It's only interior designer and television personality Martyn Lawrence Bullard's first day in Hong Kong and he's already embroiled in a celebrity drama despite being an ocean away from Hollywood. He sweeps up to our table at Café Gray Deluxe, having just taken a call from his Los Angeles office. A celebrity client, Khloé Kardashian, had been followed to his office by a pack of paparazzi baying for a comment about Caitlyn Jenner's coming out. Unable to leave via the main entrance, the intrepid Kardashian tried to escape through a bathroom window -- only to get stuck. The call Bullard had received was from the local fire station seeking permission to break his client out of the window.
London-born Bullard, who is currently working on the Los Angeles home Kardashian bought from Justin Bieber earlier this year, is unruffled by the incident. Considering that he counts Elton John, Kid Rock, Felicity Huffman and the Olsen twins among his clientele, and that he's one of the stars of the reality TV show Million Dollar Decorators, such dramas must be old hat for him.
Bullard has a long association with celebrities -- he got his start in interior design with show-business clients, an impressive feat, given that interior design wasn't the career he'd imagined for himself. Bullard had initially travelled to Hollywood as an aspiring actor. After landing a part in the 1998 film I Woke Up Early the Day I Died, he befriended one of the producers, invited the executive and his girlfriend over for dinner one night. The producer was so impressed with Bullard's home decor that he asked him to design his offices.
"I did it for fun and because I thought I'd get another movie," Bullard recalls. "But the day the offices were finished, Capital Records' [vice-president of new media] Liz Heller called me and said, 'Oh, my god, this is amazing. Will you come and do my offices?' I thought, 'I've always wanted to be a pop star; maybe I'll do it and she'll give me a record deal."
No record deal ensued, but Bullard was invited to Heller's wedding, where he was seated next to actress and model Cheryl Tiegs, who is popularly regarded as the first American supermodel. "She hired me to do her new house," Bullard says, "which was literally crazy because she'd interviewed literally the top designers in America. Within nine months, I was on the cover of magazines around the world."
After working with Teigs, Bullard went on to design homes for Sigourney Weaver, Christina Aguilera, Cher and a whole roster of other celebrities -- and became one himself in the process. Bullard, who uses his own house to showcase interior trends he likes, now counts some of Hollywood's hottest names among his circle, having created the spaces where they go to retreat and recharge.
“Design’s a very personal thing,” says Bullard, whose eclectic style has been described as Hollywood glamour meets ethnic exotica. “You end up knowing what people keep in their drawers. You inevitably become friends. They end up asking you, ‘What should I wear to the Oscars? What colour car should I buy? What do you think of this name for my baby?’ You become a part of their lives. It’s a fabulous thing.” And it can get really personal. Bullard was once asked to create a secret sex room for a client. “There was a fingerprint sensor on the wall and a panel opened to reveal a white-box room,” he recalls. “The room became a Fifty Shades of Grey room. We quilted the whole thing in black leather to look like a Chanel handbag, and got gold-plated sex toys and displayed them like works of art.” Considering the big personalities with whom Bullard works, it’s unsurprising that his philosophy is to allow the client’s vision to shine through, rather than to put his own stamp on the project. But there’s always something distinctively him about the designer’s creations, whatever the inspiration for the job, be it the Louis XIV-inspired beds he designs or wallpaper the colour of manta rays in Caribbean waters. Maybe it’s in making a statement, like when Bullard created a series of crowns for luxury silver brand Christofle. Or in being fun and irreverent, as with his Garden of Eden collection for the French crystal brand Daum—it included a chandelier inspired by the temptation of Eve, complete with apple and snake. Bullard’s signature style is also evident in his jewellery lines (chunky rings filled with diamonds) and his personal attire (lots of waistcoats and colourful cravats). He plans to launch a fashion line next year that will include fitted jackets with vintage trim—think Hermès scarves from the ’60s used as edging accents—along with vests and neck apparel. As if he isn’t busy enough, Bullard has added hotel design to his repertoire. Last year he completed his sumptuous redecoration of Château Gütsch in Switzerland, which has led him down a glamorous new path. “I’m doing The Raleigh in Miami for Tommy Hilfiger. It’s going to be his first ever hotel venture and private members club,” he says.
In fact, the purpose behind Bullard’s visit to Hong Kong is to meet Rosewood Hotel Group CEO Sonia Cheng, so hopefully we can look forward to a Bullard-designed hotel in Asia some time soon. Capping his extensive CV are his television shows about design, Hollywood Me, in which he brings unsuspecting Britons to Los Angeles for personal makeovers while he redecorates their homes, and Million Dollar Decorators, which follows Bullard and other designers as they juggle demanding clients. The shows are seen in more than 60 countries. “Fifteen years since I started my career, I’m back in show business—except this time I’m talking about design,” Bullard says. “I’ve come full circle.”