British-born, Los Angeles-based Martyn Lawrence Bullard is not only one of Hollywood’s favourite interior designers – much loved by the likes of the Jenner-Kardashians (Kim, Khloé, Kourtney, Kris, Kendall and Kylie), Grey’s Anatomy’s Ellen Pompeo, Cher, Tommy Hilfiger and Elton John – but a star in his own right with the Bravo TV series Million Dollar Decorators shown in more than 76 countries worldwide. With projects spanning European castles to Californian coastal hotels, European mansions to old English pubs, Martyn also creates collections of fabrics, wallpapers, rugs and home accessories for the world’s leading design houses. Here, he shares his design inspirations…
WHERE DOES YOUR LOVE OF INTERIORS COME FROM?
I started collecting silver spoons from markets and junk shops with my pocket money when I was seven or eight. When I turned 12, I convinced my dad to rent a stall for me at Greenwich market. I sold loads of things (mostly to American tourists who couldn’t believe there was this child selling cups and saucers for £20) – being able to make money and the thrill of the hunt for stuff had me hooked. It was the start of my education in interior design.
HOW DID YOU BREAK INTO THE DECORATING WORLD?
Becoming an actor in Hollywood was always my dream – I put myself through drama school in London and LA, funded by my market stall takings. I was 20 when I landed myself a role in a film with Eartha Kitt. One day, the producer came to the house I was renting (once used by Charlie Chaplin as his dressing rooms on an old West Hollywood back lot) and liked the way I’d decorated it. He asked me to redesign his offices and things just snowballed from there.
WHAT’S YOUR DESIGN APPROACH?
I don’t want to be pigeonholed into a certain style – projects have gone from a crazy ‘shagedelic groovy’ for Tommy Hilfiger’s Miami home to restoring a 12th-century Umbrian castle. I like to be eclectic.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR STYLE?
Contemporary, luscious and comfortable, somewhere you can really sink into and love living in. Modern luxury is not about keeping anything for best. I think you should use, touch and sit in everything you love every day. I use my Hermès cup for breakfast because it makes me smile.
HOW DO YOU START EACH PROJECT?
I always ask: ‘What did you like and dislike about your old and new house? What’s your favourite hotel and restaurant? And what’s your favourite colour to wear? From this, you can start to put the jigsaw together.
WHAT GIVES YOUR ROOMS A LITTLE KICK?
Throwing something ethnic into the mix. Even in a simple space filled with streamlined B&B Italia furniture, a bold geometric Moroccan print or elaborately decorated piece of furniture really brings out the sex appeal in a room.
HOW DO YOU PLAY WITH COLOUR?
Colour provides a window to the soul of the person living there. We all have a colour we look good in – by surrounding yourself in a space in the same shade, you’ll feel good all the time because you know you look good in it.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE PALETTE?
I’m not afraid to go for it with colours like dusky rose and rich raspberry pinks, leaf and emerald greens (apparently, green is the perfect colour for a nursery as it’s both inspiring and calming) and all shades of blue, from turquoise to navy. Colour creates wonderful surprise moments.
WHAT ABOUT PATTERN ON PATTERN?
I like layering pattern on pattern, even if it’s just pillows and the edging on drapery. My designs are inspired by constant travels to Morocco, Greece, India and Indonesia. I chose a fresh Moroccan meets Spanish vibe for three West Coast hotels I’ve designed – Casa Laguna, the Colony Palms Hotel [in Palm Springs] and Hotel Californian [in Santa Barbara]. Against a clean neutral backdrop and furniture pieces in bold, solid colours, I used many of my own patterned fabrics and tiles on floors and ceilings and for cushions, throws and headboards. The effect was at once vibrant, but relaxed and inviting too.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE MATERIALS?
I love the look of linen and how it handles – it can be both casual and glossy. For instance, a glazed linen can look very chic and upholsters well. Velvet, from silk to cotton – I once upholstered an entire library in chocolate brown velvet, from walls to furniture. I broke it up with cabinets in off-white oak, cashmere armchairs and pillows and a wooden inlaid floor in a David Hicks-style geometric pattern in three tones, from ivory to espresso.
WHAT’S WORTH INVESTING IN?
A well-made sofa. I prefer deep seating, like my Carnaby swivel chair for Frontgate, because it’s where you’re going to spend a lot of time and where you’ll entertain. It anchors a room. Just add less expensive fun pillows and throws to change the look according to mood or season. Equally, invest in a good mattress – we spend a third of our lives in bed – but choose organic (other mattresses are often sprayed with nasty carcinogens).
WHERE CAN YOU MAKE UNEXPECTED IMPACT?
Ceilings are often forgotten. A reflective paper on a low ceiling adds extra visual height, or a border run round the edges of a ceiling gives any space a lift. I designed my new collection of wallpapers and borders for Cole & Son because I love to play with borders at all sorts of heights on a wall and then mix with contrasting designs, both above and below. There’s also a laser-cut wallpaper that can be layered over a wall for a unique look.
WHAT ABOUT ACCESSORIES?
I like to build colours around a rug – I pull out certain shades for curtains, pillows and lampshades. A sculptural lamp lends a great decorative moment in any room too – it adds glamour and the right kind of light. With everything I design, I ensure lighting is never over someone’s head. It’s much more flattering when people are lit from behind and the rest of the light is at shoulder height.
WHERE DO YOU LIKE TO ESCAPE TO?
I’m constantly on and off planes – right now, I’m working from Paris to New Mexico, Miami to Saudia Arabia – so when I come home to my mid-century villa in Palm Springs, I just want to chill out in front of the big movie screen or by the pool. Built in 1964, it’s been home to stars like Roger Moore and Hugh Hefner, which is what inspired its swinging Sixties and disco Seventies vibe. Home is somewhere you can live out your decorative fantasies.
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON?
I’ve just opened my own atelier shop on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood and created a new furniture and accessories line for Frontgate’s home catalogue [which goes out to 86 million homes in the US and ships to the UK]. I’m working on outdoor fabrics for Perennials and organic mattresses with Custom Comfort too.
For more info on Martyn, visit martynlawrencebullard.com