Lush life: Restored 1920s Italian-style mansion

He designs fabulous, luxurious interiors for the stars of the silver screen, so it’s no wonder Martyn Lawrence Bullard’s own home – once owned by Rudolph Valentino – should be a glamorous homage to old Hollywood

Not too many interior designers have their own official ‘day’ on the calendar. But if you happen to be in Los Angeles, on October 18, you can join in the celebrations on Martyn Lawrence Bullard Day. It’s just one of the designer’s many achieve­ments – and one he could never have imagined in his time as a London stall holder. But, with a life story that reads like a movie script, it’s no surprise he ended up in Hollywood.
As a boy in London, Martyn spent his weekends scouring flea markets for antique finds to sell on at a profit. It was a creative hobby but with a definite business edge – he wanted to pursue a career in showbiz (his father had been an actor and singer), so his earnings funded his time at stage school.
He made his way to Hollywood in his early 20s where he survived on bit parts, even landing a role opposite the legendary Eartha Kitt. If it didn’t kick-start his movie career, that film did at least introduce him to LA producer Vincent Ginzburg. He had dinner at Martyn’s modest apartment and loved what the inventive would-be actor had done to the place, so asked him to decorate the studio’s offices.
From that point on, word of mouth kept Martyn in work, though not in the role he’d dreamed of. Interior design might not have been his intended career path but it’s the one that could see him earn a star on the Hollywood walk of fame.
“You can’t learn taste,” Martyn believes, “but you can buy it.” And there is no shortage of famous names happy to pay for his magic touch: Cher, Aaron Spelling, Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne and Eva Mendes are just a few of the A-listers on his books. He has over­hauled their properties, transforming them into glitzy, show-stopping homes worthy of their starry owners. Getting to know the client personally is, he says, the best way to find the right interiors scheme. That way, the results speak of the owner, not the designer.
Martyn’s own home has married his own design sensibilities with the character of the property – and what character this house has: teeming with enough glamour and drama to rival Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond, it deserves its own place in the cast list of his biopic. The Italian-style villa, which he bought in 2003, has the “rare quality of making people feel automatically com­for­table”. Odd-shaped rooms, curved walls, well-worn floors and uneven plaster made the place irresistible: “It’s like you’ve been transported to a secret ancient villa in the Umbrian hills or the old town of Seville.”
A resident of Los Angeles for 25 years, Martyn has grown accus­tomed to the idiosyncratic properties common to this coast. He used to live in a house on an old back lot in West Hollywood that was built by Charlie Chaplin as his dressing rooms. “It had small rooms with very high ceilings – one room had an old oak tree that grew through the middle of it,” recalls Martyn. He decorated this quirky, romantic place accordingly, with a mix of quintessentially English styles and colonial touches.

This is just a taster, you can browse the full article with more stunning photography on pages 170-180, issue 95.

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Words Catherine Coyle
Photography Tim Street-Porter
What A restored 1920s Italian-style mansion with a courtyard garden
Where West Hollywood, Los Angeles