Family Feud Erupts Among L.A.'s Top Home Stagers

Family Feud Erupts Among L.A.'s Top Home Stagers -Illustrated by Nathan Hackett-H 2018
Illustrated by Nathan Hackett

Allegations of fraud, theft of trade secrets and sexual harassment dot legal documents being churned out between an aunt (who serviced the homes of such clients as Scarlett Johansson, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts) and nephew: "You are either Team Brett or Team Meridith — it's not pretty."

An epic family feud pitting the principals of L.A.'s top two staging companies against each other is roiling the luxury real estate world from the Bird Streets to Malibu — and in the process cleaving the town's brokerage community into warring camps.

Over the past two decades, Meridith Baer, with her firm Meridith Baer Home, established herself as the gold standard for luxury home staging, servicing the homes of such clients as Scarlett Johansson, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts, among many others. Baer is locked in a nasty legal feud with her nephew and niece — Brett Baer and Jaime Morse — who once worked for her. After being fired, Brett and Jaime — along with the latter's husband, Caleb Morse (also named in the litigation) — regrouped 16 months ago to launch Vesta Home, which quickly emerged as a rival to their aunt's firm. Vesta Home, which has staged houses for Chris Pratt and Kanye West, recently worked on a Pacific Palisades home that was bought by Ben Affleck.

The way Brett Baer launched the rival firm is the central component of the legal fight. Meridith fired the first shot with a 2015 suit that alleges that the defendants stole staging property and trade secrets while siphoning off clients to found Vesta. She is seeking more than $11 million in damages. The trio of defendants deny all claims and have since filed a countersuit charging a range of grievances. Attorneys for both sides tell THR they are girding for a trial in the fall.

"This is about a fraudulent scheme to steal company assets for personal gain," reads a statement provided by Meridith's attorney, Philip Boesch. "There is no family backstory. Meridith treated Brett and Jaime as though they were her son and daughter, which makes their theft and fraud all the more shocking and sad." Marc Lazo, an attorney for the three defendants, calls Meridith's lawsuit a "frivolous attempt" to "extort money" out of jealousy, noting: "The biggest loss to my client is the destruction of the family unit, which had been inseparable for decades."

The legal documents detail accusations stemming from both sides and list such charges as deceptive business practices, sexual harassment, slander, intimidation and stalking, and theft of property and trade secrets. Terms like "psychopath," "limp dick," "post-traumatic stress disorder" and "alcoholic stepfather" have all made their way into the filings. All in all, the documents paint a picture of a family ripped apart as Vesta Home and Meridith Baer compete for dominance in the lucrative world of luxury home staging.

A ripple effect is being felt across the real estate community. Numerous brokers and developers who spoke to THR were all aware of the rift, but most declined to comment on the record, as they will likely be doing business with both firms in the future. "Some agents are taking sides — you are either Team Brett or Team Meridith. It's not pretty," says one source who works with top agencies.

Another broker contends that the distraction caused by the feud could allow smaller, hungrier stagers to take advantage of the situation. "Do they both have a good product? Yes," says the source. "But they're not keeping their eye on the ball, and I think it's going to come back and bite them." 

This story first appeared in the June 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.