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Step Inside Martyn Lawrence Bullard’s Opulent L.A. Oasis

Jun 16, 2023

“When you walk in, you are immediately swept up in the romance of history and this old style of living.”

This article originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of ELLE DECOR. For more stories from our archive, subscribe to ELLE DECOR All Access.

Known for dramatic interiors that meld Hollywood glamour and ethnic exotica, Martyn Lawrence Bullard doesn’t just design for A-listers—Cher, Elton John, and Jimmy Choo’s Tamara Mellon, to name-drop a few—he also lives like a star. For eight years, the droll Londoner, seen on Bravo’s Million Dollar Decorators, has made his home in a 2,800-square-foot 1922 Mediterranean villa in Whitley Heights, one of Los Angeles’s first celebrity enclaves. Previous tenants have included silent-film icons Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson. Later, novelist William Faulkner wrote screenplays on the balcony off what is now Bullard’s primary bedroom.

“It’s amazing to live with something original,” says the designer, who decamped for L.A. in 1994 as an aspiring actor and now plays himself on TV. “When you walk in, you are immediately swept up in the romance of history and this old style of living.”

Yet even the charms of the old can grow, well, old. Without sacrificing the louche feeling of the 1920s—an era when movie stars built Egyptian-revival rooms and decorated with Chinese opium beds—Bullard set about transforming the home he shares with his partner, producer Michael Green, and their Wheaten terrier, Diva. Having popularized the current bohemian-decor craze in his clients’ houses and at the Colony Palms Hotel in Palm Springs, Bullard brought it home, creating a worldly sanctuary that accommodates his modern lifestyle and passion for films, fashion, travel, and photography.

The designer turned a tiny maid’s room into “the world’s smallest tented screening room” with mother-of-pearl inlaid tables and a Moroccan pendant that casts starlight patterns on the ceiling. A guest room became a 300-square-foot “gentleman’s wardrobe” with red cabinetry, a cedar-lined cupboard for cashmeres, and walls upholstered in Bullard’s hand-loomed Darya Ikat for Schumacher. The designer adorned the walls with photographs of Hollywood legends by Herb Ritts, Jean Howard, and Yul Brynner.

In the rambling hillside yard, Bullard added an outdoor kitchen, fire pit, fountain, and lounging areas. Stephen Block of L.A.’s Inner Gardens conjured an oasis referencing Yves Saint Laurent’s Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech. “We used purple philodendron, blue agave, and imperial bromeliads—plants that were found in 1920s gardens—for architecture and contrast,” Block says. “It’s lush Old Hollywood with Martyn’s contemporary, theatrical edge.” The outdoor space offers Bullard after-work respite: “I come out, have a glass of wine, and decompress. It reminds me of gardens I saw as a kid going to Marbella.”

Bullard grew up in Chislehurst, Kent, “a smart suburb south of London, where we lived in a Victorian Tudor that had black chintz Sanderson curtains with emerald-green trees and birds,” he recalls. Fascinated with the castles and grand hotels he saw while traveling with his actor-businessman father, Bullard began buying and selling baubles at 12, amassing an encyclopedic knowledge of antiques. “England absorbed all the decorative influences of its vast empire,” he says. “English interiors over the centuries are a mashup of everything.

His design inspirations are similarly catholic, embracing Italian theater and film-set designer Renzo Mongiardino, English modernist David Hicks, and Hollywood Regency legends. “William Haines understood the human body and proportions in furniture,” he explains, “and how can I not appreciate Tony Duquette’s flights of fancy?”

The globe-trotting Bullard’s new decor scheme was informed by India, where he and Mary McDonald traveled to develop a holiday collection for the online retailer One Kings Lane. He bought a chandelier made of Bavarian crystal “but styled for a maharaja’s palace,” he says. “Anything that’s a little quirky, I fall in love with.” His home is filled with such treasures. Indian cobra candlesticks, paned Peruvian mirrors, ivory and tortoiseshell boxes, and 18th-century Milanese cabinets all sit comfortably with his own designs—updates of British country-house upholstery and Spice Route furniture. “The house feels like a modern take on traditional English decorating,” Bullard says in an accent as rich as toffee. “The gentleman of the past who would finish his education with the Grand Tour and bring home classic pieces. That’s something we can still do. As the world becomes smaller, why not mix all these cultures into your interiors?”

To calm the spaces that he has filled with patterns and textured fabrics, Bullard dialed things down elsewhere. “I am known for mad colors,” he admits, “but the downstairs is mostly black and white, and that’s soothing. I have been on 49 planes this year,” he adds with a sigh, “so, for me, being home is like a vacation. I can recharge my batteries.”

Equally important, home is a social salon for friends. “Sunday is pizza night or salad, depending on what my diet is that week,” Bullard jokes. They mingle, illuminated by lamps whose shades the designer lined with gold: “When you get to be a certain age you need to know about lighting.” Afterward, they gather, movie-star style, for a screening. “It’s a cozy place to watch new films,” Bullard says, “although there’s nothing wrong with a repeat of Downton Abbey.”

This story originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of ELLE DECOR.

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This story originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of ELLE DECOR.