Driven by Data and Design

Kelly Zabel '09 used her mathematics degree to launch A Home Revival, a nationally recognized, award-winning home staging and design company.

By Hannah Hunhoff '24, journalism major

February 07, 2022 | 11 a.m.

Kelly Zabel

As the owner of A Home Revival, Kelly Zabel '09 has built her brand and reputation in the staging industry. Her work spans staging homes for The Parade of Homes to helping sellers refresh, rearrange, and enliven their current space.

Kelly Zabel '09, then a sophomore mathematics major, measured the dimensions of the Bethel University dining center’s backed-up, single-level tray return system in 2007 to design a simulation model for her operations research class. Students restlessly stood back-to-back with trays caked with dirty glasses, porcelain white plates and stainless steel silverware to the brim. There must have been a solution.

Zabel kept a close eye on the ever-expanding line of students waiting to place their trays in the tight dish return, using a computer simulation program called ARENA to analyze the system and adjust its speed and capacity. Along with her classmates, Zabel proved that a more costly, tiered, and triple-level tray line would maximize efficiency. Their research findings were implemented in 2009—when the Monson Dining Center opened—and still chauffeurs disposed trays to the dishwashers today.

Twelve years later, Zabel makes a living by solving problems and helping creative visions come to life in the stylish world of staging homes across the Twin Cities for Parade of Homes events, real estate companies, and local buyers. She still uses the information-gathering, application-oriented, and efficiency tactics she learned in places like her Bethel math classes, where she served as a teaching assistant for math professor Patrice Conrath.

“She was very responsible, dependable, could communicate well, and worked hard at whatever task was given to her,” Conrath says.

Kelly Zabel

Zabel eyes the rows of colorful, multi-textured pillows in her warehouse in Apple Valley, Minnesota. Zabel typically hand-picks, organizes, and loads a handful of furnishings of this kind in a moving van to make a house feel like a home. “Our work is very neutral, but we also add something of fun interests like a pop of color or some unexpected art,” she says. | Photo by Hannah Hunhoff

Zabel liked when there was a right answer in math classes. To know how her work affected the world around her. To discover how her efforts affected things for change or for the better. To learn how to work smarter for efficiency—which has helped her run a business. At the same time, she found herself registering for an art class every semester, such as art history or pottery, to feed her creativity. 

Zabel graduated with her B.A. in Mathematics in 2009 and says she still stands in awe of God’s work in using her math brain and other intrinsic gifts to start a national award-winning staging company. “I never had a dream that I wanted to own my own business, yet it’s cool to see how God has done that,"  Zabel says. “He did a lot of things after my time at Bethel, where it is evident that He was teaching me things for a future purpose.”

Her design journey started in 2015, when she began shadowing and helping Jess Puccini—a local interior designer—and really enjoyed it. Puccini brought up staging as a career possibility and connected her with Shar Sitter, who led a home-staging certification class and owned a staging company called Rooms with Style.

Zabel still remembers walking into Sitter’s warehouse for staging classes in 2018 in Apple Valley, Minnesota, sitting at the circular tables, picking furniture items from the warehouse, and getting hands-on experience staging multiple homes in the area. She had finally found her niche that made use of her problem-solving brain and creative spirit.

Zabel quit her corporate job near Christmas 2018, and in 2019, she started her own staging company, A Home Revival. “I want it to be a life-giving company,” she says. “I didn’t want it to be Kelly Zabel Staging. I thought maybe someday this would be bigger than me.” 

Zabel and her employees execute full vignettes, hand-picking a combination of neutral yet on-trend coffee tables, sofas, artwork, lamps, and pillows in their warehouse, then loading a moving truck and transforming houses into homes across the Twin Cities. 

Kelly Zabel

“I'm a big believer in the feeling of your space...I want people to feel peaceful and at home when they walk in,” Zabel says. | Photo by Hannah Hunhoff

In the same warehouse where Zabel’s passion for home staging was ignited, she reaches for her bid sheet, a layout of the rooms in a home, and decides which home furnishings to select amid the towering rows of both colorful and simplistic decor items. Every plan is curated from scratch, as the staging is customizable to each home.

While there isn’t a calculator in her hands, Zabel’s analytical and mathematical gifts are integral in the home staging process. “If you're innately math-brained, you're usually pretty good at spatial things,” Zabel said. “I can look at a room and figure out what furniture would fit and what layout to use without explaining how.”

About the Author
Hannah Hunhoff '24 is a sophomore journalism and organizational communication double major with a concentration in strategic communication. Throughout her time at Bethel, she's had many opportunities to integrate her passions for writing, marketing strategy, and branding into her coursework, reporting at the Bethel Clarion and participating in BethelBiz. After graduation, she plans to work in the public relations and advertising industry.

Study math and computer science at Bethel. 

At Bethel, you'll prepare to serve God in exciting and ever-changing career fields as computing technology and mathematics continue to reinvent many areas of life. Ready to start your journey?

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