My husband and I purchased a beach house on Galveston Island, Texas in February 2012. Sand and Sea vacation rentals referred us to Ilse Benard (Staged for Perfection), and from my first phone conversation with her, I knew she was the designer for us. I wanted the house to look original and not "staged", as many of the beach homes we’d seen. Ilse told me up front that she would never design a house to look staged. She said that when she was finished with it, the house would look like our own.
The house itself had been badly damaged in Hurricane Ike and had to have extensive renovations. We worked with a contractor and replaced all the doors and windows, the roof, the stucco, the HVAC, all appliances, and much more. Ilse worked with us, with our contractor and our workers. Ilse was on the job for every major decision and was key in our decision to remove the broken down fireplace, flu, chimney, etc., and put in its place, beautiful glass doors and an arched window, which not only kept the Mediterranean feel of the house, but opened up a huge part of the beach view which had been blocked by the fireplace.
Although I had fallen in love with the house as its previous owner had envisioned it - a Mediterranean-style home, with lots of heavy, dark wood, muted tapestries, neutral colors and old world art and decor - Ilse knew better. She gently "worked on me" over the course of the project to persuade me that a beach house needed color; that it needed a coastal feel and - particularly since we were planning on renting it out during the summer months - that it needed to be a comfortable, vacation-friendly and FUN place in which people could feel that they were getting away from it all.
At first, I was concerned that the house would end up with a lot of kitschy lighthouses and fish decorations, and I didn't want a decor that was that literal, cliche or predictable. Of course, neither did Ilse. She wanted to stay true to the original Mediterranean design of the house, but create a more fresh, colorful, inviting sea-side experience. Everything Ilse chose was elegant, smart, functional and stylish. Nothing cheesy or predictable.
Until I had the pleasure of watching Ilse work, I didn’t realize how I’d avoided color. Working with her was eye opening, and there were moments where she had to remind me to trust her. She had a vision, and I could see that she did, so I put my faith in her that it would all come together in the end. Over the course of 20 years and several different homes, I’d worked with a few designers, and it seemed I always ended up with rooms full of beige and turquoise. Ilse brought in Color! Color! Color! Fabulous fabrics and textures and just enough whimsey to say that a beach house shouldn’t take itself too seriously. She made our home so that the moment you step inside, you feel pampered, relaxed and certain that you have left the mainland behind.
With past designers, I’d felt as if they were trying to please me, even at the expense of leaving me with a finished product that didn’t seem worth the price tag or the long wait. Sometimes I felt as if we’d spent a lot of money, but hadn’t made any real changes. Their work felt as if it grew old too soon - quickly in need of freshening up again.
Also, I’d felt that our past designers didn’t pay attention to the way my family moves through our house, and furniture pieces and arrangements would start to “bug” us pretty quickly. As a Feng Shui consultant, Ilse considered the placement of everything in relation to the way people use the home, and in nearly a year after having finished the home, I can’t think of anything significant that we’ve moved or changed. Ilse looked at the big picture - and into the future of the house - and she wasn’t afraid to let me know when something I wanted would NOT work. I don’t feel as if I had that kind of honesty with other designers. Ilse was very good at listening to what I wanted and working with me to create that. She was also good at telling me what would NOT work. Further, she was tireless in searching for the best price for something we wanted. She knew which things we could not cut corners on and which items could be substituted with less expensive alternatives.
The most difficult and impressive thing Ilse did was to meet our borderline-unrealistic deadline for the first renters.
Site unseen, someone had rented the house for the Labor Day weekend and we were racing to have it ready by then. As construction continued on the house with no roof, no Air Conditioning, still no doors and windows that closed, power outages, water outages, and the normal extreme heat and humidity of a Gulf Coast summer, Ilse had to put together the entire contents of the house WITHOUT being able to put any furniture in the house at all. Besides ordering and overseeing the moving of walls, the installation of countertops, tile work, re-designing bathrooms and more, Ilse also chose all the tile for 3 bathrooms, countertops and tile for the kitchen, ceiling and wall colors, furniture stains and paints, outdoor paints and stucco styles and colors, plumbing fixtures, light fixtures, lamps, fans, window treatments, bedding, towels, kitchen linens, dishes, glasses, serving pieces, bathroom accessories, rugs, furniture, artwork - even appliances - for every room in the house and the outdoor areas. Ilse did ALL OF THIS without ever being able to see any of the pieces or accessories together. Each piece of furniture, set of sheets, beach towels, artwork...all of it was purchased and sent straight to a 15' X 25' storage unit, awaiting the completion of the construction.
