We catch up with the iconic British interiors consultant, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen about what he's learned about interior design through his 25-year career.
If some of your earliest interior design memories are of the iconic BBC show Changing Rooms, then you’re not alone. While Linda Barker and Handy Andy had their charms, let’s admit, the show’s main draw was the bonkers creations of Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, who surprised homeowners with what he now calls “obviously drug-inspired, certainly gin-inspired and possibly historically-inspired” design.
And the midst of the madness, there are still lessons to be learned. We caught up with the theatrical TV presenter in Dublin for an update on his guiding design principles, and found refreshing honesty.
Be Cleopatra in the bathroom
I think this is where we are on the verge of beginning to get our homes right. We are now seeing them as places that are about us, that are shrines almost, that are burrows. They are like tortoise shells in which we can be who we are, and much more importantly, we can be who we want to be. This is something I was always very keen to do with the television stuff.
It doesn’t have to be straightforward. Half the time, people are as mad as a bunch of frogs, so if you want to live as a third-century Roman when you shut your front door, do, by all means. If you want to be Marie Antoinette in your boudoir, do. Be Cleopatra in the bathroom. All of these things can be you.
Outside, you have virtually no control – you have a hell of a lot of responsibility – but you have no control. What you should be doing is coming in, shutting that door and feeling ‘I am literally at home here. I am me’, and you don’t get that if you start painting everything a particular shade of grey because somebody else told you to.
Decorating has suddenly gotten very clever in the last couple of years. It had been quite simplistic, combining neutrality and accenting with natural materials or whatever, but actually now if you take Instagram as a judge or you take Pinterest as a judge, people are getting very, very excited about these incredibly opulent, complicated and very upmarket ways of decorating, which I think is very empowering.
It’s us basically saying to ourselves,‘hell yeah, I’m worth flock, hell yeah I’m worth rose gold’. It’s no longer about the pale metals and flat pack furniture, people are saying, ‘Actually, I want richness and opulence and a little bit of drama in my life again’, and that is wonderful. It shows a society that is confident and grown-up. I’m sure theres still plenty of beige people out there, but they can stay out there as far as I’m concerned.
Tap into your own memories
Too often people feel they are going to be judged if they pick the wrong colour. Creating a home is not just about picking paint colours. When people say that what they want is a lilac colour in the bedroom, it’s usually not just a colour for them. There is a very specific association with it; they have seen something, or they have been somewhere. What I love is when that story is much more complicated than just, ‘Oh well, I saw something in a magazine’. What I love, is when they say ‘Well I was on holiday in X and I saw a lavender field’ or‘I remember my granny’s eyes were this colour’. These things are so much more about the romanticism and the storytelling of who they are. This is the starting points for the way they decorate, and that’s what a home should be.
Ignore people who say your house is haunted
When we first moved into the house in the Cotswolds, it had this huge reputation of being haunted. A lot of that was down to the fact it had been empty for a few years; it’s all very Scooby-Doo. It was just this very big house that had been painted all the same shade of this rather nasty cream, and it had a few sticks of old heavy oak furniture in it, some of which used to rock slightly as you walked past.
During the whole refurbishment process, it was such a big job that we had lots of people coming round and saying,‘I'm very spiritual and I have to say there’s a cold patch in your wife’s bathroom’, and I was going ‘ Oh dear, really? Oh right, well I’ll have to bear that in mind’. They would all point to a part of our bedroom suite and would say ‘I feel terrible, I feel darkness’. Anyway, that's now where she keeps her handbags and we have not literally not heard a squeak in ten years, so I can only imagine that all these spirits are now trapped within Lulu Guinness and cannot get out.
Sell your stuff
I’m very unreceptive to the whole storage issue. I think we store too much rubbish, and while I’m bad, my wife is appalling. We have got outhouses full of stuff now, but I think that as as society, we genuinely have this obsession that we are going need things that we are never going to need. It’s to grim to think of, but most of us have stuff in boxes that we won’t ever see again. The next person that will see this stuff is the person who clears up after we depart this earth. Yes, there are plenty of cunning storage solutions, but fundamentally, we have too much stuff. I just wish I was brave enough to say that to my wife.
Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen was in Dublin as part of Bank of Ireland’s 2018 W'herever You Go’ campaign.
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