When SueAnn Heim was young, her ideal job was to work for Pantone or Crayola. She didn’t do that exactly, but she’s lived a colorful life nevertheless.
Heim studied communications and dance in college, worked for hip vintage retailer Retro Inferno, sold real estate and generally brought a sense of style to everything she touched, from her hair to her dining table.
She lives with her husband, David, and daughter, Mazey, in a flawless Prairie Village home built by Don Drummond in 1956. The Heims have made only minor renovations to the split-level home, including converting a laundry room to a kitchen annex, redoing a bathroom and adding a tiered outdoor patio, all while keeping true to the house’s original form. Even the grass cloth and embossed wallpapers remain, though she modernized by painting over them.
SueAnn extends her eye for design to others as a home stager, helping sellers prepare their properties for the real estate market. Learn more about her at tweakkc.com.
Q. How do you describe staging?
A. I tell people that I move furniture for a living! I go into people’s homes and help them highlight the features, architectural details and fabulous character of each home to help them make more money than they would otherwise and sell their home quicker.
To appeal to the broadest group, that means organizing and neutralizing — taking away bold or personal objects so others can see themselves living in that space — and rearranging furniture to create the best traffic flow. I try to make sense of every space: A back hall should become a useable space.
Q. Can homeowners not do this for themselves?
A. Everybody’s brain functions differently. Some people see rooms in dollars and cents, while others see them with a more artistic eye. I’m good at seeing rooms in bigger, broader ways and creating better patterns by rearranging stuff.
Sometimes people just get stuck doing it the way it’s always been. Creating an L-shape with your couch and coffee table is fine, but it doesn’t have that pow, that something extra that makes a room feel full and lush. People get stymied when they don’t know what to do with a room, or how to create gallery walls, use layers or insert texture and color.
And they are afraid if they step outside the norm that they’ll be judged. I tell them, “If you don’t have the ability or the funds of Architectural Digest, that’s OK, show me what you do have.”
Q. What should people expect to outlay for this service?
A. Every house has a different level of need and budget, but there’s not a lot of additional funds that go into it. I work diligently to use what people have and not say, “Let’s buy new furniture.” I make suggestions to borrow items or spread things out and make them work in other places.
Or, in two hours, I can go through the house and make a list of things to do themselves. Time is money and I can make decisions quickly whereas it might take my clients hours and hours.
Q. What is your design philosophy?
A. I like experimenting with everything in life. Life is too short to be boring. You have to explore and be willing to take a little risk. Let your house reflect your personality with carefully curated objects. I’m a big fan of editing. Too much is too much.
I’m also a believer in changing things up. I rearrange furniture and objects a lot, especially when the seasons change.
Q. Do you have a design pet peeve?
A. I wish people would consider their house color. I’m constantly dismayed about it, and I also don’t know why people are painting their doors stupid colors, just because HGTV said to. They’re not necessarily creating a moment or even harmony when they do that.
At least pick something in the same color family. We painted the outside of our house Thunder Gray, a greenish gray, and several people advised us not to do it, but we did, and now people drive by all the time and take pictures of it.
Q. What do you love about your job?
A. I love the business of real estate, but I’m not passionate about being an agent. Staging really brings me joy because I know I’m making a difference in people’s lives.
Agents are so close to their clients’ needs. I’m removed so I can make the hard decisions. They know this is my niche and they’re willing to listen. I can effect change and get it done fast.
Q. You also do some design work for clients who aren’t selling their homes?
A. I redesign homes with a focus on editing and organizing space so it feels like there’s more room to live. That can mean decorating.
The difference between myself and other designers is that I don’t represent any lines, I’m not trying to sell a product. I help people live in their spaces more effectively and connect with their home by listening to them and understanding who they are.
Q. What do you like about mid-century design?
A. Several things. I really like that the architecture of this style blends the indoors and outdoors. The light it creates inside is fantastic, and they used smart principles like passive solar to heat houses. And it’s sexy; it has a cool vibe. The use of materials like brick and wood feel substantial to me.
Q. What do you like most about this house?
A. It’s warm and light-filled. From almost anywhere, we can see outside. They really thought that through when this house was built.
It’s a very comfortable space that feels like a vacation at home. My favorite space is the living room. I hang out there with Mazey and we read and snuggle. It’s very peaceful.
Q. Will you stay here forever?
A. At least until Mazey graduates from school. Who knows? I just might want another project. I would love to live in a more moderate climate, but this is the next best thing.