Martyn Lawrence Bullard is a celebrated British born, Los Angeles-based interior designer with clients ranging from Elton John, Cher, Aaron Sorkin, Daisy Fuentes, Tommy Hilfiger to the Kardashian sisters and mom Kris. He has a line of home collections, has appeared on the Bravo show Million Dollar Decorators and earlier this year his work decorating Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian’s home was Architectural Digest‘s February cover story; it all started with acting aspiration and an opportunity. While In town to deliver a lecture and sign copies of his book, Martyn Lawrence Bullard: Design and Decoration at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s annual Antiques, Garden & Deign Show, the designer was able to take some time to sit down and chat with us about everything regarding home-design. Here is part 2 of the interview. You can read Part 1 here
I don’t design for myself, I design for my clients.
SociaLifeChicago: Chicago is known as an architecturally rich city, can you tell us a little about what you think of the Chicago design scene? Have you worked with any clients here?
Martyn Lawrence Bullard: I haven’t worked with anybody in Chicago, but I do think the city is absolutely beautiful. I mean, you’ve got David Adler and all these people, but it’s really about that architectural deco flavor, these amazing buildings, those banks and all those state buildings that are so cool, they’re almost ominous, you know. These beautiful, big solid buildings, it’s wonderful. It’s a true American city built in that period where money wasn’t even an issue, it was just about creating style and modernity, and of course everyone was so passionate about design, and you see that explosion in Chicago unlike almost anywhere else that I’ve seen. Actually, in the design world right now, there’s been a big turn back towards art deco.
Ever since the Great Gatsby aired, there’s been a whole flavor of young people liking art deco again and we’re seeing that really evolve through product and design within the whole design world really.”
SLC: What was it like having your design process documented on reality TV?
MLB: Shockingly difficult but a lot of fun because you wake up in the morning and there’s a camera on you, it’s really crazy. You don’t realize how hard it is until you’re actually in it. At the same time, I had the best time, but it was an interesting experience. What it does, however, which I didn’t realize at the time when I first started, is that it takes you and formulates you into a brand because each one of our shows, weekly, was circulating around the globe getting 25-30 million viewers. Even now, my last episode that aired in the US about 14 months ago, is still playing in about thirty countries around the world. It’s this longevity that happens from those things. It opens up a world to you of people who didn’t know who you were, who suddenly know who you are and know what you do. They get to see your work, and it’s brought really wonderful experiences and opportunities to my life.
SLC: Here you are with your second book coming out, tell us about it.
MLB: I’m very proud of this second book, it’s capturing the last four-five years of my work, showing a very worldly quality and a very worldly experience of the work in different ways. I hope you will enjoy it, and I hope it will also be a helpful tool for anybody interested in design. At the end of the day, I’m very lucky to be in the position I’m in, I’m very lucky to wake up every day to do a job I love and having other people like what I do, you know, that is such a bonus in life. I’m very grateful for everybody for following me and being a part of that journey.
SLC: What do you think are some of the exciting, up and coming trends in design?
ML: Interestingly at the moment, we’re seeing antiques being reintegrated, different from the way it was done in the past, which was very formalized. Now, you’re getting these funky interiors, like a big concrete New York loft that’ll have an amazing Biedermeier cabinets in it, paired with midcentury chairs, and then maybe some cool modern thing from Minotti and then a sixteenth century painting in the middle of it all, so its now more about the mix. It’s more about people doing things, making it exciting and fresh and really, really mixing and matching in a way that’s personalized. I think people are more about personalized interiors and they’re less following trends, they’re understanding their own personalities and not being scared to go with that. And I love that!
SLC: How do you balance the unique style you’re so known for with accommodating your client’s desires?.
ML: I don’t design for myself, I design for my clients. It’s extremely important for me to create very personal spaces. When you look at my book, you’ll see so many different styles and vibes. It’s because each one has been individually tailored for that person. It’s like a couture gown, it’s made for you, to fit you. Everybody has different taste; everyone has different things they love or collect that’s part of their life. To try and understand my clients needs, I ask them a series of questions to get to know them and then we take all the information, like a puzzle and we start piecing it together until we create a picture that resonates with them. From that point, we move forward. Now, sometimes clients have ideas that I don’t think are great, but it’s about working together to come up with ideas that are great. That’s how you create beautiful interiors.
You’ve got to understand the industry because it isn’t just all glamorous and fabric and flowers; it’s real gritty work, and you’re dealing with people’s personalities, people’s homes, their personal life, and it’s a very important job because people are passionate about their homes, so you’ve got to be passionate as a person.
