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Martyn Lawrence Bullard is the 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. He has a line of home collection, has appeared on the Bravo show Million Dollar Decorators; Architectural Digest‘s February issue cover was dedicated to the home of Kourtney and Khloé Kardashian’s which he decorated and it all started with one opportunity. While in Chicago to deliver his lecture and book signing at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s annual Antiques, Garden & Design Show, we were able to sit and chat with him about everything home-design. His first book, released by Rizzoli, Live, Love & Decorate, giving us a window into the glamorous world of MLB Design, featuring his dramatic spaces and exquisite eye for detail. Bullard’s second book, Design and Decoration was released in April. Here is part 1 of the interview.
SLC: In your lecture you mentioned that you originally moved out to L.A to become an actor but now you’re an interior designer to the stars. How did you end up becoming a designer and what do you love about being an interior designer?
MLB: (laughs) Honestly, I literally fell into my job. I’d done all that stuff as a kid to make money and I put myself through drama school with the money I’d made and thought I’d follow in my dad’s footsteps and become an actor. I came to Los Angeles at age 21, thinking “In a couple of weeks, I’ll be a movie star,” of course, in a couple of weeks I was working in a coffee shop but soon after, I ended up getting a role in the movie ‘I Woke Up Early The Day I Died’ playing opposite Eartha Kitt. It was the last Edward Wood movie and from that, I met and became friends with the producer and his then-girlfriend. They came to this tiny little house I used to have, for dinner one night and they loved it, and said to me “Would you decorate our offices at the Hollywood Filmworks?” So I thought to myself, “Well, that’s crazy, but I guess if I decorate their offices, they’re going to hire me for another movie.”
I did their offices and literally the day that we finished I got a call from the Liz Heller, who at the time was Executive Vice President of Capitol Records, and she said “I’d love for you to come to the Capitol Building.” Suddenly, I was like, Capitol Music? Well, I wasn’t supposed to be a pop star, but maybe I’d decorate her office and become a pop star! Well, I didn’t become a pop star but I did her offices. What happened after was she introduced me to America’s first ever supermodel, Cheryl Tiegs, who hired me immediately, so I did her house. Within nine months, I had six magazine covers around the world and was declared a new design star! And I never looked back. Yeah.
SLC: It kind of sounds like, in some ways, you were an overnight success?
MLB: Yes in a way and I always said, it was like a Hollywood story in reverse. It’s done a full turn.
SLC: You have many fantastic clients around the world including the Russian Oligarch you mentioned, the Kardashian sisters who was recently featured on the cover of Architectural Digest, what are some of the design projects you are working on right now?
MLB: I’m still working for Kourtney and Khole Kardashian. I’ve been working with them forever. I just finished Kourtney’s screening room last week, and I’m doing Khole’s guest house now. It’s still ongoing with those two girls, which is really fun, and now, I’m doing Kris Jenner’s house. We’re going out of that over the top thing, and we’re going a lot more sophisticated and more modern. The interesting thing is with the girls, the world is basically at their feet, you’ve got people like Karl Lagerfeld designing gowns for them, it’s a new vibe, so they are very educated to the world now, and that’s why, you know, the taste is changing, and happily I am with them there to do it, which is great because I love them; they’re the nicest people. I’m doing a new beach house for Ellen Pompeo in Malibu. I am doing Tommy Hilfiger’s Connecticut residence.
SLC: Do you think that it will be a little more typical Tommy Hilfiger?
MLB: The residence is a very, very grand old English style mansion, so it’s much more Old World. I’m doing the Raleigh Hotel in Miami for him too. I’m also working on a project in Istanbul, a hotel in Santa Barbra, it’s a new hip hotel, very 50s I Dream of Jeannie-esque in Palm Springs. Working on Sharon and Ozzy Osborne’s new house and I’m working on- I can’t tell you who it is, because of confidentiality, but let’s just say one of the biggest, naughtiest male stars in the world, and it’s a lot of fun.
SLC: How did you curate the work that you’ve done and all the images for your book?
MLB: Well, you know, I’ve been very lucky. This new book is basically the last four years of my work, which has been amazing because, since my TV success, I’ve started to get offers to do hotels and restaurants, so it’s got an incorporation of a lot of more commercial stuff, so I show this beautiful hotel in Switzerland, I show my sister’s little pub in England. So I’ve got a different vibe in this book, and of course there’s a bunch of my client’s projects. The great thing is that most of my clients allow their homes to be published, so when it’s published we end up with those photographs, which is great. Tommy Hilfiger’s crazy Miami house that got thirty six covers around the world. People want to see, not just what house does Tommy Hilfiger live in, they want to see different designs, they want to see something that’s sort of fresh, and that’s wild, but it’s interesting to see it.
SLC: You’ve traveled all over the world. What are some of the most inspirational places for design you’ve been to?
MLB: You know, I love the mystery and the magic and the culture of Turkey. I love Istanbul, it’s an extraordinary city, it’s one of the birthplaces of Muslim faith. You’ve got this mix of all these different, amazing things that have created this city that’s filled with decorative beauty. There’s an energy there that really helps inspire me. I adore Marrakesh, I do love a little Moroccan moment. Marrakech is exciting because the crafts people are there making things on the streets, you see people weaving rugs in corners of alleyways. It’s just crazy. Rajasthan in India for the color. You can’t help but be inspired by the color and the passion in their life to brighten their lives with these beautiful things. So, travel for me is everything; each and every country will give me something.
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