If Tai Rittichai had to pick a favorite room in her elegant 1920s Tudor home in San Marino, California, it would be the kitchen. The warm and inviting space is a busy hub for three generations of her family. Friends flock to the island when she entertains; her two young sons do their homework there; and her mother, Somsiri, a talented cook, can usually be found there preparing delicious dishes originating from her native Thailand. Style-wise, it also spans nations: There are Belgian farmhouse chairs and Swedish Hans-Agne Jakobsson sconces, and the walls are coated in Farrow & Ball paint from England. It encapsulates the distinct aesthetic that Rittichai and the interior-designer couple Cy and Genevieve Carter created together over several years, starting in 2017. And it tells the story of her life, from an extremely modest childhood in Bangkok to her soaring success as a globe-crossing business owner.
“I met Cy and Genevieve through my friend Zubair Ahmadi, who runs Amadi Carpets, in West Hollywood,” says Rittichai through a translator. “I had been buying rugs from him for a few years, and he knew Carter Design from their days at Commune Design [a renowned L.A. firm]. I also learned that Cy had been associated with Galerie Half, a shop where I have bought many items. When he first came over, I could tell he understood what I had already done and had the vision to help me finish it.”
Cy, a talented Texan known for his refreshing lack of pretension, remembers things slightly differently. “Tai and I spoke on the phone, then decided an in-person meeting would be helpful,” he says. “So I went to her house in San Marino, and I couldn’t believe it.” Rittichai was in the midst of a chaotic renovation, with oak flooring from Exquisite Surfaces stacked in the garage and pedigreed midcentury European furniture piled in the attic. She had acquired the latter over several decades of scouring Parisian flea markets and putting her finds in storage until she had enough to fill a shipping container to send home. The scene was overwhelming, but Cy saw through it: “I thought, Oh, I know where she wants to go. She has really good instincts.”
Cy also found Rittichai’s personal story inspiring. When she was very young, she was sent to live with her grandparents so her mother could work as a cook outside of Bangkok, preparing food and packing it up to sell at markets. Rittichai and her sister only saw her during school holidays. As teens, the siblings made and sold hair accessories, bags, and T-shirts at local flea markets to earn money, and somehow Rittichai managed to save enough to come to the United States, where she worked a variety of jobs (janitor, dishwasher, table busser) to put herself through college and business school. After graduating, she began designing jewelry and sold her chic, well-priced pieces at the Santa Monica flea market, then through showrooms on both coasts, before opening her first store in Manhattan’s Nolita neighborhood. Today, she runs an international company with multiple factories and wholesale clients, including Anthropologie and Neiman Marcus. Her U.S. workforce is made up entirely of women.
As a self-made CEO, she was reluctant to seek help with her house, so the Carters started slowly. Their first project was hanging a gallery wall in the living room that mixed 19th-century paintings with drawings by her boys, and installing a tailored Atlantic-blue BDDW sofa. Then, with help from her friend at Amadi, they found a 1920s rug from Khotan with perfect dimensions for the long, narrow room. “Once we finished that, I think Tai began to trust us,” Cy says. In short order, walls were coming down to open up the home’s choppy layout and expand rooms. Serene paint colors and sculptural plants were chosen to complement the furnishings, making it even more welcoming.
“My style is a mix of French and Italian modern, mixed with Californian ease,” says Rittichai. “It’s more about the objects themselves than knowing their provenance or designer. I can fall in love just as easily with something that costs ten dollars as some-thing that costs ten thousand.” Cy Carter says the finished rooms remind him of photos he’s seen of Picasso’s work space, where “nothing was set or perfect,” and chairs moved from room to room as needed. “Tai is very artistic, and she had this way she wanted to live,” he says. “Now her house reflects that creativity.”
Here, Rittichai sits on an Axel Hjorth bench beneath a Joslyn Lawrence photograph printed on vintage Japanese newspaper. She bought it from the artist, whose work is now available at Nickey Kehoe, a home-design store in Los Angeles.
Art Direction and Styling by Melañio Gomez