SLC: Are there any can’t live without pieces you think should be in every home?
MLB: A dimmer switch. There is nothing as important in life as lighting. And the older you get, the more you’ll understand that. So, we have to have dimmer switches. It’s twenty bucks, it’s the best twenty bucks you’re ever going to spend.
SLC: Can share some of the less glamorous behind the scenes moments?
ML: You know, when you are working for clients, even though I might be a television personality and an award-winning designer, I am still in the service industry. If we get to a house with clients scheduled to visit and the floor is dirty, I will get down and clean those floors because it is my job. You can never be too proud to do a job that’s not really in your job description. I believe that totally and that’s what makes a successful career. Never be too proud. Ground yourself and go with that. For me, it’s all about that, and I try to always teach that to my staff to make sure that everybody knows that. We are a service industry and are very lucky to be employed by people, to make these fantasy interiors for them. Never, ever think you’re above anything because it’s not the case.
SLC: Do you have any advice for someone starting out in the design industry?
ML: Though it’s great to go and do different design courses and such, the real hands on experience is to go and intern for a great designer. Look for somebody that you really admire and then see if they take interns. Go in there for like three months, and it doesn’t matter if you’re making them coffee or whatever, you’re getting to experience an office, you’re getting to experience the day to day running, you start to understand the design process of the designer and their staff, how they put things together, how it works. Once you’ve seen that, if you understand it and it excites you, then you’ve probably got prospects of a career. But you’ve got to understand the industry because it isn’t just all glamorous and fabric and flowers; it’s real gritty work, and you’re dealing with people’s personalities, people’s homes, their personal life, and it’s a very important job because people are passionate about their homes, so you’ve got to be passionate as a person. You have to love design and want to be a part of it. You’ve got to believe in yourself. You’ve got to believe in your style, believe that you can fulfill your style for other people, and never be too proud to manipulate to work it out with a client. So, that’s really the number one goal, is to believe in yourself, believe in your taste, believe in your style, and take it from there. Don’t ever second guess yourself.
SLC: Why is design important?
ML: Design changes people’s lives. Home is really all of our sanctuaries, it’s the place you go to hide, it’s the place you go to make love, it’s the place you go to have dinner, it’s the place you go to make a family, it is a very important part of our lives. Most people strive most of their lives to earn money to buy their own homes so they’ve got their own place to live and experience life. It is a vital tool, creating an interior that you love within your space that shows a part of your personality. My television show in England, Hollywood Me, where we found amazing people that basically were underprivileged in some way or another, something happened to them or they couldn’t quite pull their homes together, and I would go in and remake their homes; I saw the most extraordinary changes. There was one lady, a police officer, who’d been hurt in a riot, and immediately afterwards she gave birth. The doctors told her she was going to have one baby but she had three, and these three kids lived in the tiniest room, and she had to go straight back to work, and she’d never been able to decorate anything. We sent her to Hollywood to give her a fabulous makeover, and while she was away, I redecorated her house and I gave them a dining table, they’d never had a dining table. I decorated the kids’ room, I mean, we did the whole little number for them. I got a letter at Christmas saying that she’d been utterly embarrassed to have anyone in her home, and ever since we’d done this, she couldn’t wait to invite people over every weekend, but most importantly, now, she and her three kids, who are now like four years old, experienced dinner together every night as a family, and it has changed their bond, giving them something to all look forward to, time to gel together. That’s magic.
SLC: We hear you are starting a jewelry and men’s fashion line?
MLB: Yes. I’ve collected this incredible amount of vintage fabric. A lot of it is vintage men’s tie fabric and we’re creating wonderful things like versatile and beautiful smoking jackets trimmed with vintage fabric and each one of them has a wonderful and unique presence to it. The biggest part of growing men’s fashion is accessories and so this line’s got a lot of that involved in it. It’s really cool, but it’s also totally individual, so it’s a very exciting project. I love fashion, I believe fashion and interiors go hand in hand, so I think it’s an exciting way to break out and do something new. I’ve always loved jewelry, I collect vintage and antique pieces, and so for years I’ve wanted to do a collection, so I’ve come up with this really cool twist on men’s jewelry, but for women, with a really great vibe. It’s kind of chunky, stronger looking pieces. It’ll be out in September in various higher end department stores.
You can pick up a copy of his book here.
images via: Martyn Lawrence Bullard, Architectural Digest, Rizzoli