With a little more than a week before the first renters were to arrive, Ilse and her crew had the entire contents of the storage unit delivered to the house, and they went to work (without me!). They had the entire house furnished, decorated and fully appointed within 48 hours!
By finishing with time to spare, my family and I had the opportunity to stay in our home and try everything out before the renters arrived. Thinking back on those last few weeks, and how packed the storage unit was - front to back, side to side and floor to ceiling, I have no idea how Ilse knew that everything she'd picked out for our house over those past six or so months would work perfectly together, but it did. Our first renters (and subsequent renters as well) wrote a glowing review of the house. I never imagined I could love the house more than when I first saw it, but Ilse transformed it from a dark, dramatic, almost cave-like house into a bright, cheerful, welcoming beach home, where every room and nook of the house invites you to relax and enjoy.
Ilse’s creativity and innate sense of style made possible a beautiful, cohesive look that rivals the kind of extreme transformations I’ve seen on home makeover TV shows. But beyond her impressive instincts and talent, I don’t believe anyone else could have pulled off the kind of energetic, last minute assembly of an entire house in the time frame that Ilse did. I think this is due in part to her can-do attitude and hands-on approach. It seemed that there was nothing she wasn’t willing to do and nothing she couldn’t do. She hung curtain rods, installed hooks, sewed valances, altered the bed-skirts to fit properly, matted and framed pictures, fixed anything that showed up missing something or not “just right”. In short, Ilse Benard is the whole package: creative, talented, adept in architectural, structural, construction and landscaping know-how, as well as a hands-on energetic force who gets things done.
We continue to work with Ilse. This past December, Ilse decorated our house for guests who’d won a “Galveston Holiday” weekend at our beach house as part of a fund raiser for our local NPR station. Since I didn’t want to presume any specific religious affiliation, Ilse came up with wonderful ideas for “non-denominational winter holiday” trimmings, including twinkly lights, starfish and garlands of sea-foam green and silver, all of which came together perfectly to make it a festive holiday at the beach.
Now that the interior of the house is complete, we are moving outdoors for the next phase of improvements. Ilse is currently working on a landscape design for the beach house, with an aim toward planting varieties of species from the natural, indigenous dune flora, thereby creating a low maintenance landscape, which has a high potential for success and also supports the well-being of the fragile dune environment.
I am working on putting together a little “Before and After” photo album, and perhaps I'll be able to include those pictures in this review at a later date. In the mean time, if you want to see photos of the house, you can go to www.sandnsea.com and look for our house name, Argonauta, or click on the link. http://www.sandnsea.com/galveston/indian-beach/beachfront/vacation-rental/argonauta/405400.Read More
As some background, I moved from Galveston to South Carolina nearly six years ago and have been trying to sell my house in Galveston ever since. Although the house has had many showings over the years, I always heard feedback that the house didn't "show well" and potential buyers just couldn't see themselves in the home. Other smaller homes with much less square footage to offer were selling right and left, but my home remained on the market. Meanwhile, I kept lowering the asking price in the hopes that someone could see the home's potential, but it just never happened. I finally decided to end the lease with the renter and move agressively toward selling the house.
Since I was in South Carolina, I wasn't in a position to personally get the house in order after the renter moved out. I hired to Ilse Bernard with Staged for Perfection to stage the home in the hopes that it would be easier to sell. Although I hired Ilse as a stager, she was SO much more than that. She recognized early on the aesthetic issues that were keeping the house from selling and immediately went to work addressing those issues. With my permission, she hired cleaners, painters, and carpenters to fix some of the eye sores in the home, and she negotiated great deals for these repairs on my behalf. She also picked out and oversaw the installation of new carpet in the home and got me a really low price on that as well. Because my home was near the ocean, I knew that it would be a good contender for a second home, and furnishings that would sell with home would be a huge bonus. Ilse bought beautiful furniture (again at low prices) and staged it perfectly in a manner that allowed the true beauty of the home to shine. She actually functioned as a designer, stager, and general contractor all in one!!
Most importantly, Ilse moved at lightening speed and was done with the whole project in three weeks. She would have been done way sooner except that she was waiting on the painters to finish another job.
Here's the best news of all. After Ilse was done staging, I put the house back on the market for $17,000 more than my previous asking price, and I had a contract on the house in TWO WEEKS!!! This was incredible considering that I had been trying to sell the house for SIX YEARS!! Before Ilse, I was prepared to sell of the house by coming to the table with $10,000 but I ended up selling the house and making $10,000! Amazing!
I just can't say enough about how much I appreciate Ilse. The money I invested in Ilse's services came back to me and then some in the sell of the house...she is well worth the money. Thanks to her, I am out from under a crushing mortgage. She is the best!
Kinneil ColtmanRead More