‘De­sign is a global ex­pe­ri­ence’

Ahead of his key­note talk at Down­town De­sign, Mar­tyn Lawrence Bullard tells Selina Den­man about his A-list clients, his love for ‘Mor­ro­can mo­ments’ and why lessons learnt in a Lon­don vin­tage mar­ket have held him in good stead

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I t’s there in the arched win­dow and graphic, monochro­matic tile­work of Cal­i­for­nia’s Sands Ho­tel & Spa; and again in the pow­der room of ac­tress Ellen Pom­peo’s Hol­ly­wood home, which is clad in an­tique ter­ra­cotta tiles and cab­i­netry crafted from mashra­biya pan­els sourced in Tang­ier. It’s in “the modern Moor­ish fan­tasy” that is Khloe Kar­dashian’s Cal­abasas base; and in the screen­ing room of Mr and Mrs Tommy Hil­figer’s Con­necti­cut prop­erty, which fea­tures cus­tom-made, red silk, Ot­toman-style seat­ing.

“I have al­ways loved a lit­tle Mo­roc­can mo­ment, whether an in­laid ta­ble or a pierced lantern,” ad­mits Mar­tyn Lawrence Bullard, the Bri­tish-born, Los An­ge­les-based in­te­rior de­signer be­hind all these projects. “I find these items cre­ate ro­mance and ex­oti­cism. I love North African de­sign el­e­ments, from the tiles to the colours and fab­rics.”

He’s quick to clar­ify – these Mo­roc­can touches are not his sig­na­ture, per se. They are just one part of his eclec­tic, all-en­com­pass­ing, worldly aes­thetic. “Re­ally, it’s more about a feel­ing than a place... de­sign to me is a global ex­pe­ri­ence. I am in­spired by all de­sign, pe­ri­ods and cul­tures.”

Bullard is also a great fan of fash­ion, although he ad­mits that his laid-back LA look is per­haps more ca­sual than that favoured in other cities around the world. “My uni­form tends to be a black V-neck T-shirt, jeans or coloured cot­ton chi­nos, but al­ways ac­ces­sorised with cool sneak­ers, a belt and a watch from my col­lec­tion. I often dress this look up with a great jacket or cash­mere sweater.

“I do, how­ever, look to fash­ion for colours and pat­terns. The looks on the run­ways will often trans­late into home fash­ions, and I love to dec­o­rate rooms in colours that my clients love to wear. If you look good in a cer­tain colour when you wear it, you’re go­ing to look even bet­ter in a room dec­o­rated in that colour.”

Proof of the in­te­rior de­signer’s ver­sa­til­ity is per­haps best high­lighted by the two very dif­fer­ent homes that he de­signed for two Kar­dashian sis­ters with very dif­fer­ent tastes. 

I al­ways fan­ta­sise about the idea of cre­at­ing in­te­ri­ors for Yves Saint Lau­rent

When Kourt­ney ac­quired her 11,500-square-foot Tus­can-style prop­erty in Cal­abasas, Cal­i­for­nia, a cou­ple of years ago, she en­listed Bullard to help cre­ate a cosy but so­phis­ti­cated fam­ily home that high­lighted her pen­chant for clas­sic 20th-cen­tury de­sign pieces, from chairs by Pierre Jean­neret and Os­car Niemeyer, to a desk by Jules Leleu.

When Khloe snapped up a nearby, nearly 10,000-square-foot Mediter­ranean Re­vival house from Justin Bieber a month or so later, she wanted some­thing far more rock ’n’ roll. Bullard cre­ated the afore­men­tioned modern Moor­ish fan­tasy, fea­tur­ing lay­ers of Mo­roc­can, Turk­ish and Mid­dle East­ern dec­o­ra­tive el­e­ments. A favourite nook in Khloe’s bed­room fea­tures a tra­di­tional star-shaped lantern and mother-of-pearl ta­ble, while a woman whose face is al­most en­tirely cov­ered in swaths of white fab­ric stares out en­tic­ingly from a frame on the wall.

Bullard’s port­fo­lio of A-list clients ex­tends be­yond the Kar­dashian- Jen­ner clan to songstress Christina Aguil­era, ac­tress Eva Men­des, model Alessan­dra Am­bro­sio and leg­ends such as Sharon and Ozzy Os­bourne, ac­tress and au­thor Joan Collins and singer Cher, who he tells us was “the ul­ti­mate de­sign dream”. He worked on two homes for the “god­dess of pop” and, in a sneak peek into the bed­room of one of those Los An­ge­les abodes, Cher can be seen re­clin­ing next to a 17th-cen­tury Ti­betan monk statue, with a 19th­cen­tury pure goldthread Burmese ta­pes­try be­hind her. A stat­uesque bed made from an­tique In­dian pan­els sits on a plat­form crafted from lime­stone, flanked by bed­side ta­bles made from in­laid doors. In her kitchen, mashra­biya screens are used to keep ap­pli­ances tucked out of view, as Chi­nese lanterns drop dra­mat­i­cally from the ceil­ing.

“I couldn’t have had more fun dec­o­rat­ing for you all these years filled with laugh­ter, love, drama, fab­ric and feath­ers,” Bullard es­poused in a heart­felt mes­sage posted on In­sta­gram to mark Cher’s birth­day in May.

