Bravo's 'Million Dollar Decorator' dishes out inspiration, advice

Designer and TV host Martyn Lawrence-Bullard appears on Bravo's 'Million Dollar Decorators.'
Designer and TV host Martyn Lawrence-Bullard appears on Bravo's 'Million Dollar Decorators.' (Handout, Baltimore Sun)

Martyn Lawrence-Bullard left his home in England for Los Angeles 20 years ago, determined to be a movie star.

The acting thing didn't exactly work out. But in one of those delightful turnabouts in life, he is now the interior designer to the stars. Ed Norton, the Osbournes, Cher and Kid Rock top an eclectic list of clients.

Lawrence-Bullard has made the Architectural Digest and Elle Decor lists of top designers. He is a principal on Bravo TV's "Million Dollar Decorators." He has a new book, "Live, Love & Decorate," with a foreword by client Elton John. And he has just produced his first line of decorator fabrics.

Not bad for a kid whose only movie credit is a bit part in a film written by Ed Wood and produced two decades after his death — as Eartha Kitt's love interest. He stumbled into interior design when the movie's producer liked what he'd done with his West Hollywood house, which he had decorated with flea market finds.

Lawrence-Bullard will take a break from preparations for the second season of "Million Dollar Decorators" to appear Tuesday at the Washington Design Center, where he will speak to members of the trade about the launch of his new fabric collection.

We asked the designer who helped Cher realize her fantasy of rooms decorated to fit the first wife of a maharajah to talk about his inspiration, how he splurges and whether you really need a million dollars to have a beautiful home.

You came to the United States to be an actor and instead became a world-famous designer. Did you see that coming?

I really didn't expect to become this famous designer. Interior design has been in my genes all my life, but I just didn't realize I could manifest it into a career — certainly without training. It has been not only a surprise to me, but it's the absolute joy of my life. To be able to be creative every day of my life — and get paid for it — is my ultimate dream come true.

You are poised for a second season of "Million Dollar Decorators" on Bravo. What did you learn in the first season that might influence the way the team approaches this season?

Season One taught me not only the power of television, but it has shown me the true passion the world has for interior design, and how wonderful and supportive all the fans have been. What I want to show in Season Two is more of the process. I want to let the fans into my life a bit more and open up the understanding that this business is a hardworking, high-stress job that is not all glamorous.

The "drama" on the show might scare away homeowners who are thinking of taking on a major redecorating project. Is this kind of work always that fraught?

When you're dealing with a client's home, it's a very personal space to be in. And when you're spending their hard-earned money, that's even more of a touchy situation. The show has portrayed some of this, but truly, there is nothing more rewarding than creating a special, individual space for a client: a place for them to call their own and be proud of. This is my goal, and hopefully the show lets people see the joy that's at the end of the process. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day.

Does anyone really need a million dollars to decorate a house? What would I get for say, $10,000, versus $1 million?

You don't need a million dollars these days. You can find amazing things that are very reasonable from stores such as Restoration Hardware, which copies and reproduces amazing European antiques and decorative items at very competitive prices. Also Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, and West Elm are amazing with their decorative trends at a fraction of designer prices. The main difference is, with a large budget you can incorporate great works of art and, of course, totally customize the interior by making one of the pieces scaled especially for the space and scheme. With a good sense of personal style, however, you can achieve a fine, fun and individual space for yourself on a very small budget.

The focus of the show is, of course, on the design work your group does for celebrities. Are they easier or more difficult than "regular" clients?

Celebrities live their lives in the spotlight. As such, it's vital for their homes to be sanctuaries — places for complete relaxation and privacy. My one great joy with my celebrity clients over the years has been their passion to live out their fantasies, be it an Indian palace in Hollywood, a Tuscan villa in Malibu or an English country cottage in New York City. I'm here to be their enabler and make these fantasies into decorative reality.

If I wanted to give my house the "celebrity" treatment, what decorating items are must-haves?

Star style at home must-haves, of course, include a spacious walk-in closet with a shoe wall — and beautifully furnished to resemble a complete room. Comfort is modern luxury, so every star pad must be ultimately comfortable. Deep, loungy sofas and chaises. Of course, vital for all homes is lighting. The dimmer switch is the most important part of every room. Good lighting is the key to beauty and youthful appearance.

How should I prepare for my first meeting with you as my designer? What do you need to know from me, and how can I find a way to describe what I want?

Your first meeting with me should be relaxed and always fun. I need to know and understand you to be able to create your dream. I will ask you questions like: Where's your favorite city? Which hotel do you like to stay in? What's your favorite restaurant? Which room at home do you feel most comfortable in? Which room do you spend most time in? This process will help me build the perfect picture of you and your life. From this, I start to put together my decorative jigsaw of your dreams.

If you want to redecorate your house but can't do it all at once, in which room should you start to have the most impact?

The most important room in the house is the one you spend the most time in. That may be your kitchen, family room or even bedroom. Pick that room first so you get to enjoy that special place the most. This will inspire you to move forward with the rest.

What is the biggest mistake people make when decorating on their own?

The biggest mistakes are those of scale. Buying a sofa too big that you can't get [into] the building's elevator or through your door. Or buying furniture that's too small. It's all about understanding scale in a home.

You've developed a line of fabrics. What was your inspiration?

My new line with Schumacher, America's oldest family-owned fabric company, is a fine artisanal-inspired collection that has come about from my travels. All the countries and cultures I have experienced in my life have been tapped into for this line. My passion for Orientalism and all things exotic is very prevalent, as well as signs of my travels to Rajasthan, Marrakech and Istanbul. This is juxtaposed with some Italian influences and, of course, my British background. The collections are put together as if a well-traveled connoisseur were decorating his own home. It allows buyers to be totally creative in their own way, to mix and match among the collections and color ways with abandon.

In all of your decorating projects, what's been the one item that was a total splurge?

All of my projects have their decadent moments, whether in the use of fabrics, color, art or space. I make sure luxury is our first word in the decorative narrative, closely followed by comfort. Deep, luxuriant, sexy sofas, Vi-Spring organic wool and cashmere beds, 600-thread-count linens and great lighting. These are my splurge moments in all and every interior I touch.

Can you give us a hint of what celebrities might be featured next season on "Million Dollar Decorators"?

Let's just say some beautiful, famous people will be gracing your screens!