When Jamie Merida opened his home décor store in Easton, his father gave him some business advice. "He said to make sure I named it something people could pronounce," says Merida with a laugh. "And really, how many stores are there out there that you couldn't even begin to say right?" The advice was obviously sound. Bountiful, Merida's 18,000-square-foot store, has become a destination for furnishings, home accents, and gifts. "The name is lush and has good connotations," he explains.
On the wave of the store's popularity, Merida expanded into interior decorating. His design empire now generates about $2.6 million in revenue in homes and businesses from Easton to Idaho, and he's weathered even these turbulent economic times when other well-known home design firms have fallen.
Merida hones his own creative eye by assisting with the merchandising of the store, through buying trips and, in his downtime, with drawing, painting, and gardening, a new hobby he cultivated when he bought his newest home, Boxwood Hill. And it's here, in his private lair, that one really begins to understand his public success.
When Merida first visited the property, located on the Choptank River in Caroline County, he was so besotted with the driveway, a gravel path through old-growth forest beside a creek, that he told his Realtor, "I don't care what's at the end of this driveway, consider it a done deal."
At the end of the path, Merida and his partner, Jody Mowrey, found a meticulously recreated Tidewater Colonial home. The original builder, who erected the house in the 1960s, was a stickler for detail, even building a kiln on the property to fire its bricks. Inside, each room has a fireplace, and there are heart pine floors and artful molding. Outside, the home's only other owner left behind the gardens designed by professionals from Delaware's Winterthur estate, of du Pont fame, that have turned Merida into something of a gardener.
"After moving into the house, I realized that I had inherited a serious garden," he recalls. "At first, the scope of it was more than a little intimidating. I decided to take on one project at a time and soon realized that I couldn't wait for those rare days off when I could get up bright and early and work in the yard. It has become a source of mental therapy for me and is one of the things I love about the house the most."
Though the house was structurally and aesthetically sound, it needed to be tweaked to fit the life Merida shares with Mowrey and a rotating cadre of English sheepdogs the couple foster for a rescue organization. According to Merida, the house "screams period traditional."
"It's like the house wants to dictate to you," he says. "We joke all the time that the house pushes things out that it doesn't like."
The house approved of Merida's use of a simple color palette of taupe, blue, and white to create a subtle backdrop for his extensive art collection. Period pieces, like a pair of early Russian marble-top console tables in the main foyer, rest comfortably with pieces of African art collected by Merida's grandfather. In the kitchen, he used a reproduction French pastry table as an island, softening the appearance of the stainless steel appliances. "I'm not a period purest by any means," he explains. "This is what the house asked for."
"Stuff is what I'm all about. I love fun stuff—art, furniture, things," he quips. "I like that I've worked hard enough to be successful, even in this horrible time. And I'm really lucky to have ended up in a place where, as the place has gotten more sophisticated and affluent, I've been able to grow with it. That's been luck and a gift, and I never forget it."
Stumbling Into Success
There aren't too many established designers without the coveted ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) credential after their names. But Jamie Merida is one of them—in fact, he came by much of his success by accident.
Merida, 46, was raised in Belgium by his artist parents (his mother is a fiber sculptor, his father a painter, printmaker, and art dealer) and came to Baltimore to attend the Peabody Conservatory of Music for classical piano, then went into a graduate program in business at Johns Hopkins.
After graduation, "My partner and I threw a dart on a map and took a day trip to check out the Eastern Shore," Merida recalls. "I got to Easton and really liked it, and we ended up buying a house here."
That was 1990, when Easton was just starting to grow into a bedroom community for Washington and Baltimore. "I thought, 'What the heck am I going to do here to support myself?'" he recalls. He tried the antique-show circuit for a while, but when the pace of got to be too much, he decided to open an antique store in Easton. Then customers started to request new pieces, and he began mixing contemporary goods with antiques—and Bountiful was born.
Within Bountiful, customers can find vintage posters, 19th century maps, French farm tables, antique chairs upholstered in vibrant contemporary fabric, stone tables, and old books, as well as soap, home fragrance, and a variety of accessories and home accents.
"I've been lucky to ride the wave of Easton growing into a weekend destination for Baltimore and Washington, to be in the right place at the right time," says Merida. "As Easton has grown, Bountiful has grown."
Shoppers loved his store so much, they started asking Merida to decorate their homes.
Kristine Cruikshank has worked with Merida on the décor of her party barn, guesthouse, and, now, her newly constructed home. "Years ago, I got to know Jamie through the store, which is so tastefully done and where the pieces are so wide-ranging in tastes that you can find anything," says Cruikshank. "His displays are exquisite and he really knows people on the shore, both the full-timers and the weekenders."
"We'd been struggling with the party barn, which was a cavern of space, and he came in and in 20 minutes had it all sorted out," she recalls.
In addition to his scores of residential clients, Merida's worked on commercial projects, including the iconic Tidewater Inn and several chic Easton restaurants, and has refreshed the rooms at The Inn at Perry Cabin. So you might think he had reached a point in his career when he would like to relax and enjoy his success, but he's clearly not done yet: He has spoken to vendors about the possibility of creating his own home collection, is working on a book on interior design, is updating Bountiful's website so that it can be used for direct sales, and has begun lecturing.
"My partner says I'll never retire," he says. "I don't do well not doing. We have a place in Florida and after about three days, I'm like, 'Okay, I'm done resting. What do we do now?'"