but to focus on cleanliness, order and a model home flair that appeals to the mass market.

Frequently, I recommend removing and storing personal photos and other items that may have a special place in your heart (but not on your walls) so they are not distracting to a buyer whose primary goal is to determine whether your home will be the one to buy.

Most of us have had an “I  love me wall” at some time in our lives. You know the one I mean.  It’s usually in the den, family room, or home office.

First there’s the photo of your high school team with your beaming smile as you hold the trophy you won in your junior year or perhaps it’s the group photo signed by the cast of the senior play when you starred as Little Orphan Annie. Next comes the high school diploma, the baccalaureate, one or two framed advanced degrees, a series of work or community-oriented awards and commendations and finally, the photo of you shaking hands with (insert name of politician or community activist of choice here).

In the foyer, along the stairwell, or above the fireplace mantel one often finds the “portrait wall” where your family history is proudly displayed for all to see.

Beginning with the black-and-white photo of your grandparents standing in American Gothic pose at their wedding, we move on to an unidentified child in a frilly dress or short pants who grew up to be your mother or father. There may be a few pictures of you as a baby, but probably the ones taken in the bath tub and on the bear skin rug have been relegated to the shoe box under the bed. The cap and gown photo comes next followed by the wedding pictures and candid shots of the happy couple, ending in some cases with a plethora of photos of the newest addition to the family.

The “parent wall” isn’t really a wall at all — it’s the refrigerator. Think class schedules and calendars of after school events. Add homework assignments marked A+ and a crude but adorable Crayola drawing of a stick figure family standing in front of a house. Mix in a dozen magnets, a grocery list and an appointment reminder card from the orthodontist and there you have it.

Once in a while I still run into what I call a “Picasso wall” — one that pays homage to his blue period. And when I say blue, I mean there’s some stuff out there on people’s night tables or hanging over their beds that would make Logan McCree blush!

You never really know what will offend someone. I have seen buyers cringe at Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus,” giggle nervously at Klimt’s “Adam and Eve” and shield their children’s eyes from photos of the International Mr. Leather competition. Keep that in mind as I did while preparing my house for the local Home and Garden Tour last spring, reluctantly removing a tasteful-yet-revealing piece of personal art from my own bedroom wall.

So do you need to keep your surfaces art-free to attract a buyer? Absolutely not. Just remove the personal items, add some spackle and fresh paint and accent with pieces that are stylish, colorful and sized appropriately for the wall or room. And leave the refrigerator naked, in honor of Picasso.

Valerie M. Blake can be reached at 202-246-8602 or at Prudential Carruthers REALTORS® is an independently owned and operated member of Prudential Real Estate Affiliates, Inc., a Prudential Financial company. Equal Housing Opportunity.


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