Star-Studded Design


With a client list that reads like a Who’s Who of Hollywood Boulevard and his latest book hot off the press, L-J Andrew sat down with Martyn Lawrence Bullard, to get to know the man behind the eclectic interior

Martyn Lawrence Bullard’s award-winning designs have won him unrivalled acclaim among A–list clients, including Cher, Sir Elton John and Gwen Stefani, as well as design heavyweights such as Tommy Hilfiger. However, his story begins far from the beckoning bright lights of Hollywood. Born in Lewisham, Bullard began his design career while still in his teens. At 13, he began to buy and sell what he called “oddments,” from his stall in Greenwich Antiques Market and learned to identify decorator items that could be considered valuable and well-designed. At 17, he decided to pursue a career as an actor and used his earnings to attend the Lee Strasberg Actors Studio in Covent Garden. “I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and be on stage, although my love for interiors was ever present,” Martyn reminisces. “I would make my parents take me to the most beautiful stately homes, castles and museums and be in awe at the decor.”Throughout school, Bullard continued to buy and sell antiques and raised enough money to move to Los Angeles in 1994. This is where he found his calling, but it wasn’t quite what he was expecting.

While living in rented accommodation, built by Charlie Chaplin, he struck up a friendship with a Hollywood producer, whom he invited for dinner. With an obvious passion for furniture, antiques and design, his new producer friend asked Martyn to redesign his offices.“

Although I didn’t know what I was doing, I did it thinking, ‘Maybe they’ll put me in a movie,” Martyn adds. “The reality was, the day the project was finished, the president of Capitol Records saw it and said, ‘This is amazing. Would you come and do my offices as well?” And from that moment, the interior design bug had “well and truly embedded itself – I never looked back.”

He continues: “I was then introduced to Cheryl Tiegs. She instantly hired me to do her own home. I had no staff, no portfolio, no experience, but it worked. Within nine months, we were on the cover of six magazines around the world and my career was born.”

Bullard was catapulted onto the celebrity circuit with film, music and entertainment industries knocking on his door, all desperate to bring their dream homes to life. “I think other celebrities took note, and before I knew it, I had Edward Norton, Christina Aguilera and many other celebrities hiring me,” he adds.

Bullard’s style has been described as ‘Hollywood glamour meets ethnic exotica’ and ‘eclectic, sophisticated, comfortable and fearless.’ This industry image of him has been formed by his adventurous use of texture, colour and innate attention to detail, backed by a strong command of proportion and scale; a deft hand with colour and pattern and an exuberant global sensibility. He adds: “Scale is the most important design element. Perfect scale is even harder to achieve – it’s the signature of a seasoned designer.”

Although, he doesn’t claim to have a ‘style’, instead, the aim is for each home to be a true reflection of its owner, so all projects are a “collaboration.” “One of the great aspects is that all these extraordinary people that I’ve worked with, are hugely inspiring,” he says. “No two homes are ever the same.“

We’re here to provide a service; to create individuality. So, I never go in with the idea that I must stamp my own signature style on a project. I think being professional is about creating an experience, a look, a vibe, an ambience, that’s a direct link to the personality of the client that you’re designing for. I always strive to understand what people love and what their dreams are, going forward.”

He explains: “I tend to ask a series of questions like; what’s their favourite hotel and what are their favourite movies? I might ask what their favourite restaurant is, and it may have absolutely nothing to do with the food, it may be the tone of the light bulbs inside that space that makes them feel good. And that’s the kind of information that one needs to extract, to be able to understand, okay, so they don’t like a bright, white light, they like a soft golden hue. And then we endeavour to create the lighting and the ambience to capture that.”Although the results are breathtaking, Martyn doesn’t shy away from the uphill struggles this highly customised approach may prevent.: “It definitely makes it harder,” he says. “But I think it makes it more exciting because you’re constantly challenged, constantly having to be creative and constantly digging deep within your own resources.”

This humanistic approach and the natural flare for translating needs and tastes through his own unique lens, has resulted in some of the most stunning interiors that have been seen by millions through the owner’s own celebrity following. If you’re a fan of RuPaul or obsessed with everything Gwen Stefani does, you will have seen a Martyn Lawrence Bullard design.

With such a showcase behind him, it’s difficult to pick a favourite, although some do stay with him. “I’m very lucky to be working with a couple of idols of mine right now, one of whom is Sylvester Stallone,” he enthuses. “I had no idea that Sylvester would have such a major art collection – Picassos, Banksys, even Rashid Johnsons – his collection is vast, and so I designed a house around his amazing collection.”

“Cher’s house is another that I count as a special project,” he continues. “She calls her style ‘Buddhist behaving badly’, which is really this sort of wonderful combination of many exotic cultural trends put together from Moroccan, Balinese, Chinese and Egyptian. There’s a real cocktail of these wonderful cultures mixed into her interior. It’s one of my favourites, because I have been working on it, on and off for 15 years. I’ve created an extraordinary alliance, design, partnership and friendship with Cher herself.”

Beyond his exquisite residential portfolio, Martyn has also overseen the design of several premier hospitality properties around the world, including the Prospect in Hollywood, the iconic Colony Palms Hotel in Palm Springs, Chateau Gütschin Lucerne in Switzerland, Chef Rick Bayless’s flagship Red O restaurant and The Residences at Seafire in the Cayman Islands. Martyn explains: “I’ve been excitedly working on projects that include hotel designs in Istanbul and Miami Beach, along with the Four Seasons Residences in Los Angeles. I love commercial design as much as my residential, as it lets me stretch a slightly different set of skills.”

In addition to his design studio, Martyn has created an eponymous collection of fabrics, wallpaper, furniture and home accessories. He also has designed several collections for the venerable fabric house Schumacher, tile lines for AnnSacks, rugs with The Rug Company, as well as collaborations with silver maker Christofle and crystal manufacturer Daum. His most recent brand collaborations include his outdoor furniture collection with Harbour, indoor and outdoor performance fabrics with textile giant Perennials and a collection of home furnishings with the leading luxury retailer, Frontgate.

Translating all of this experience and expertise into a stunning new book – Star Style, this latest release showcases his trademark designs, from Hollywood glamour and unabashed Pop Art to Moroccan–inspired exoticism and sumptuously cool serenity. First turning the lens on his own properties in Los Angeles and Palm Springs, the book peeks inside the homes of an array of glitterati and pays homage to Martyn’s inimitable signature style.

“I see this book as a celebration of my 30-year career. It showcases a lot of the celebrity work that I’ve done, which has been part of my journey, filled with wonderful people with fabulous homes,” he says with a wistful smile.“Readers will see so many different interiors, from an 18th-century Irish restoration to a disco apartment to a Palm Beach tropical house for Tommy Hilfiger, to supermodel Winnie Harlow’s luxe Art Deco-inspired LA pad,” he divulges. With what is arguably an empire of interiors to run, Martyn still champions ‘me’ time. When not travelling the globe, designing exquisite interiors and searching for one-of-a-kind antiques and decor, the top interior designer splits his time between his romantic Hollywood Hills retreat and a mid-century masterpiece in the Southern California desert. He exclaims: “It’s important to take time to switch off, re-fuel and rejuvenate, especially in a creative career. It’s one of my self-care secrets to keep me at the top of my game.”

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