Staging a life's work
By Kaylee Tornay Posted Jul 31, 2015 at 5:43 PM
In the cool dimness of a Front Street warehouse in Medford, Leslee Freeman moves through a row of wooden chairs armed with a can of aerosol wood polish, intent on making her target, a vintage French vanity, as shiny and sale-ready as possible for Saturday morning.
The warehouse, which Freeman says used to be a nightclub, is cavernous but welcoming, dimly lit by scattered antique lamps of every size and type, including a climbing rose sculpture with bulbs illuminating the blossoms. Across the space sit overstuffed armchairs, vintage mirrors, gleaming highboys a half a century old or more, fluffy twin beds encased in delicate metal frames, oil paintings on frameless canvases and stockpiles of colorful linens.
“People would have to go to 500 yard sales to find items like these,” Freeman says. “And so many of them have never really been used.”
For years, these fitted beds have had no occupants, nor have the paintings adorned the walls of a family home. Instead, they’ve served temporary roles, moving from place to place to help sell houses and make a living for longtime “home stager” Bobbie Saria of Ashland and her late husband, George.
“Hopefully this is going to be a good end to a very interesting decade,” Bobbie says.
Home staging involves setting up empty houses for sale with furniture while they’re on the market so they feel more like a home to potential buyers. The Sarias spent years in business together, staging homes in Palo Alto, Calif., Florida and the Rogue Valley. They built up a collection of hundreds of items in their travels, adding pieces such as a baker’s rack from France and decorative masks from New Guinea.
“Staging is amazing,” Bobbie, now 65, says. “For me it’s always been a sort of performing art.”
The Sarias’ Ashland property is a testament to Bobbie and George’s artistic eye. Built in the 1880s, the house still has its original floorboards, but the rest of its features all bear evidence of their vision and love for old things. A 10-foot-high vintage mirror greets entrants in the foyer, and the kitchen is a jumble of classic and contemporary: quaint tile and utensils next to an industrial-sized stainless steel fridge and freezer.
But now the house will soon be empty. Bobbie lost George, 64, to liver cancer last year. After that she decided to turn the page on her staging business and life in Ashland as well.
“After he passed away I just didn’t want to do it anymore,” she says. “Everything’s harder without him. You just grow so dependent when the partnership works.”
She decided to close up the business, sell the house and go live with her daughter in South Africa. But the warehouse merchandise needed to be dealt with first.
Bobbie connected with Freeman at a garage sale in May, when Bobbie tried to sell off some of her business inventory and broke down in tears. Freeman, a 71-year-old estate liquidator whose 10-year retirement seems yet to kick in, told Bobbie she would help her out.
For the next two months, Freeman and her colleagues Jason Chipera and Virginia Nichols cleaned, repaired and organized the collection, which takes up almost the entire block between 10th and 11th on Front Street. Freeman got permission from the city to close down the block for the sale, which will run from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Saturday and is open to anyone.
“It’s definitely the biggest project I’ve ever done,” Freeman says. On whether or not it will actually be her last, though, she says, “God, I hope so. It’s a good way to go out.”
Bobbie, meanwhile, has no doubts that’s she’s ready to leave the past behind.
“George and I were together 16 years and it was magical. And Leslee was sort of my fairy godmother,” she says. “This is my last hurrah.”