Published on February 18, 2019

In another life, Porter Hovey was a realtor in Manhattan. Listing after listing, she felt underwhelmed by the devastatingly uninspiring—or insanely unattainable—staging offerings that crowded the market space. The way that houses and apartments were staged in the five boroughs simply didn’t reflect the buyers in the area. This is when she had the idea to venture out on her own and create Hovey Design.

“I saw a huge need for staging options that looked more like how people really aspire to live at a relatively palatable budget,” Porter told me. “Low-end options—which aren’t cheap—often made the spaces look worse. The high-end level, while beautiful, was just completely out of reach for most people financially and wasn’t right for a lot of settings downtown and in Brooklyn where organic minimalism seems more luxurious than polished sleekness.”

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This was when she realized that the local real estate market seriously lacked staging that reflected the diverse buyers that compose New York City and started staging her clients’ homes. Buyers would walk in and have the same reaction I had—to ask who had staged the space—and the business grew organically. Her sister, Hollister—an artist—joined in on the business. Today, they’ve staged some of the city’s most inspiring and creative homes on the market.

We strive to make our spaces look like ideal homes of creative, fun, and wildly tidy people,” says Porter of their unique style. “We mix mid-century vintage with new furniture and add lots of shaggy Moroccan rugs, colorful geometric art, and heaps of artificial flowers and trees.” Crafted for the young, modern city dweller, the Hovey sisters’ spaces exude creativity, vibrant energy, and beautifully clean convenience.

And while interior designers have to answer to picky clients, this duo has complete creative freedom. “Staging offers us such creative freedom and instant gratification,” shares Hollister. “The interior design process—which can stretch out over months or years as the designer and client agonize over each small item—was just too difficult to balance with the frenetic, fun pace of staging.” But the good news for people who want to replicate the Hovey Design look at home is that they have perfected their covetable look down to a science, and we got the play-by-play.

Buy at auction

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“We snap up simple, classic pieces from big-box stores (white couches from CB2 and West Elm, wooden stools from IKEA) and add all the character from things we buy at auction,” says Porter. “Auctions are great for rare quality pieces that can be picked up the next day. We move so quickly that there isn’t time for special orders with furniture makers. The mix of special vintage and antique pieces and familiar, attainable ones helps make the spaces seem accessible and less intimidating.”

To ensure they find the best deals, the sisters trawl shelter mags for inspiration and comb through every online auction within 100 miles of New York City to find similar pieces. They also stock up on accessories and books during their travels to add life and narrative to the spaces they create.

Use symmetry to your advantage

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“Great designers can play with asymmetrical room setups with incredible results, but it can be hard and intimidating to duplicate,” explains Porter. “To appeal to the greatest number of people—and inspire them to move into a space—centering all the furniture and art to the main wall works best.”

This is specifically why they avoid using sectionals in their projects. “Everyone loves them for the comfort, but they photograph terribly and throw most normal-size rooms off balance,” she adds. “Coffee tables are forced to the side, lounge chairs are often impossible to place. A standard sofa, a coffee table, and two lounge chairs look balanced and beautiful. If a room is big enough, identical couches look stunning facing each other or in an L shape with a pair of lounge chairs for balance.”

Play small-space tricks

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No matter how small or dark a space is, there are always ways to make it appear larger and brighter—something that is a necessary skill in Manhattan’s crowded real estate market. Thankfully, the Hovey sisters work with a whole bag of tricks: “If a room is large enough, pulling the sofa away from the wall so it has breathing room on all sides can make the space look even larger and more balanced,” explains Hollister.

But there is more: “Furniture with thin legs works wonders to maximize the spaciousness of rooms—as evidenced by the decades-long adoration with Scandinavian design,” she adds. Ceilings also appear higher with low-to-the-ground platform beds. We also hang art fairly low, so it’s comfortable to view whether sitting or standing. The perspective for art is very different in a hallway where people stand and walk versus a living room where everyone flops on a sofa.”

Add lots of plants

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“Plants work miracles,” praises Porter. “They fill dead space, create partitions, cover bad cords, and add life to any room. You can never have too many!” Because their projects can last months, the sisters typically opt for artificial plants and flowers, which they tout as great for day-to-day living (and black thumbs). “High-end stems do cost quite a bit, but it’s a good investment when considering the price of buying real flowers every week,” she explains. “If you have a few really fantastical faux arrangements in the background, you can add in bodega or grocery store flowers in high-traffic areas and guests will assume that they’re all real.” Now that’s a crafty, cost-saving solution we can get behind.

Trust the power of paint

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“For staging, we always recommend Benjamin Moore’s Decorator’s White for its crisp freshness, but in our own home, we saturate it with color,” says Porter. “We’ve been through so many iterations and moods over the years: Pale blue, black, bright white, and now soft peachy pink. Each made our space look completely different and inspired us to evolve our style.” Though a crisp, fresh white is always a great space-enhancing neutral to fall-back on, it’s always fun to play with paint colors and change out your walls according to your mood, and it’s often more affordable and easier than you think.

Learn the perfect new-to-old ratio

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“We love a thoughtful juxtaposition,” says Hollister. “To incorporate a somewhat ornate traditional piece, place it next to more minimalist counterparts or add a modernist lamp.” This dichotomy will always keep your space from feeling dated. But there’s more: “For every ornate piece, have three-to-four minimalist ones. We also love adding pieces made of organic materials like straw and cotton in elegant or industrial contexts.”

Right now, the sisters are having a moment for Mexican designers who are collaborating with Oaxacan artisans to bring traditional crafts into the modern era. “We love Caralarga’s raw cotton wall sculptures and jewelry, Txt.ure’s woven grass tule furniture, and Angela Damman’s hammocks made from sansevieria fibers.”

Staying hungry for new, cutting-edge designs can train your eye to interpret spaces in a new way—something that the Hovey sisters have perfected over the years. But even just knowing their six rules of style can go a long way in creating a beautiful space full of vibrant energy.

Discover more great decorating tips:
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7 Decorating Lessons We Learned From the Coziest Ski Chalets
We’re Making the Case for Built-In Furniture (Yes, Even in a Rental)

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