Behind the Scenes: Stage Your Home Like a Hollywood Star

Ever wonder what it would be like to set foot in the homes of Katy Perry, Brad Pitt, or Scarlett Johansson? Well, Meridith Baer has frequented all of these celebs' residences and more and, frankly, is not always impressed.

"It's easy to assume that because they're famous, beautiful, and have money, their homes must be beautiful, too," she says. "But over and over again, I walk into their homes and they're dull, or empty, or sad, or not put together in a way that makes a lot of sense. Just because you're a great actor doesn't mean you have great taste."

Which explains why Baer is a home stager to the stars.

Today, staging a home to look like a Hollywood set -- in hopes that it'll sell like an opening-night ticket to a "Star Wars" sequel -- is all the rage. And while there's a mile-long wait list for Baer's services at Meridith Baer Home, she'd be the first to say there's no mystery to what she does: Anyone can stage their home to look like an A-lister -- if they know a few basic principles, that is. We spoke to her to snag some of her celeb secrets -- equally useful whether you're looking to boost the sale price of your home or just live everyday like a star.

Q: How did you get in this field?

I was a Hollywood screenwriter for 20 years. Then one day I was bored and began fixing up my rental. My landlord came to town, took one look at what I'd done, and said, "I love it! You'll have to move because I can make some money selling the house now." From there, I moved my stuff into a spec home that my friend was trying to sell. It sold within days for a half-million over asking price. From then on, my phone kept ringing and I was moving my furniture from one place to another. Brokers began calling it "staging."

Q: Sounds like you're the mother of home staging! How did you end up with such a star-studded clientele?

In some ways, staging is a lot like screenwriting in that you are telling a story. You are creating an environment in which home buyers want to be the star. People in the entertainment business are also used to sets popping up and like things to happen fast, which may be why many celebs buy our homes or hire us to stage. Early clients included Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, and Gwyneth Paltrow. Each one passed the word. And it's not always to sell: Katy Perry had us decorate her home for the Christmas holidays, for just two weeks, because she had family in town.

Q: How much of a difference can staging make in selling a home, for a celeb or otherwise?

On average a staged property sells 88% faster and for 20% more than a nonstaged one. One good example of this was Topher Grace from "That '70s Show," whose home had been languishing on the market for months. And as soon as I saw it I understood why. It looked like a bachelor pad: no art, no curtains, beat-up sofa, guitar lying there in a not-cute way.

Q: How did you de-'bachelorize' Topher's pad?

I put up floor-to-ceiling curtains to make rooms feel taller. I installed mirrors to make rooms seem bigger and a neutral palette with colorful accessories. It ended up selling instantly for six figures over asking.

Q: What would you say are some of your most tried-and-true home staging secrets?

When you are struggling with color, go for white. It is always best to start with neutral tones and layer on top of that, or add pops of color as you go. Yet while it's important to convey a feeling of sophistication, you also want the space to feel homey and lived in. You can do this with cashmere throws on the couch or a cookbook on the kitchen counter open to a yummy recipe. Once when I was staging Halle Berry's room, I spotted her pajama bottoms and thought, "Oh my god, those are Halle Berry's pajamas!" I ended up using them as a prop, throwing them across the bed like she'd just left the room.

Q: What are some classic mistakes people make with home staging?

Over-accessorizing to fill the space. Let a room breathe; don't feel that you have to fill every inch of it with stuff. Other times, there might be an aspect of the house that the client is very proud of and would like us to highlight. A great example is Matthew Perry's home in Malibu. He spent a lot of money redoing the flooring in the house and changing it from stark black to a beautiful gray. It made a tremendous difference in the overall aesthetic of the home. We used high-end modern pieces in neutral colors and brought everything to life with muted blue and gray accents, which looked fantastic with the beautiful new floors and the ocean view. It was important to make the house feel livable and not stark, modern but Malibu Beach.

Q: What about a home or room that's, well, less than gorgeous to start?

Conceal flaws. If the view isn't great, we'll put sheers up so that the light can come into the room but you're not focused on the view. If the room is small, like a bedroom for instance, we will try to get a little seating area in to make it feel bigger than it is.

Q: What are some things that home buyers notice that might surprise sellers?

Details are important: When Brad Pitt was shopping for a place post-Jennifer but pre-Angie, he toured a home I'd staged that was sunny and modern with a waterfall. But the detail he fell in love with was a funky rustic stool we'd brought into the bathroom. He said, "Can I have that stool?" We let him have it.

Q: Did any celebs' reactions to what you've done to their homes surprise you?

Scarlett Johansson. She hired us to stage her home to sell, but once we were done she said, "Hmm …. why was I going to move?" She ended up taking her home off the market!