A taste for colour

A taste for colour
British celebrity designer Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen is painting a mural titled Et In Cocktail Ego in the House of Dandy pub in Tras Street.

Striding into the hotel lobby in an immaculate navy suit, celebrity designer Laurence Llewellyn- Bowen, 50, looks every bit like the imposing judge he is on interior design competition The Apartment, which airs in Singapore on Star World (StarHub TV Channel 501, Singtel TV Channel 301).

However, once the amiable Briton eases into a chair and starts discussing 18th-century Gustavian architecture with unassuming candour, it becomes clear that there is a side to him that is not seen on television.

As the host of popular programmes such as the BBC show Changing Rooms and the celebrity edition of The Apartment, Mr Llewellyn-Bowen has become known for his short temper and flamboyant outfits rather than for the depth of his artistic expertise.

In truth, this is a man with a fine-arts degree from Camberwell College of Arts, one of the world's foremost art institutions, as well as 28 years of design experience under his belt.

He promotes a posh and self- confessed "haute couture" style of interior design but this is not an aesthetic that he inherited.

"I grew up in a house that was rather understated and tasteful. Quite irritating, really," he recalls.

The overwhelming beige of his childhood gave the Londoner a taste for colour, which he hopes to share with as many people as possible. This is certainly one of his objectives for his exclusive SG50 collection with local furniture store Courts, which will be released on May 23.

"I want to open the doors of Marie Antoinette's wardrobe and invite everyone in. I want them to experience everyday luxury," he says.

Not everyone appreciates his style of design but this certainly does not bother the candid father of two daughters.

"I know there are people who dislike me, but they are not the 'It Crowd' as far as I am concerned. I do not have to hang around them."

1. How did you get into interior design?

All children are instinctively drawn to art. Unfortunately, society tends to tell them to give that up, which is why many adults tend to miss creativity as they get older. They get excited about cooking or gardening because they can express themselves in a way that they are not able to in their jobs.

So, really, I was just like everyone else. I wanted to express the world around me, so I started doing art.

From there, the progression into interior design was natural. My fine-arts background gave me a flexible approach to creativity, which was actually what it was like in the renaissance.

You would ask an artist like Leonardo da Vinci to paint your portrait, design your frock and pick out your curtains. It's only in the modern world that we compartmentalise design.

2. What is your design philosophy?

For me, it all boils down to creating a relationship between different things. Whether that is past and present, East and West, red and green, my goal is to create an equilibrium.

Also, I approach all my design work with the same rigid intellect. Even when I design for a multi-retailer, I create products that people dream of owning, just such that they are also affordable.

That is very important to me - affordability. Design is principally about communication and if you design something so expensive that only two people can afford it, then that is a hollow conversation.

3. How did you get involved with television work?

Being on television was never part of the plan, it was just something that came about. That being said, my work on TV still relates to my core, which is a desire for communication. The television stuff, that is not my day job. Of course it is useful, but ultimately, my passport doesn't say television host, it says designer.

4. Do you design differently for Asian and European markets?

No. Design should be about a voice which stays consistent no matter what. If anything, Asia has been more receptive to my designs than Europe.

In Asia, there is a greater enjoyment for ornamentation, especially in Peranakan culture. In contrast, people in Europe sometimes think that my designs are too much.

5. What do you think of Singapore?

It is very green, which is an unusual urban experience. Also, the city has done something very clever, which is unite many influences to create its own thing. As a design brief, the SG50 collection is exciting because it requires a stitching together of different elements.

However, in terms of interior design, I think Singaporeans could afford to be more bold. It seems like Singaporeans are scared of colour when it comes to their homes, which is weird because the culture, in my experience, is so colourful.

6. Has being in the public spotlight ever affected your creative process?

Not at all. I am lucky because I am very decisive about things. I think that a "designer's block" is quite self- indulgent. If people have the faith to ask me to design something, then I should have the tact to do it.

And besides, I have never been bothered by what people say about me because ultimately, my brand sells well. If I had to fall back on something to make me feel better - which, luckily I do not - it would be that more people in the UK own my brand than any other furniture brand.

7. How has the design world changed since you started out?

Back then, there was still this idea that rich people had design and everyone else just had stuff that they bought. It is only recently that a desirable lifestyle became something we could all have.

There has also been a shift towards more DIY, which is something I support. Our homes are too personal to just be designed around an aesthetic vision. It has to be emotional as well.

8. How would you like to be remembered?

I am not really bothered. My life was for me and it would be rude to ask for anything more. I have had a wonderful time, so I am quite happy for the door to simply shut behind me.

rebeccat@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on April 13, 2015.
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