Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen: 'I'm all about full-fat decor' - interview
He has only one rule for design. Everything must be glamorous and eloquent. Or to put it simply – 'very Laurence'.
Known for his flamboyant and vibrant taste in home furnishings, there's no holding back Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen.
He freely admits to throwing everything into his interior designs, wanting to bring a touch of luxury to our every day lives.
"It's full-fat decorating," he jokes. "There's nothing diet about it. It's rich, it's creamy, there's always lots to it. It's got weight and it's opulent. You get plenty of bang for your buck.
"I think the best way to describe my style is 'very Laurence'. I've even heard people saying 'that's very Laurence'," explains the 51-year-old 'home-style consultant'.
So, where does he get his inspiration from? "Gin mostly," he jokes, before adding that he likes to draw on both past and current trends.
"The past is very important to me but it's essential that we can move tastes forward too," he adds.
The energetic designer first bounced on to our TV screens in Changing Rooms in a flash of loud suits and wacky design dreams in 1996.
Not afraid to stand out from the crowd, Laurence, who graduated from the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts, was able to eventually win most homeowners over with his lavish and colourful style.
Unfortunately, some times his ideas were just a little too outlandish. Laurence, who later went on to present the BBC show, once decorated a room using animal print stencils. It did not go well. There were both tears and expletives from the shocked residents as their new-look lounge was revealed to them.
But these days Laurence can be seen on another home makeover show – DIY SOS: The Big Build – bringing a bit of glamour into the living rooms and bedrooms of those who may not normally be able to afford it.
He also helps people in desperate need of their homes being re-modelled to cater for their specific needs, often due to life-changing injuries or illnesses.
For Laurence it's a chance to make a difference and it's a show that he's very proud to be part of.
He says he 'loves' every moment of making the programme, which he credits for bringing out the best in everyone.
"It seems to touch the nation's hearts. I love it. It's 20 years since Changing Rooms started and it's really good that the makeover genre has evolved.
"With Changing Rooms it was about two neighbours, there was a challenge element and it was quite confrontational. DIY SOS is all about life-changes. It's about making people's lives much, much better and the community coming together – and seeing sweaty, sweaty builders crying into their hard hats," Kensington-born Laurence tells us.
But there was one project in particular that brought tears to his own eyes and it was for Children In Need.
It involved the transformation of a Victorian house in Blackpool into a young carers centre – a cause he explains is close to his heart following the death of his mother Patricia, who had multiple sclerosis.
"My mother was very ill throughout my childhood. I wasn't a young carer but it is something I can empathise with," explains Laurence who's been married to wife Jackie since 1989.
Filming these life-changing makeovers can be very touching for all involved, he tells us.
"At the end of 10 frantic days I stand next to a sweaty Nick Knowles – not too close, down wind from him – and see hundreds of builders crying. It is really emotional," explains Laurence.
A spin-off from the show has seen a rise in requests for his couture wallpaper.
On DIY SOS, he's created one-of-a-kind patterns such as a special zebra inspired motif for a teenager battling a debilitating condition.
He has a collection with Graham & Brown but also designs bespoke wallpapers which are increasing in popularity.
"People want me to design a wallpaper to reflect their taste and bring their rooms alive.
"I will talk through the look they want and they have control over the scale. If they want dancing cherubs over their beds then that's what they get."
Laurence, who started his own design consultancy firm in 1989, says he's sometimes surprised by what people choose but says he's happy to accommodate their wishes as long as it's done in a classy way.
"I've had a few erotic requests for the boudoir. It seems after 50 Shades of Grey the country has to decided to let its hair down in the bedroom. There is a history of erotic decorating in Europe so it's nothing new," he jokes.
"I'm happy to design what people want as long as it's glamorous and eloquent," he adds.
One thing he's passionate is about is his belief that style doesn't need to cost the earth and there are options to suit all budgets.
"Two hundred years ago only aristocrats could afford silky wallpaper but now anyone can afford it – a roll of my Graham & Brown wallpaper is £14."
As well as style becoming more affordable, he says the emergence of smart technology in homes does not mean any compromises have to be made when it comes to design.
"One of the noticeable things in terms of style is that technology is fitting around us. Ten years ago it would dominate a room. Now televisions sit on the wall like pieces of art or are hidden behind mirrors.
"Technology is a big part of how we decorate, it's been embraced and technology has embraced style," he explains.
As well as his interior design work and DIY SOS, the father-of-two has a hectic year ahead including two TV shows in Malaysia and Australia in the coming months.
It includes filming for The Apartment which challenges celebrities from the worlds of TV, music, high fashion and film to prove they have what it takes in design, and has proven a huge hit with audiences in Asia and South America.
"I'm on 130 million television screens from Japan to Mexico," he quips.
Laurence says he's looking forward to an action-packed year. "I've got some exciting things coming up and 2017 is going to be busy – any thoughts of going gently into retirement have gone out the window!"
By Heather Large
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