I was first introduced to the work of Mehr Niazi through her One Room Challenge redesign of her son’s bedroom where she painted the ceiling to resemble that of a circus tent and created an adorable ferris wheel using baskets hung on a mural wall to store stuffed animals.
Mehr’s creativity, scrappiness and painstakingly meticulous DIY process is shared on her Instagram feed @blueorchidliving. A full-time therapist by trade, Mehr is a Pakistani immigrant who combines her Eastern heritage with American living in her designs.
Taking a break from stenciling her entire outdoor patio, Mehr invited us to her Richmond, Virginia home to talk about her passion for design and her favorite secondhand finds. For the unfiltered conversation, click here to watch it on my IGTV series.
Redecorating your home has been a form of self-care for you. How did it lead to a popular Instagram account?
We moved into the house and I just wanted to decorate it for my family. Whenever I was doing a room, I thought, ‘What if I tried this? This looks interesting. This would be so much fun to do.” I started my Instagram account as a way to show my family back in Pakistan. I like to decorate my house the way that feels good to me.
Were you always a creative person?
I think to some extent. I come from a family of creative people. I’ve always enjoyed the arts, but not in the interior realm or with DIY. Growing up in Pakistan, it was more about the fine arts.
I’ve had conversations with immigrants and children of immigrants who might have been dissuaded from choosing a creative profession. Was becoming a therapist always something you aspired to?
To some degree, there is that “tiger mom” mentality that comes into play and there are professions that are preferred: my sister’s a doctor, my brother’s a lawyer. My parents were pretty open about our passions and pursuing our dreams, while still finding a career that offers financial stability.
As far as becoming a therapist, that was more my calling. I’ve always wanted to do something that helps and gives back to the community. I love being a therapist. It’s not something I don’t enjoy, but it does take an emotional toll. This is where the creative piece comes in and being able to decompress.
What is one design rule that you swear by? And where does your inspiration come from?
I’m not professionally trained in design, and I do a lot of my own research. Sometimes I do something that doesn’t look or feel right, and I don’t know what it is. So I might do more research into it.
I don’t follow any design rules per se, like this has to go with this. It comes more intuitively, and I just keep tweaking things. A design rule would be: keep playing around with it until it feels right to you.
You made a Reel where you showed your secondhand treasures from all over the world. How and why did you start using secondhand finds in your home and in your designs?
I have a very high end taste but not a high end budget. I was trying to find things I loved but couldn’t afford, and trying to create a certain look but not having to spend a fortune.
Once you venture into the secondhand world, you realize there’s so much good stuff out there. Sometimes people don’t even realize what treasures they have. I’ve gone to estate sales wondering, “Where are the children of these people? Why doesn’t anybody want these things?”
On that note, what are your thoughts about cultural misappropriation (or appropriation) and using secondhand pieces from outside of your culture?
I take it as a compliment if people want to take things from Pakistan and use it in their designs. Of course, it makes us proud and it makes us happy, we’re proud of our culture and our heritage.
The item needs to be given its due respect. Most things have a history behind it, and I think it’s so important when you’re using something of a different culture to have an understanding of the history of the item, what it represents to the people it belonged to and that you’re using it in a way that is respectful to them.
What is one of your favorite secondhand finds?
It would have to be the gold mirror in the dining room. I got it at auction and I only paid $60 for it. I absolutely love it. Every time someone comes in, they always say what a beautiful mirror. It has those black dots on it because of age. I love that because it adds even more character to it.
What are some of your tips for hunting at estate sales or getting something at auction?
Have an idea of things you’re attracted to and what you like, and then look for the potential in things that might be dirty or haven’t been cleaned. There are items I’ve gotten that looked so bad – the wood console in my living room just needed oil, and people ask about it all the time.
Is there anything that escaped you? Were you ever outbid on something that you really needed to have?
Oh, lots of things! I’ve been looking for a really pretty buffet for my dining room to go under that mirror. Every time I find one that I like and I think that’s “the one,” I always get outbid. I set a limit for myself, and I’ll even go over $50 sometimes. People have been spending more time at home during the pandemic, so prices have been much higher at auctions than usual.
What has been the craziest thing you’ve done to acquire something or bring into your home?
I have brought back large paintings from Pakistan that were huge and had to be rolled into tubes. They were too big to come already framed. I’ve had to open the tubes at customs, and because it’s considered oversized baggage, it had to come off a different conveyor belt. Let’s just say my husband wasn’t too pleased we had to jump through all these hoops to bring these paintings back. But it makes for a good story.
What are some of your favorite places to shop in Virginia?
For secondhand, I do a lot of auctions, and I always recommend estatesales.net. We have Greenfront Furniture, about one hour away from Richmond, and it’s a big warehouse where they import stuff from different countries.
Because it’s AAPI Heritage Month, tell me about your immigrant story and what you’re proud of about being Asian American.
My story is not that exciting! I grew up in Pakistan, I lived there until I was 24. I moved here for college. My husband was born here and lived here all his life, and we decided to settle here after we got married. My kids were born here and are growing up here.
Something that I’m proud of is having a diverse cultural experience: being able to experience American culture and live here, but also bringing in my own culture and teaching my kids that this is part of their culture, too. Helping them experience both worlds: that to me is being American.