To know the Rice folks is to have an extended family. You're instantly adopted — and you don't have a choice or say in the matter (if you know what's good for you).
That's how I first came to know the writings of Houston-native Ronda Rice Carman, author of the recently released book Designers at Home: Personal Reflections on Stylish Living, the brainchild of the popular lifestyle blog All the Best: A Passport to Stylish Living and contributor to New York Social Diary and Huffington Post.
I met her father Ron Rice while working for a residential construction builder and came across mamma Jerri later at a company function. Their four daughters — Marilyn, Tiffany, Michelle and Ronda — let's just say there's no mistaking the family DNA, each one genetically more talkative than the next. Surely that's influenced by their mother, whose heart is as big as Texas, although she isn't shy about "gently" nudging you when you step out of line. What else would you expect from a southern belle from Fort Worth?
There's something about Jerri's no nonsense honesty that suffuses Ronda's flair. From her flat in Glazgow, Scotland, musings on design, lifestyle and travel have turned Ronda into an influential tastemaker at home in Texas, around the country and around the globe. Ronda is scheduled to speak and sign copies of her first book at 6 p.m. on Wednesday in a Houston Design Center event.
"Since I was 12 years old, I collected and wrote on magazine clippings — everything I liked," she says. "It's that fascination that came together in this book, as if I had been preparing for it all my life."
"When I decided to blog fulltime, my husband thought I had lost my mind."
After moving across the pond in 2005 with hubby Chris Carman, a politics professor at the University of Glasgow, Ronda began her journey with her blog All the Best in 2007 while working as fundraiser for the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. All the Best launched as an anthology of Ronda's thoughts on champagne, wine, dog beds and candles, among other whimsical topics. The blog became her connection to meet like-minded individuals, her way of adjusting to a new home away from home.
But after a shout out from Domino Magazine, a Condé Nast publication that ceased circulation in 2009, her readership skyrocketed from a couple of views to more than 2,000 visitors per day. Interviews with designers Rita Konig, Ivanka Trump and Tory Burch hoisted this hometown girl into an industry savant with her own niche — you could say a Lone Star celeb with discriminating taste was born.
"When I decided to blog fulltime, my husband thought I had lost my mind," she jokes. "I say do what you love and the money will follow. I needed to see this thing through."
Still, Ronda doesn't think of herself as a style authority, but rather as a storyteller, something she inherited from her family, she says.
"I'm a really good editor," she explains. "I am good at curating content."
Designers at Home: Personal Reflections on Stylish Living is just that: A beautifully photographed compilation of the philosophies of leaders in the field along the likes of Charlotte Moss, Ashley Hicks, Barry Dixon, India Hicks, Martyn Lawrence Bullard, Rose Tarlow, Jay Jeffers, Alex Papachristidis, Madeline Stuart, Matthew Patrick Smyth, Colette van den Thillart and Bunny Williams.
"Once you're a Texan, you're always a Texan. You always know a Texan in the first two seconds of conversation. Scots are like that, too."
"In some ways I wrote it for myself, because I am curious," she continues. "What do they have inside their cabinets and drawers? What do they serve for dinner? What kind of sheets do they use in their beds? It's my own little version of People Magazine. Like Diana Vreeland once said, few things are more fascinating than how people live during their private hours. These are their homes — no client is involved."
Whether they've had formal training or not, what unites the designers featured in the book is an innate talent and the ability to keep on reinventing themselves. In a business filled with one trick ponies and many who dabble in it occasionally, Ronda's tome focuses on those who aren't just a flash in the pan. They've enjoyed long, prosperous careers.
As for Houston, Ronda thinks the city is prime to nurture big names in design. Dallas designers — such as Jan Showers and Michelle Nussbaumer — may have had plenty of time in the spotlight, but Houston has experienced much growth in this domain in the last couple of years.
Ronda confides that she misses Texas, but finds comfort in some similarities in her adopted home.
"Once you're a Texan, you're always a Texan," she quips. "You always know a Texan in the first two seconds of conversation. Scots are like that, too."
The Houston Design Center will host Ronda Rice Carman for a talk and book signing on Wednesday, 6 p.m., in the Ken Kehoe & Company Showroom, Suite 261. Admission is free. Guests are asked to RSVP by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 713-864-2660, ext. 1.