“I believe I now have more magazine covers than any living designer.” And that’s what we like to call a Martyn Lawrence Bullard mic drop.
With a coveted client list, retail collections with a number of the biggest names in the business, and a signature eccentric style, Martyn is a force to be reckoned with. He is also incredibly warm and gracious. A fact I discovered while chatting with him for our latest installment of The Finer Points.
The fact that he somewhat fell into interior design speaks volumes for his innate talent. He has a hand in luxury lighting, jewelry, fabrics – you name it – and everything he touches turns to gold! Keep scrolling for his words of advice to emerging designers and stay tuned for his honest opinion about a few his closest friends, the Kardashians.
Marie Flanigan: Congratulations on your latest cover of Architectural Digest! Alessandra Ambrosio’s home is stunning. Tell us a little bit about the design process and what it was like working with her.
Martyn Lawrence Bullard: It’s always fun working with a creative person, especially someone in the fashion industry; they’re so used to the changes of style, and how everything is combined color-wise. So, there’s always a good balance of understanding from the very beginning. Alessandra is Brazilian and has a boho style, but since she’s lived in LA for so long, she’s also got a rock-and-roll edge. We found a way to bring in her Brazilian roots and the musical influence, while making it a family-oriented house. We added a bunch of great photography, collected some really cool mid-century Brazilian furniture, and worked in the boho angle with all of the wonderful ethnic fabrics.
MF: I love that you touched on making the house family friendly. Is that something you do for all of your clients with children?
MLB: Family-friendly designs are so important today because people like to use every room in their house. People don’t have formal living rooms anymore; spaces that you have to make super special just for high days and holidays. They have kids and they want to make sure that everything works and flows together. So for me, family-friendly is really about making sure that everything is comfortable, putting nothing into the house that is forbidden to touch. I like to use lots of indoor/outdoor fabrics on the upholstery inside so that nothing can ruin it. Sometimes we even do the same thing with rugs. And one of my favorite parts about working with families is interviewing the kids to get a sense of their personalities so that I can create these fantastic rooms just for them!
MF: You’re a very popular TV personality and I read that you were an actor in a past life. Can you tell us more about your journey to becoming an interior designer?
MLB: Like everyone else, I came to LA with stars in my eyes and wanted to be an actor. For awhile, I flailed around, worked in a coffee shop – the usual story of an aspiring actor. Eventually, I got cast in a little movie and became friendly with one of the producers. After we finished filming, he and his then-girlfriend visited the tiny little house that I was renting in West Hollywood at the time. They loved it and asked me to decorate their offices, which I had not a clue how to do! I was sure that if I took the job they would offer me another film role. So, I finished that project, and then a record producer asked if I would design her office. About two weeks into it, she was getting married. The night before her wedding, her planner OD’d. It was like a True Hollywood Story. She called me hysterical and I told her I would come help, but again had no idea what I was doing. I went to the flower market downtown, got to her house where she was getting married, and whipped up all this stuff. She was thrilled and had me stay for the wedding where I met Cheryl Tiegs, who I had no idea was the first supermodel. By the end of the wedding, she had hired me to do her house. Nine months later, it was on the cover of six magazines around the world. Almost immediately, I worked with Sigourney Weaver, then Rebecca Romaine and John Stamos, Edward Norton, and Christina Aguilera. My work eventually rolled into really big stars like Cher. And now, of course, I’ve worked on every one of the Kardashian’s homes, apart from Kim. I’ve designed for royalty, presidents — it’s been extraordinary!
MF: You must have such a robust, talented team of designers and architects working behind the scenes. How is your office structured?
MLB: We have four architects on staff and a commercial department where we run our hotels and residence programs. At the moment, we’re working on projects like The Raleigh Hotel, which is Miami’s crown jewel of art deco hotels, and owned by Tommy Hilfiger. It is a marvelous and exciting project! We’re also designing The Four Seasons Private Residences in LA, the Kimpton residences in Grand Cayman, and a new hotel in Hollywood. The other side of the residences team is creative design, consisting of about 20 people. I also have a small product studio working on my product lines in many different categories, from table silver to porcelain tiles, fabric, wallpaper, lighting, and bathroom fixtures. I just launched a new line with Corbett Lighting and I’m even designing jewelry!
MF: You have so many incredible licensing deals! How have those developed?
MLB: I was very careful at the beginning with my licenses. Obviously, for years I’ve been very lucky to have extraordinary clients, these very famous people, so it’s difficult to suddenly flip the switch and design your own products. For me, it was very important at the beginning of my licensing, to really start at the top, with the brands at the top of the pyramid. Then I could work down the pyramid, always knowing that I’d retain the very top level because that’s where I started.
MF: What advice would you give a designer who is just starting out?
MLB: When kids ask me what the number one piece of advice I would give, I always say to get a good accountant! As creatives, we’re very good at spending money, both ours and our clients’. You need someone that knows how to balance the books because you can get into great trouble if that doesn’t happen.
MF: The ladies in our office would be very upset if I don’t at least ask what it’s like to work with one of the world’s most famous families, the Kardashians. Anything you can share?
MLB: It’s been an amazing journey! I’ve known them for over 15 years and worked with them now for the last five. Obviously, I worked for Kourtney and Khloé at the same time in houses that are basically next door to each other, but with two very different personalities and styles. That resulted in the first issue of Architectural Digest with two sisters on the cover. And then, slowly, Kris edged me into working with her, and then I did Kendall’s first house, although she’s since moved. Then I did Kylie’s house, which we’re still finishing. The girls are all amazing! I’ve become great friends with the family, and I really actually do love them. They’re all incredible girls and have great ethics. They’re very philanthropic without a lot of people knowing. Kris is an extraordinary matriarch – she’s very, very religious and guides the rest of the family with those values. It’s been an adventure to watch them grow.
MF: What projects do you have on the horizon?
MLB: I designed a line of bathroom accessories for a very high-end French company, Cristal et Bronze, which will launch in January. And my jewelry collection is now in stores for Christmas. It’s such a fun foray for me to do jewelry rather than just regular design objects. I’m working on a beautiful beach house for Ellen Pompeo. We have a few very high-end international projects in London, Paris, Ireland, the Arab Emirates, and Mexico. We also have two more big celebrity projects going on for next year with very interesting people that I can’t talk about yet. Those will be great for me because I get to do some wild designs. We’re looking forward to next year!
MF: Needless to say, we’re looking forward to seeing these projects come to life as well! Thank you for spending time with me today and I hope we catch up in Houston one day soon.