“I don’t know if I told you I grew up on a prison reservation. I mean, what’s uglier and more depressing than a prison?” asks Meridith Baer with a chuckle. The designer and founder of home staging giant Meridith Baer Home is talking beauty and making it happen where it’s scarce. It’s a skill she’s perfected since childhood.
Meridith Baer Home stages approximately 200 homes per month
Houzz has named her firm Best of Design for the last five years (2014 to 2018)
ROOM TO DESIGN
Her DTLA warehouse—what Baer describes as “Disneyland for lovers of all things and interiors”—spans over 300,000 square feet of furnishings, rugs, plants, artwork and other décor
The daughter of a prison warden, Baer learned at an early age to create a world of her own making. To play and handcraft games, fun and wonder out of thin air. “You do the best with what you have, where you have it,” says the designer.
“And you take some risks,” she adds. “You get up and do something different.” She’s taken this advice to heart, and this year celebrates 20 years of rather stunning success with Meridith Baer Home, a company she spun from her imagination and two hands. In the late 1990s, Baer, then an actress and scriptwriter, was in between rental homes.
A woman of modest means and fabulous taste, she had lots of furniture, art, and decor, not to mention a massive plant collection—but nowhere to put it. A developer friend, whose unfurnished, high-end home on the Westside had been sitting on the market, let Baer perform her decorating magic in the home. She did and the property sold quickly, and well above the asking price.
At the time, home staging was not done, a situation Baer would change. A real estate agent who heard about the successful sale asked Baer to “furnish” another home. Then another. She rode the momentum to create Meridith Baer Home, the nation’s staging company, with a list of who’s who celebrity clients and an army of designers working around the nation. Doing the best with what you have, indeed.
“I got kicked out of my house,” explains Baer. “But then I put the furniture in a house someone was selling, and it sold for half a million over asking, and now I have a $100 million company.”
YOU DO THE BEST WITH WHAT YOU HAVE, WHERE YOU HAVE IT—AND YOU TAKE SOME RISKS. YOU GET UP AND DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT.
Headquartered in Los Angeles, which is also home to the company’s design warehouse spanning over 300,000 square feet, Meridith Baer Home has offices in San Francisco, New York, Miami, and the Hamptons. When we speak in mid-July of this year, her company had already staged 1,600 homes—a record. Baer’s firm also does interior design and leases luxury furnishings.
For those in a hurry, there’s Instant Home, where designers can furnish a property in as little as two weeks, based on a single consultation. “I’m super proud of the company, and the group of people I work with that built it,” says Baer. “It has a life of its own now, with all these great designers and business development people and crew. It’s a machine.”
Staging by Meridith Baer Home in New York (top) and California (bottom).
The idea of taking something undesirable or unwanted and giving it a new, positive life is summed up in a cheeky mantra Baer is fond of. “Chaff to gold,” we’ll call it here. “It’s basically taking something that no one wants, or something that doesn’t matter, and turning it into gold,” says Baer, who constantly applies it to design—turning cast-off gates into charmed decor or fashioning a gathering of branches into sophisticated centerpieces.
Even bad situations can be steered to the positive. This has been Baer’s belief since childhood, and for the last 20 years, she’s applied it rather spectacularly to her company, which continues its spiral upward. “I want to work seven days a week,” she says exuberantly. “I’m doing what I love.”
MERIDITH BAER HOME
DIGStv with Constance Dunn gives you a exclusive behind the scenes look around Meridith Baer Home’s massive Los Angeles interior design and home furnishing warehouse lead by famed interior designer and home stager Meridith Baer herself.
Meridith Baer discusses how she transition from screen writer in her 50s to become one of the most well known names in interior design for the last decade, with all the challenges and the payoffs — an inspiring storying of a self made woman in business.
