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HOW I MADE IT

Interior designer knows stars' homes inside out

Martyn Lawrence Bullard has a growing list of celebrity clients, including Christina Aguilera, Kid Rock and Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne.

May 10, 2013|By Lauren Beale, Los Angeles Times
  • Interior designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard's product lines include fabrics, wallpapers and furniture. Above, he checks out a print at a Marshalls store in Los Angeles.
Interior designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard's product lines include… (Katie Falkenberg, Los Angeles…)

The gig: Interior designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard is in demand among Hollywood celebrities: Christina Aguilera, Kid Rock and Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne are among his clients. His inviting and eclectic interiors have graced the pages of Architectural Digest, Elle Decor and House Beautiful. His product lines include fabrics, wallpapers and furniture. He's invaded living rooms nationwide on shows such as "Million Dollar Decorator," "The Talk" and "The Young and the Restless."

In the trenches: The path to this abundant success had humble beginnings in London. "My design education was really learned hands-on," Bullard said. At 12, he started using his pocket money to buy antiques and flea-market items. His father would rent a stall where Bullard could sell his "oddments," as he calls them. Through trial and error, he learned to identify decorator items that were valuable or well-designed and how to make money reselling them.

Being discovered: Bullard wanted to become an actor and, at 18, took his earnings and put himself through drama school. Like so many aspiring actors, Bullard moved to Los Angeles. He worked part time in a coffee shop, decorated his rental with secondhand finds and landed some roles, including a minor part in the movie "I Woke Up Early the Day I Died." When a producer from the film visited Bullard's house for a dinner party, he invited the aspiring actor to decorate the offices of the Hollywood Film Works. That led to decorating the office and home of a Capitol Records executive and jumping in to help out at her wedding, where Bullard ended up seated next to Cheryl Tiegs. The supermodel invited him to interview to work on the design of her Bel-Air home and became his first celebrity client.

Word gets out: Bullard and Tiegs transformed her house into a Balinese-inspired pavilion that has appeared on more than a dozen magazine covers and been featured in magazines around the world. "That opened the door to people calling me — Sigourney Weaver, John Stamos, Christina Aguilera," Bullard said. Soon he was moving on to such celebrities as Elton John and Cher.

The partnership approach: In designing for clients, Bullard starts by getting to know their likes and dislikes. "I'm there to be the enabler to make their dreams come true," Bullard said. "I love learning about my clients' characters, extracting that and putting it into their interiors."

One of a kind: "Sometimes you find the best-looking items that were made for another use," said Bullard, who works and shops around the world. "I bought the facade of a building in India and later used it for the front of a closet at Cher's house." He may buy a tabletop and cut it down to create a coffee table. At Tiegs' house, a fireplace surround was once part of a temple. "My clients expect one-off things," he said. "Repurposing is very important."

Advice to others: "Never follow a trend," Bullard said. "Only follow your heart and your true decorative spirit." The way to make a name in interior design, he said, is to really stand out in the crowd. The designers and companies that did this flourished even through the recession, he added, continuing to work and extending their brands.

Keep it real: "One of the first lessons in life is one must have real honesty in your career and in the way you deal with your clients. That garners respect," Bullard said.

Inspired approach: Among Bullard's favorite design legends is Lorenzo Mongiardino, an Italian architect and production designer who displayed "mad flourishes of theatricality." Bullard's design sense also was influenced by David Hicks, a British decorator who added a modern edge to traditional designs. Bullard's love of eclecticism is evident in his own mix of styles.

Time constraints: "Personally, my biggest challenge is there are not enough hours in the day," said Bullard, who relies on a staff of 15 employees who share his vision.

Expanding his sphere: Bullard, 46, is launching tile, menswear and jewelry lines this year. He has his own television production company. The author of "Live, Love & Decorate," he is working on a new book. The main office of Martyn Lawrence Bullard Design is on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, but he maintains a small office in London and will open another in New York. "My real office is the one on the plane," said Bullard, who calls L.A. home.

Honored: The designer said he was particularly pleased to win the prestigious Andrew Martin International Interior Designer of the Year award in 2010. "The past recipients are people I really respect," he said. The mayor of West Hollywood has declared Oct. 18 to be Martyn Lawrence Bullard day.

Giving back: Bullard supports the Elton John AIDS Foundation and P.S. Arts, a nonprofit arts education organization for children.

A Hollywood story in reverse: "I came here at 24 to be in the movies," Bullard said, "and ended up a year later tripping into this interior design world."

lauren.beale@latimes.com

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