While the open floor plan is unquestionably the most popular format among millennial homeowners, Tommy Lei’s Southern California bungalow makes a serious case for a closed layout. The content creator and founder of modern lifestyle site MyBelonging purchased the Alhambra home with the intention of tearing down all the dividing walls. But after living in the place for a couple of months, he had a much better idea.
Instead of destroying the partitions that were original to the 1920s construction and 1950s extension, Tommy embraced the distinct rooms to celebrate his personal heritage and global travels. Each space draws inspiration from a specific meaningful location so that a tour of the house feels like a trip around the world. From East Asia to Northern Europe, Tommy’s favorite destinations are on display.
The dining area is informed by Tommy’s jaunts to Helsinki, where he fell in love with the Finnish approach to warmth. To achieve that hygge, he combines Alvar Aalto gems like a beehive pendant and 66 chairs with a sculptural Viccarbe Burin table by Patricia Urquiola. Above a cane media console, a gallery exhibit features Tommy’s own photography, collected pieces, and a Samsung Frame TV.
Next door, a tea lounge blends Tommy’s affection for Morocco with his Hong Kong childhood. “When I was growing up, I would have breakfast and tea with my dad every morning,” he fondly recalls. “I was so accustomed to it as a ritual.” As an homage to that memory, Tommy dedicated the soothing retreat to meditation and early meals.
He chose a swirling coral wallpaper that reminds him of the Atlas Mountains, an ornate shelving unit reminiscent of the Ming Dynasty, and a vintage gold foil silkscreen gifted by his mom. With a lotus flower–like rug, braided chairs, and a fiddle leaf fig that canopies over the seats, it’s the ultimate indoor getaway. “It’s a moment to escape from everyday stressors,” Tommy says.
In the kitchen, Tommy channeled bustling Parisian restaurants with classic checkerboard tiles, a retro patterned backsplash, and glossy white cabinetry adorned with edgy brass handles. Stainless-steel appliances and marbled quartz countertops complete the vibe. “It looks like a French brasserie without being in France,” he muses.
Tommy nods to his partner’s roots with a chic Italian-style den, where a Mario Bellini Camaleonda sofa in camel-colored leather is paired with a limewash plaster backdrop. Above the rounded, tufted couch, a custom neon sign reads, “Carpe Diem,” followed by a play on the phrase in Chinese.
In contrast, the main sleeping quarters fuse Japanese and Scandinavian aesthetics for a tranquil refuge. Natural furniture, such as a low-slung teak bed frame and acacia nightstands, mingle with a massive folding fan and abstract artworks by Tommy’s friend Fong Min Liao. A cozy nook is outfitted with a Lína Swivel Chair for his evening reading routine. “It’s the definition of Zen,” Tommy opines. “It’s our own sanctuary.” Much like the rest of the rooms, it’s a journey of its own.
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