For more information on how to get in touch with Meridith Baer Home visit their website:
Written by Constance Dunn | Photography Courtesy of Meridith Baer Home
In the late 1990s, Meridith Baer was moving and looking for somewhere to store her things. She suggested to a developer she knew, whose property was languishing on the market, that he should let her decorate the empty home with pieces of her furniture and extensive plant collection. He agreed, and the property sold swiftly—and way above its asking price. Baer was asked to decorate another home. And another.
Today, her company, Meridith Baer Home, is a national force in design, staging an average of nearly 150 homes a month, from New York City to Miami, Pacific Palisades to Palos Verdes, and she’s starting in on global properties, too. (When we spoke in early October, her tally for the year had topped 1,600.) Baer’s offices are in glamour pulse points like Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, the Hamptons and Miami, and she has a new line of furnishings, The Meridith Baer Home Collection, some of which is manufactured here in Southern California.
Baer’s firm also does private interior design and the leasing of luxury furnishings, all the way down to spoons and sheets. Speaking of, the latter wing of her business, which is growing rapidly, initially came from celebrities who were desirous of having a certain look to homes they were leasing, and wanted it done in as turnkey way as possible. “We’ve even been asked to get Q-tips and toothpaste for clients,” Baer says.
“And we’ll do it.” There was even a network show, HGTV’s Staged To Perfection, which featured Baer and her team staging luxe homes around Los Angeles.
“It’s beyond my comprehension,” the affable home mogul says of her success. So much so, that when she heads to her bustling Los Angeles headquarters (included in Los Angeles Business Journal’s list of 100 Fastest Growing Private Companies for two years running), or surveys her warehouse—a mammoth space that houses a dizzying inventory of furnishings, artwork and other home-styling artillery that Baer describes as “Disneyland for lovers of things and interiors”—she’s still in happy disbelief.
“I look around and say to myself, ‘Holy Moly, how did this happen?’”
At the root of Baer’s success is organization, a strong business mind and public need. No doubt about it, the timing for a nascent home staging business was keen in the early 2000s, as realtors increasingly saw the tangible impact of a home dressed up in a welcoming cloak where potential buyers could aspire to live.
Staging is now a mainstay of high-end homes (and becoming more of a factor in other levels of the market, too), but Baer remembers it being a tug of war in the late-1990s, with her having to sell clients on the idea. “I had to get a big glass of water afterwards I talked so much,” she says. Baer still has her knack for identifying emerging design, real estate and home trends, and being picture-perfect ready to execute them. Take her InstaHome, a new offering that gets homes furnished in a matter of weeks, which is premised on Baer’s understanding of the do-it-yesterday mindset. “They want it furnished in a few days,” she says of clients requesting the service. “They don’t want to wait, and they don’t feel they have to wait.”
But there’s also Baer’s supreme style sensibility and an ever-evolving creativity that keeps her well-heeled clientele coming back. The Meridith Baer look is one that can be shape-shifted to meet a kaleidoscope of tastes, but can always be key-worded as smart, elegant and efficient. “The underlying formula is a neutral background palette that allows for change,” says Baer. This approach allows for Baer and her designers to continually put new trends and modes into play (like the current taste for bold color and earthy, textured objects).
Likewise, when it comes to her furniture line, Baer—who admits to a love for constantly shifting her own home scenery (“I can move my furniture around every week,” she says with a laugh)—can use her pieces to more precisely orchestrate the look of her staging projects. “The collection is always changing,” says Baer, who employs a team of 30 designers on the furniture side of her business. “We’ve become almost a collective in giving each other feedback.”
For someone who never set out to achieve such levels of design success, but has done an exceptional job of embracing and growing it with non-stop momentum, Baer has some tips that have kept her keel even through the years. Among them: Keep fear away by not over-leveraging oneself. “One of the ways that I was able to do it and be able to sleep at night is that I didn’t go to the bank and borrow a lot of money.
Every time I made money, I put it back in the business. So at each point I felt comfortable with where I was—and still do.”
After talking business, the conversation turns to creativity and inspiration.
“I would have loved to have lived in the 1920s,” says Baer, when asked where she might like to visit if offered a spin in a time machine. “The music, the pace, the fun, the dresses. It was such an exciting time.”
