Meridith Baer, founder and CEO of the luxury home–staging enterprise bearing her name, did not set out to be an entrepreneur, designer, or pioneer in an industry that has rapidly become an essential factor to the success of real estate transactions. The former journalist, actress, and screenwriter initially just needed a place to put the 250 potted plants she had accumulated after she discovered that gardening was a key therapeutic catalyst for her writing career. The astounding sale of the empty home she moved them into made history, and in one serendipitous moment, both elevated and validated the art of home staging.
Today, Meridith Baer Home is valued at $100M, has expanded from its Los Angeles headquarters to major metropolitan locales along both coasts, and often has some 850 houses installed at any one time. When asked how she managed to scale the business to such a degree, she does not offer any hard or fast rule other than the power of leaning into that which thrills you. She describes having felt like she’d utterly failed at life, or the way we think life should be lived, and how she first felt the freedom to start living on her own terms. Here, she walks us through how she “accidentally” shifted one of the world’s leading industries and achieved immense success by following her heart.
You are regarded as a champion and pioneer of the home–staging industry. How does it feel to have played such a pivotal role in an industry that accelerates the experience and sale of real estate on an international scale?
It has a surreal feeling to me, because it all happened organically—I can even say, accidentally. One day, I just started doing it, without knowing exactly what “it” was yet. Suddenly, I realized I fell into a huge need, one that was very fun and easy for me to start filling up. In a way, I started doing something accidentally for fun that turned out to be a massive tool to help the industry market homes. And I find the discovery and variety of the process very exciting.
As a trailblazer in your field, how did you first define, monetize, and scale the process of staging?
In the beginning, we just started working with what I owned in my own home. A buyer would walk into a [staged] house, and see the home, as I like to say, “loved.” We’d see it elicit a romantic feeling, an affection the buyer would feel for the home that they wouldn’t feel for an empty house. I came up with a number that allowed me to pay all the people I needed to help me, buy the supplies, rent the truck, and still make some money to live on. That’s how I came up with the pricing initially, and wrote my first contract. As for my design knowledge, it’s the oddest thing. I honestly don’t know where my style came from, having grown up on the grounds of San Quentin Prison, where my dad was an associate warden. I always loved design, but I never gave it any importance, nor did my family ever think I should pursue it. It was just this background thing. Now, I spend half of my days looking for new designs, new ideas. Everywhere I travel, everything I do, I’m looking. I’m seeing what’s in the background. Looking for fresh ideas. Whether it’s art or furniture, the arm of a sofa, anything.
Walk us through the business logistics of home staging.
Generally, homes sell at least 20 percent faster, and for 20 percent more. It is not unusual for a home that’s been sitting on the market to sell in the first day (and have multiple offers) once we’ve staged it. It is very impactful—the difference in perception that an empty home gives versus one that is dressed and loved. Our goal is to help someone fall in love with the house that day.
You started Meridith Baer Home by staging of a friend’s home in Los Angeles. How has the city influenced your brand and its evolution over time?
I think trends are started in Los Angeles, and people follow. People take risks here in ways I don’t think they do in other places. They’re always looking for a new, modern edge here. It’s ever changing. There are also different parts of the city that demand different styles. Bel Air is going to want one certain style, which can be very different from West Hollywood or Venice. Our California style—the clean, neutral palette with some pops of color—has really traveled well to other parts of the country.
We are in the midst of an unprecedented and undefined time in business, and in life. How has the COVID-19 crisis impacted your business and your industry?
So many businesses are impacted by this. We manufacture both locally and overseas. Everything is shut down. Everything is on hold. We’ve been able to do what we call a “luxury lease,” which is furnishing homes for people to live with, not sell. These fall into the “essential” category. So, we’ve donned masks and gloves to install those at this time. And, oddly enough, we have a lot of homes selling. I think my biggest question is whether this crisis will have a lasting impact on people’s ability to buy a home. Maybe more and more people will have to sell their homes, flooding the market. It looks like interest rates will go down, but it’s hard to see until it all plays out.
Tell us about your formative years. What was it like growing up in San Quentin?
As a child, I lived on the prison reservation with just a handful of kids. We had one teacher who taught everybody, from first through eighth grade, and I was often the only kid in my grade. As you can imagine, there is literally nothing to do, so you have to create something to do out of nothing. When I was 12, we moved to Des Moines, Iowa. They didn’t really know what to do with me there, having gone to a one-room schoolhouse, so they put me in the “dumb kids” class. I did not do well. Then one day, a substitute teacher asked me to write up some assignments for him. After reading what I wrote, he had me transferred to the “talented kids” class, where I became an A student. Again, it was an accident that that happened. I think I was bored, and it was interesting to try something new. Based on that experience, I decided I wanted to be a writer. Writing was always the plan for me, until one day, I was walking along my college campus and Jerry Bruckheimer walked up and asked me to be in a Pepsi commercial. I then went on to work for magazines, act in movies and commercials, and write screenplays for 20-something years.
What advice would you give to other multi-passionate people who are struggling to find their identity?
I think the key is to follow your passion, what really interests you. Passion is fuel. Throwing yourself into something, dreaming about it, driving around thinking about it—that’s what creates success. It’s like love. When you’re passionate about a subject, you find yourself wanting as much knowledge and experience of it as possible. I strongly believe in fluidity. Following what interests you in life, and not putting limits on the definition of who you are. My mentor, Jim Good, taught me that I don’t have to think of myself in just one way all the time. So much of how we live our lives is based off how we picture ourselves, and it’s very hard not to be slotted by society or defined by who you think you should be. Any way a person can free themselves of that thinking is key. Find out who you are and what you believe separate from everything you’ve learned in life. That gives you the freedom to start taking some risks and doing what you actually want to do.