From Farah Merhi’s vantage, a home can be as shimmery as a crystal chandelier and as cozy as a velvet throw pillow. This glammy, decadent aesthetic has delivered Merhi an Instagram empire, with nearly 6 million followers to her Instagram account @Inspire Me Home Decor.
In the eight years since Merhi started Inspire Me! Home Decor on a whim — she was remodeling her four-bedroom house in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and turned to Instagram as a creative outlet — she has built a multimillion-dollar design and furniture business on the idea that with the right tufted bench and metallic mirrored coffee table, anyone can achieve her distinct brand of elegance.
“You can make a statement and you can go all out, but you can also have a home that is warm and cozy,” Merhi said.
Despite having no formal training in design, she now has a team of 17 employees who help manage her brand, which includes an exclusive line on QVC, selling accessories, rugs, bedding and furniture that she designs. Her other home furnishings sell on sites like Wayfair and Overstock. She also sells merchandise on her Inspire Me! Home Decor website, shipped from her Grand Rapids warehouse. Last year, she published “Inspire Your Home: Easy, Affordable Ideas to Make Every Room Glamorous,” a book that offers guidance on how to work with materials like shag ottomans, gold trays and mirrored buffet tables.
Merhi is not widely known in the interior design world, with no profiles in magazines like Architectural Digest or Better Homes & Gardens. Yet her Instagram following dwarfs those of better-known designers with large social media platforms like Justina Blakeney’s Jungalow, with 1.3 million followers or Bobby Berk of “Queer Eye,” with 2.6 million followers.
She doesn’t see herself as overlooked by the design community, but instead as someone who operates outside if it. “It doesn’t tap into the everyday person’s home, the millions and millions of people out there who don’t have a multimillion-dollar home and a multimillion-dollar budget and want that look,” she said. Those homeowners “are more in need of me and what I can do and what I can offer.”
Merhi, 36, credits a childhood spent in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo for her sense of style. Her parents, both Lebanese, moved frequently because of political upheaval, and when they’d resettle in a new house, her mother would hire local craftsmen to build the furniture that she designed for their home. “I learned at a young age how to achieve a look by doing it yourself, because there’s no Home Goods there, there’s no Wayfair,” she said.
Merhi moved to the United States in 2001 to study political science. In 2012, when she and her husband, William Merhi, a cardiologist, began remodeling their 5,000-square-foot home, she turned to Instagram for inspiration, but couldn’t find the look she wanted. No one had the right bling.
“It was all very modern or very traditional,” she said. “At the time, anybody who would think of glam would think, ‘Ooh, not for me, I’ve got kids, I’ve got pets. It’s just not something I can achieve.’ ”
So Merhi, who now has three children, began posting images that she liked — rooms that did not have the clean, white palettes that have come to define Instagram. Instead, she found spaces that shimmered, like a bedroom with a silver duvet, sequin throw pillows and a picture window strung with fairy lights. She quickly amassed a large following and brands took notice. She dropped out of college to focus her full attention on her fledgling social media business.
“Here I was coming in and telling people you can have a glamorous home and you can make a statement and it can be very elegant and it doesn’t have to feel untouchable, it doesn’t have to feel unlivable,” she said. “Here’s the pictures, here’s the proof, here’s what other people have done, here’s the inspiration. It resonated.”
Inspire Me! Home Decor is now the most popular home decorating and décor account on Instagram, according to Traackr, an influencer marketing platform. At a time where a large following does not necessarily mean an active one — influencers have been known to buy followers, or have accounts full of people who no longer pay attention — Merhi’s fan base is legitimate, with 80% of her following made up of real people and other influencers who interact with her posts.
“Farah has an excellent audience quality,” said Evy Lyons, a vice president for marketing at Traackr. Lyons estimates that Merhi’s account could charge around $2,290 per post for sponsored content. Her products target a modest to midrange market. Her Yara pleated sofa, for example, was listed on Wayfair for less than $1,200, and her abstract charcoal area rug for less than $100. Since 2017, Inspire Me! Home Decor has generated $15 million in retail sales across its platforms, according to Merhi.
“The people who follow her, follow her because they love her aesthetic,” said Nicole Gibbons, an interior designer and the founder of Clare, an online, curated paint brand. And that fan base translates to a clientele willing to buy the items that Merhi designs. “If she says this is a great vase, it’s easier for them to discover that vase through her and click through and buy it.”
For Merhi, the secret sauce to her signature look lies in the balance between soft and dramatic materials. She looks for furniture pieces that make a statement — sofas with high backs and deep seating — but that are also comfortable. Choose furniture with neutral colors and you can add drama with the smaller, less expensive items, swapping them out as your tastes change. She softens the look with throw pillows and blankets, selecting materials like velvet and faux fur and maybe some sequins for a little sparkle. Lighting fixtures like crystal chandeliers and accessories like gold vases, ornate candle holders and marble trays “bring in the glam,” she says.
Often, Merhi hears from frustrated homeowners who impulsively buy an entire living room set at once, without planning out the details, or considering the textures. “Most of the time, that’s a mistake,” she said. Instead, it’s best to “think about it as a layering process.”
Of course, it is possible to have too much of a good and glittery thing. “You can go overboard with a glamorous look if you’re not careful,” Merhi said. Overdo it and you risk ending up with a space that feels stuffy, cluttered and overwhelming. To avoid such a design fail, hold back (it doesn’t all need to pop) and instead “sprinkle glam elements throughout the room,” she said, selecting items that complement, rather than compete with one another.
You know you’re done when the space feels like home. “Trust your instincts and your vision,” she said. “Home is a feeling.”
And for Merhi, that feeling is glamorous.