Interior designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard leads a star-studded life. Ranked among the Top 100 international designers by Architectural Digest, British-born Bullard, the son of an opera singer and actor, honed his eye as a boy rummaging through the London flea markets, later selling his wares in antique stalls. Now based in SoCal, with an atelier on West Hollywood’s Melrose Avenue, a home in the Hollywood Hills, and a mid-century showplace in Palm Springs, Bullard has a lengthy list of celebrity clients: Cher, Ellen Pompeo, Elton John, Eva Mendes, Kylie Jenner, both Khloe and Kourtney Kardashian, RuPaul, and Tommy Hilfiger, to name just a few. Bullard shares their stunning homes, each one as unique as the celebrities themselves, in Star Style, his third book.
“Star Style is a celebration of the amazing people I’ve been very privileged to work for and with over the years and especially shows the many different styles I’m able to work in,” says Bullard. “For me, it’s all about creating an interior that is a mirror image of my client’s personality. It’s about being able to make their decorative fantasies come true, whether it is an Irish castle or a surf shack in Maui. My work is not about a formula or a certain style. It is purely created and customized to reflect both the clients’ personality and how they want to live. We are all individuals, and my book shows that no two interiors are ever the same.”
In addition to his design studio, Bullard has a namesake line of fabrics, furniture, and home accessories. He has designed fabric collections for Schumacher, tile lines for Ann Sacks, rugs for The Rug Company, window treatments for The Shade Store, dinnerware for Haviland Limoges, home décor and furnishings for Frontgate, even kitchen ranges for La Cornue. He has also overseen the design of hotels and resorts around the world, including Santa Barbara’s Hotel Californian, which has been highlighted in Ranch & Coast.
In conversation, Bullard offers insights both entertaining and revealing of his unexpected evolution as designer to the stars.
Andrea Naversen: I read that you had no formal education as a designer. So, how and where did you learn?
Martyn Lawrence Bullard: As a child, I loved traveling with my parents, and when visiting new places, making trips to museums and country houses. Those visits sparked my interest in wonderful, interesting objects, and by the age of 12, I had convinced my father that I could use my pocket money to go around to various antique markets, junk stores, and car boot sales to buy things, anything that I thought was pretty and unusual. I would storm the antique markets and would set off to buy things from people’s stalls. I eventually set up my own stall and sold my wares to most unsuspecting American tourists.
My interest just grew and grew, and I continued doing that until I was about 17, by which stage I had made and put away enough money to put myself through drama school, because I wanted to become an actor. My father, who was an opera singer and an actor, didn’t really want me to go that path. But I was determined, so I used my “ill-gotten gains” from the antique market and put myself into the Lee Strasberg theater school and continued my way in doing that by still buying and selling. Unbeknownst to me, those years were really the training ground for who I am today. It taught me where things come from, it taught me how to gather, and it really gave me the foundation for my interior design career.
AN: Tell me more about your early acting experience. How did you transition to interior design?
MLB: I have always loved interior design and never thought that it was something I could do. I thought you had to be trained and you had to go to school, and by the time I realized it could be a way to make a living, I had passed that stage.
When I was 22, I moved to L.A. to continue following my initial passion to be an actor. Like everybody else, I thought I would go to Los Angeles and become a movie star! I ended up working in a coffee shop like everybody else. Eventually, I got cast in a movie alongside Eartha Kitt.
The producer of the movie and his girlfriend came to this tiny apartment I was renting at the time, which I had decorated with goods from the local [flea] market called “The Rose Bowl.” They loved what I had done with the small space and asked me to come and decorate their new offices. They absolutely loved it. I had just completed this when I got a phone call from a lady, Liz Heller, who worked at a record company, asking if I could come and look at her offices in the Capitol [Records] building. This was so crazy. I’d always wanted to be a pop star and I thought if I decorated her offices, she’d make me into a pop star! I met with Liz, we fell in love — she is still one of my closest friends — and I started to work for her. About a month into doing her project, she was getting married at home, and her wedding planner overdosed a day before the wedding — true Hollywood story — and Liz called me in a terrible panic [saying], “What am I going to do?”
I jumped in, went to the flower market, bought big bags of rose petals, flowers, a staple gun, and I helped put her wedding together. She asked me to stay for the wedding and sat me next to a lady named Cheryl Tiegs. I had no idea who she was; I thought she looked like an actress from Charlie’s Angels. By the end of the evening, it turned out that Cheryl was the world’s first supermodel and an American icon. She hired me to do her house!
Within nine months, the house appeared on the covers of six magazines around the world. I was declared a new design star, opened my offices, and that is how my business started 23 years ago. 323.655.5080, martynlawrencebullard.com