March-April 2011 | Bethesda HOME

How Mei Xu Found Her Bliss

A Chinese émigrée living in Bethesda creates a home-decorating empire.

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Mei Xu, pictured here with staff members Amber Kleiner, Sarah Constantyn, Kerri Souilliard and Mareike Finck, travels the world in search of inspiration for her line of home decorating products.Currently available through national retailers, including Kohl’s and Bed Bath & Beyond, Chesapeake Bay Candle products have appeared on the pages of Better Homes and Gardens, Modern Bride and People magazine.

In 2010, the White House invited Xu to create a candle exclusively for Michelle Obama. The candle was included in a gift basket presented to foreign dignitaries at the first lady’s farm-to-table event that September. Xu designed a cream-colored soy candle with a pattern of oak leaves and roses inspired by a frieze above the North Portico at the White House. She packaged it in a slate-blue box with the first lady’s signature in silver.

Xu constantly thinks about improving and expanding her business, and often finds inspiration on the road. That’s how she came up with her newest company, Blissliving Home. During her frequent business trips, she remarked that “the bedding in hotel rooms was so ugly,” with rough linens and dirt-masking, multicolored bedspreads. Wanting to apply her sense of fashion and design to home textiles, she founded Blissliving Home in 2007. Her husband now handles strategic development, financial investments and business development for both Chesapeake Bay Candle and Blissliving Home. Xu works with two designers in the United States and eight in China on Blissliving Home products, which are manufactured at the company’s facility in Hangzhou, China.

Blissliving Home’s design style is “a global touch for the modern home,” Xu says. She estimates the company’s sales to be “in the millions of dollars.” A catalog of home textiles and accessories for the bedroom, bath and dining area is published twice yearly, and products have appeared in Better Homes and Gardens, Real Simple, Family Circle and Traditional Home. Last year, actor Chris O’Donnell perched on a bed outfitted with Blissliving Home linens and pillows on the popular CBS show NCIS: Los Angeles.

While visiting locales around the world, Xu investigates flea markets, art galleries, stores and restaurants, observing the way people dress and converse, and gathering examples of architecture, colors, textures and images important to their culture. Back at her Rockville office, she and two designers create a “trend board” with her samples—transforming the ideas into linens, rugs, pillows and other accessories. 

Xu doesn’t choose her destinations, she says, “the destinations choose me.” A 2008 trip to Iceland resulted in the 2009 Icelandic Dream line of shimmery fabrics and accessories in ice blue, white and hemp yellow, described as “evocative of the midnight sun.”

Prompted by James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon, Xu and 18 family members and friends traveled in 2009 to Zhongdian (known as Shangri-La) in China’s Yunnan province, which borders Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar (Burma). Her adventure inspired the fall/winter 2010 Shangri-La collection, infused with the rich coral, mustard and turquoise hues of an enameled Tibetan prayer wheel and images of Buddha and Chinese characters.

Past inspirations include New York City, Tokyo, Miami, Morocco and London’s Kew Gardens. Blissliving Home’s 13th and current collection, London Calling, incorporates images of that city’s historic and modern architecture in charcoal and white, accented by vivid shades of coral and mint green. “People have been saying we were so smart to anticipate the royal wedding,” Xu says. “In truth, like everyone else, we didn’t know.”

In January, Xu traveled to Argentina to gather materials for the fall/winter 2011 collection, which will combine the classic beauty of Buenos Aires’ European architecture with the natural beauty of Patagonia and its glaciers. Her next trip will be to Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Blissliving Home’s catalog is available online at www.blisslivinghome.com, with select products sold in specialty stores, boutiques and high-end department stores. Interior designer Katie DeStefano sells Blissliving Home throws, blankets, pillows and candles at her Baltimore shop, Curiosity. “I have to keep reordering and reordering,” she says. “Their products are top quality and beautifully made. They sell themselves.”

In the next five years, Xu will concentrate on retail venues and on establishing Blissliving Home flagship stores in locations such as Bethesda or Georgetown, the SoHo section of New York City, and San Francisco. “People on the [East and West] coasts are more traveled and interested in other cultures,” she says of the company’s demographic. “They know buying from Blissliving Home is not just buying products, it’s buying a travel experience.”

Gabriele McCormick is a frequent contributor to Bethesda Magazine.