MERIDITH BAER HOME 310.204.5353 | MeridithBaer.com
If you’re addicted to HGTV like we are, you’ve probably seen “home stager to the stars” Meridith Baer on the show, “Selling LA,” and on the network’s documentary series, “Staged to Perfection.” Baer is the namesake behind her company, Meridith Baer Home, the largest home staging company in the country.
Based in Los Angeles, Baer also stages luxury properties in New York City and the Hamptons, Miami and coastal Florida and Connecticut. She and her team also furnish homes in the beach cities and on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Read on to learn how her career as a Hollywood screenwriter led to home staging, and find out which Hollywood celebrity homes have gotten the red carpet treatment from the pioneer of home staging.
South Bay Digs: I hear you have a colorful background.
Meridith Baer: I was born in Los Angeles but weeks later moved to Northern California. My father was associate warden at San Quentin Prison and we lived on the prison grounds. I attended a one-room schoolhouse from 1st through 8th grades. Usually I was the only person in my grade, so I was both the valedictorian and the class dunce!
SBD: Do you think living on prison grounds affected your knack for beautifying interiors?
MB: The drabness of the prison reservation perhaps inspired me to be creative. From a young age my mom let me move the furniture around the house and gave me my own plot of land for my private garden. When I turned 13, my father became the director of Corrections for the state of Iowa and we moved to Des Moines. My mom was an early home flipper, and we moved from style-to-style large homes—English Tudor to Colonial to Modern. Through all of this my mom seemed to like my furnishing ideas and took notice when I suggested which furniture to buy. I still have some of those pieces in our staging inventory!
SBD: I’m told your staging career was preceded by a stint as a writer.
MB: In Des Moines I attended a large school that used a “tracking system.” They called it 1-2-3-4, but it meant dumb, average, smart and talented. Even though the San Quentin school gave me straight A’s, this school put me in the dumb class and I proceeded to do poorly in it. One day my teacher was out sick, and the teacher from the talented class covered for her and [gave us a writing assignment]. When he read my essay, he transferred me to the talented class and I began getting straight A’s.
All of this taught me to not just follow a single path but to be unafraid to take a new road. At the University of Colorado I got a journalism degree. While in college, I also flipped houses; I wasn’t doing construction, just paint and gardening and styling.
SBD: How did the Hollywood connection begin?
MB: The week before graduation I was approached to be in a Pepsi commercial by a total stranger, a young New York City advertising man named Jerry Bruckheimer, now the most successful movie producer in the business. Doing the Pepsi commercials led me to New York, where I was hired to be an assistant to the editor of a magazine. Soon I was being asked to appear in print and television commercials—over 100—and then a movie. I did freelance writing, including writing “Passionate Shopper” pieces for New York Magazine.
Later I moved to Los Angeles and continued to be in commercials, print ads and movies. I also did freelance magazine writing but the money was in the acting, not the writing. Through all of this, my hobbies were gardening and fixing up my various apartments and those of my friends. While reading movie scripts, many of which were poorly written, I thought, ‘I can do this,’ and wrote my first screenplay. I sold it for $250,000.
MB: After years earning a respectable living as a writer, I found myself tired of writing. I was about to turn 50 and the jobs were harder and harder to come by. At this point I was renting a home in Brentwood and found myself spending most of my time gardening. I acquired over 150 pots and filled them with trees, flowers and bushes, and I rearranged them regularly. [I spent my time] searching for treasures and rearranging my furniture, even changing the purpose of each room.
SBD: How did you make the leap into home staging? Was there a defining moment that sparked the idea?
MB: At this point, the owner of my rental home came to town, saw how much time and money I had put into his home—and asked me to leave! He saw that he could make money on what I had done. Not knowing where I could store all of my plants and furnishings, I suggested to a friend who was selling a spec home that I arrange them all at his house to show the lifestyle. It turned out beautifully, in fact photos of my work were published in magazines. But more importantly, the house sold within days for a half million dollars over asking price after multiple offers. My phone started ringing. Other brokers wanted me to move my stuff to homes they had for sale. And the brokers started calling it “staging.” It was fun! I said yes, but they’d have to pay me up front. In the beginning it was pure hustle and 18-hour days.