Un­for­tu­nately, his dream project is one that can­not be re­alised, although this does not stop him from won­der­ing about its end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties. “I al­ways fan­ta­sise about the idea of cre­at­ing in­te­ri­ors for Yves Saint Lau­rent and Pierre Bergé,” Bullard re­veals. “Their in­cred­i­ble style, love of all things dec­o­ra­tive and ex­traor­di­nary per­sonal col­lec­tions made them a de­signer’s dream. So much per­sonal style and love for lux­u­ri­ous ex­oti­cism are so very en­tic­ing. They would have been dream clients.”

The start­ing point for Bullard’s ca­reer could not have been fur­ther from these celebrity cir­cles. At the age of 12, he started buy­ing dec­o­ra­tive ob­jects, or “oddments” as he likes to call them, and then sell­ing them from a stall in Lon­don’s Green­wich Vin­tage Mar­ket. By the age of 16, he had de­vel­oped a strong as­sort­ment of clients and col­lec­tors, in­clud­ing a buyer for Ralph Lau­ren An­tiques. There were plenty of lessons learnt in those early years that have con­tin­ued

to in­form Bullard’s ca­reer to this day, he says. “The vin­tage mar­kets of Lon­don taught me much that I have been able to par­lay into my work to­day. Most im­por­tantly that group­ing beau­ti­ful ob­jects to­gether not only en­hances each one, but also cre­ates a scene that’s al­lur­ing and dec­o­ra­tive, no mat­ter the ori­gin or value. If they are beau­ti­ful and have a syn­ergy, then they be­come mag­nif­i­cent and invit­ing when grouped to­gether. This is how I look at my in­te­ri­ors now. This knowl­edge has helped in the un­der­stand­ing of how rooms work, and how to cre­ate nat­u­ral, co­he­sive yet at once in­ter­est­ing in­te­ri­ors.”

Nonethe­less, in­te­rior de­sign was not Bullard’s first choice when it came to a ca­reer. He wanted to be an ac­tor and, af­ter a stint at the Lee Stras­berg Theatre and Film In­sti­tute in Lon­don’s Covent Gar­den, used the money that he had con­tin­ued to earn trad­ing his oddments to fund a move to Los An­ge­les.

Once there, he was cast in a num­ber of film roles, but his de­sign skills also caught the eye of some key Hol­ly­wood movers and shak­ers, and this quickly snow­balled into a thriv­ing busi­ness. His act­ing skills didn’t com­pletely go to waste, as the Bri­tish de­signer has gone on to star in the hit Bravo series, Mil­lion

Dol­lar Dec­o­ra­tors, and host Chan­nel 4’s Hol­ly­wood Me in the United King­dom, as well as a num­ber of other de­sign-fo­cused tele­vi­sion pro­grammes. He has also pub­lished two books: Live, Love & Dec­o­rate (2011) and De­sign and Dec­o­ra­tion (2016).

Over the years, he has ex­panded his reper­toire to in­clude in­door and out­door fab­rics, wall­pa­per, fur­ni­ture, and home ac­ces­sories. He has de­signed sev­eral col­lec­tions for fab­ric house Schu­macher, tiles for Ann Sacks, a col­lec­tion of din­ner­ware with porce­lain-maker Hav­i­land Li­mo­ges, and wall­pa­per for Cole & Son. His sec­ond col­lab­o­ra­tion with The Rug Com­pany is a col­lec­tion of five car­pets whose names, Mar­rakech, Coachella, Ste­vie Mac, South Ridge Pink and Teal, al­lude to the mul­ti­ple in­flu­ences that in­fuse his work. To mark the global launch of the col­lec­tion this month, Bullard will be in Dubai to give a talk at The Rug Com­pany’s Al Serkal Av­enue store. He will also present a key­note speech at Down­town De­sign, as part of Dubai De­sign Week.

So what is the Bri­tish de­signer’s def­i­ni­tion of a great in­te­rior? “To me, it’s a space that is wel­com­ing, com­fort­able and filled with per­son­al­ity. A true ex­ten­sion of the owner’s style and tastes; a per­fect win­dow into their soul,” he says.

His own homes are a per­pet­ual work in progress, he con­tin­ues. “My in­te­ri­ors are a con­stant evo­lu­tion. My homes be­come my ex­per­i­ment pads, places to dis­play the things I love, and then mix and match as I col­lect and my tastes change. I prob­a­bly fully re­dec­o­rate about once ev­ery three years, but the spirit of my rooms is al­ways chang­ing with the ad­di­tion of new things ei­ther added or taken away. It’s all about the edit; that makes it fun for me.”

Mar­tyn Lawrence Bullard, above right, de­signed a range of wall­pa­pers for Cole & Son, above, ti­tled Royal Fern­ery, and in­spired by the Ma­jorelle Gar­den in Mar­rakech. Pre­vi­ous page, the spa lobby in the Sands Ho­tel & Spa in In­dian Wells, Cal­i­for­nia

Left, a bed­room that Bullard de­signed for Cher, which fea­tures a bed made from an­tique In­dian pan­els, placed on a lime­stone plat­form. Below, the bath­rooms at Sands Ho­tel & Spa fea­ture Wa­ter­works brass fixtures and Ac­qua di Parma ameni­ties

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