Staging a Home to Stay Put

Wall Street Journal


As the founder of one of the country’s largest home-staging companies, Meridith Baer often decorates and furnishes high-end homes in the space of a few days. Her own house, in Los Angeles’s Brentwood neighborhood, took nearly eight years to pull together.

The project involved excavating the side of a hill—over 250 truckloads of dirt—and expanding a 1,500-square-foot, 1950s-era ranch into a 4,000-square-foot, white stucco, modern version. Because she didn’t want to leave, Ms. Baer lived on the property throughout the multiyear renovation. She cooked meals on a hot plate in an outdoor lean-to off the side of the house, and washed dishes in her bathroom sink. She slept in what is now her living room. “We all thought she was crazy,” says her nephew, Brett Baer.

The Warm, Eclectic Los Angeles Digs of a Professional Home Stager



Ethan Pines for The Wall Street JournalMeridith Baer has everything from lemon trees to kumquat plants to corn stalks. Shown is the back yard and infinity pool.

The result, completed in 2008, is a sunny, private home with three bedrooms and 3½ baths. An infinity pool in the backyard has a wall of water cascading over a stacked stone wall behind it. The ½-acre lot feels far larger than it is, thanks to tiered gardens that lead up the hillside behind the house and a large outdoor dining area halfway up the hill, reached by a long set of brick stairs.

Ms. Baer, 66 years old, describes her home’s layout as an “inverse courtyard.” Nearly every room opens to an outdoor garden decorated with potted plants, antiques and small seating areas. “I wanted the house to be at the center and every room to be about what was going on outside,” she says.

Inside, the décor reflects her design philosophy of creating a warm, inviting home where visitors don’t feel the need to take off their shoes. There are white walls with built-in shelves, walnut wood-plank floors and high ceilings beamed with the home’s original roof boards. Cream-colored, custom-upholstered furniture is draped with colorful throw pillows and blankets, and coffee tables are stacked with fashion and art books.

The kitchen has a long, blue-limestone island, white cabinets and a raw-wood dining table made from an old Chinese door. Her glass-door refrigerator is typically staged as well, with colorful bowls of fruit pushed toward the front.

The home also reflects her love of antiques and art, She visits flea markets and estate sales several times a week to find items for herself and for her staging business. The front entryway is a weathered Moroccan door, and a set of built-in shelves in the den are filled with antique duck decoys. “I like things that have been worshiped, old things,” she says. She picked up the shopping habit from her late mother, who often dragged her to antique stores and estate sales when Ms. Baer was a little girl.

Ms. Baer grew up the daughter of a prison warden in San Quentin, Calif., and worked as a model and actress throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. After starring in several movies, such as the 1977 teen comedy “The Chicken Chronicles” with Steve Guttenberg, she worked for years as a screenwriter.

When a landlord gave her just a few weeks’ notice to move out of the place she had been renting, Ms. Baer had to find a home for her nearly 250 plants. She ended up using them to stage a house a friend was trying to sell. Ms. Baer says more jobs came from that, and she found her new job more rewarding.

“You’d put your heart and soul into a script and they’d say, ‘I don’t really love this character,’ ” she says. “With staging you move one pot over there and they go, ‘Wow, that’s fabulous!’ “

She launched her business in 1998 and today has 100 employees, with offices in Los Angeles, New York, Connecticut and South Florida. Meridith Baer Home has staged homes purchased by celebrity clients such as Brad Pitt and Ellen DeGeneres; projects have ranged from $700,000 bungalows to $125 million estates. Recently, Ms. Baer starred in the HGTV show “Staged to Perfection.”

Screenwriting and staging have some similarities, Ms. Baer says. She begins her staging jobs by imagining the characters who might live in the space, then creates story lines around them and the things they might own. Might they have children? Is it a couple or a single person? Her nephew, Mr. Baer, who works at the firm, says “the kiss of death” is staging a home that looks like it was furnished exclusively from catalogs, because high-end buyers want to see places that look comfortable, but unique.

While shopping for her own home 13 years ago, Ms. Baer, who is single and lives with a cat, says she fell in love with the quiet equestrian enclave just north of Sunset Boulevard. The neighborhood was originally developed by California architect Cliff May, who is credited with popularizing the 1950s ranch-style house. A large equestrian facility nearby keeps a steady stream of horses in the wooded neighborhood. “I came down the street and my heart started to beat—the quiet, the clip-clop of the horses,” says Ms. Baer, who doesn’t ride herself. There are wooden signs posted on her street reading, “Whoa 10 miles per hour.”

She bought her house, which she said was “funky” and in need of repair, for $1.1 million in 2000, according to public records. Over the next eight years, she added a kitchen, a family room, a two-car garage and the infinity pool, among other additions. She also raised the home’s roof level, added reinforcement pillars to the solid-rock hillside behind her, and put in a series of orchards and gardens on the hillside, planting bougainvillea and everything from lemon trees to kumquat plants to corn stalks.

Originally, the house abutted the hill and had no backyard. Ms. Baer spent about $1 million to excavate and move the retaining wall on the adjacent hillside, a four-year process that required permits, but allowed her to create the series of outdoor living spaces and gardens. Ms. Baer estimates she spent roughly an additional $2 million in landscaping and work on the interior of the house, which was completed in 2008. “The only thing I have left from the original house is the mailbox,” she says. A five-bedroom house on ¼ acre with a swimming pool in nearby Pacific Palisades is on the market for $5.67 million.

Today, the house “is the embodiment” of Ms. Baer’s casual, Southern California lifestyle, says her nephew. His daughter and friends will often visit his aunt on the weekends to play in her pool, with grown-ups drinking wine in her outdoor living room on the hillside on warm evenings.

“I have never, ever since I bought this house wanted to leave,” says Ms. Baer.

Write to Candace Jackson at

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