SBD: How do you think your Hollywood connection has helped your business?
MB: I don’t think it helped me, other than I was so frustrated by the entertainment business—by how hard it was to get anything made [from my screenplays], and even if it got made, it didn’t look anything like what I wrote—that I seized this opportunity to make something happen fast and feel realized.
SBD: That must have been a big shift.
MB: Instead of dealing with show biz agents and producers, I was now dealing with real estate agents and property developers. But there was a connection to my previous career. People pointed out to me that what I was doing was staging. And I realized that as I brought rooms to life, I was imaging who would ultimately be living in those rooms. I’d always been told I had a great eye for design, but what I liked was telling stories. Now I found myself telling stories through design. Interestingly enough, many top show business people bought homes we staged, hired us to stage their homes, or hired us for interior design. We’re even asked to do movie sets.
SBD: As a pioneer in the field, how do you think this niche has evolved? Where do you see it going?
MB: What I did in the beginning and what we continue to do now is create beautiful spaces that tell a story, a story of how the buyer can live in the home seamlessly. For me it was never just “staging.” It was never just filling spaces without attention to the quality of the design and furnishings. The details of what makes a house a home are what matter. Over the years, expectations about the level of design have radically increased. Homes now need to be staged in a particular style according to the architecture, value and location. The design has to be current, what you see in your favorite magazine. Art and rugs have to be geared towards the expectations and/or aspirations of the buyer. It is not uncommon for us to put $400,000-$500,000 of inventory into a luxury home.
SBD: What—if anything—can you tell us about some of your celebrity clients?
MB: We have worked with hundreds of celebrities in music, sports and entertainment, staging their homes, leasing furniture. We also sell them design services and furniture. We’ve worked with Bob Dylan, Beck, Seal, Madonna, Anthony Kiedis from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ricky Martin, Katy Perry,
Harrison Ford, Sharon Stone, Halle Berry, Brad Pitt, Gerard Butler, Mike Myers, Reese Witherspoon, Liv Tyler, Geena Davis, Kevin Spacey, Amy Adams. We also work with movie execs, studio heads and billionaires.
SBD: What are your secrets to success?
MB: Working our tails off, caring about what we do, and loving what we do. Hiring talented, hard-working staff, designers and sales people. Bringing in the best and brightest on an executive level, in fact on every level. Keeping it new, keeping it fresh. Listening to the complaints, as well as the praise!
SBD: How would you describe your business model?
MB: We provide luxury furniture and design services. Our primary business is staging, or installing furnishings to help homeowners and developers sell their real estate assets as fast as possible for the highest possible price. All of the furnishings in our homes are for sale, so the buyer or the neighbor can own a room or the entire home furnished just as it is. We manufacture much of our own furniture and source the rest. In the future, we will be making our furnishings available to the public. We also offer interior design services and lease our high-end furnishings for the specific needs of our clients.
SBD: You switched careers at age 50. What advice would you give women 40-plus who are contemplating a career change?
MB: Follow the trail of what interests you. It’s not written anywhere that you have to spend the rest of your life doing what you have been doing. Pay attention when you find yourself saying, ‘I could do that,’ or ‘this could be better,’ or ‘what the world needs is this!’ Just start doing what you really enjoy and see where it leads.
SBD: What do you like to do when you’re not staging homes?
MB: I am constantly looking through magazines and searching on the web for inspiration. I go to estate sales and flea markets and auctions looking for little treasures to use on shelves. I like to look at historical pieces and dream about how to tweak them into the 21st century. I still love to garden. Cuddle with my cat. Cook. Read. Spend time with friends and family. Laugh. Drink good red wine. And I am addicted to Sudoku—the really evil ones!