It should come as no surprise that acclaimed interior designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard studied drama in college.
He got himself there by first studying the basics of interior design. “In London, when I was 12 years old, I’d go to flea markets and antique stores, and with my allowance I could buy anything I wanted,” he says. “All the things I bought with pocket money I would sell—my dad rented a store for me in Greenwich Market on Saturdays.”
He decorated that store with china plates, silver spoons, and anything else he thought was good and that he could make look great. “I learned what things were and where they came from,” he says. “It was hands-on training, until I was about 17 and I’d earned enough to go to drama school.”
After graduation, Bullard headed for Hollywood, working in a coffee shop and corralling his share of bit parts on screen. “I played Eartha Kitt’s boy toy in I Woke Up Early the Day I Died,” he says of the 1998 camp comedy.
Alas, a film career was not in the cards. But he did get a break when director Victor Ginzburg of Hollywood Filmworks came to his apartment and loved what he saw. “He asked me to come and decorate their offices,” he says. “And I did.”
The day that project finished, Liz Heller, president of Capitol Records, called and asked him to design the company’s executive offices. “I went there, got to work, and we became great friends,” he says. “And she invited me to help with her wedding.”
At the wedding, he was seated next to supermodel Cheryl Tiegs. And in nine months’ time, he’d designed the interiors for her house. “It was on six magazine covers around the world, and my career was launched,” he says. “That was 26 years ago.”
Much more more recently, Bullard was asked to design major interiors for a new residential tower on Grand Cayman. High drama is the name of his game there, too.
Open the front door to The Residences at Seafire’s 10th-floor penthouse, priced at $8 million, and you’ll revel in a jaw-dropping juxtaposition of art and nature. There’s a quartet of Andy Warhol’s Flowers series (1970), mounted on a blue-and-maize patterned wall covering, along with a sweeping, floor-to-ceiling vista of the aquamarine Caribbean Sea.
The layered combination of art, fabric, and furniture is the product of Bullard’s theatrical imagination—and the first of many show-stopping experiences inside a living space that’s almost 4,000 square feet with five bedrooms.
“It’s very fresh,” says architect Scott Lee, president and principal of San Francisco-based SB Architects. “Martyn’s work is an essay in color and patterns; he brings uniqueness to any project he works on.”
It was a happy coincidence for SB Architects that Bullard was selected to design the tower’s penthouse suite as well as its first-floor model, vestibules, onyx-clad lobby, sales office, and the Nest, its rooftop entertainment area. “We’d worked with him on a house in Hawaii and another in Malibu,” Lee says. “He’s got a bit of star power. He designed homes for Kid Rock, the Kardashians, Elton John, and Cher.”
“We particularly liked the remodel he did of Tommy Hilfiger’s home,” says Jackie Doak, president of Dart Real Estate, the developers of the resort and residences.
“His expertise resonates with the target buyer, who’d say, ‘Wow! That’s the cream of the crop!’ ” relates Lee. “He’s in a kind of rarified air—there’s a brand-name recognition that appeals to buyers in the luxury, multi-family residential world.”
The penthouse design—complete with plenty of tall, wide windows and doors, all opening up to terraces and views—gave Bullard abundant opportunities to emphasize the connection between inside and out. “The days of French doors are gone; we don’t have any of those,” Lee says. “All the doors here are large and sliding, so that when they’re open, you don’t know they’re there.”
For a clean and modern look, the architects eschewed ornament, crown molding, and baseboards. “We wanted as many views as possible from the kitchen, the baths, and the master suite,” Lee says. “We wanted to be sure we were letting in as much light into as many spaces as possible.”
Bullard’s assignment was to deliver his signature style in response to the tower’s powerful Caribbean surroundings. “I wanted a real pop, something modern but beach-like,” Bullard says. “I wanted to get to the essence of beach life and the best parts of the Caymans: the ocean and the spectacular sunsets that you get there.”
Other residences on the island may be grand and glamorous, but Bullard wanted his penthouse to be hip and edgy—yet still feel homey. “I wanted the owners to feel an exciting space that they could really live in, not just a vacation vibe,” he says. “I wanted a real space and a real destination that would feel very comfortable, with organic elements added into it.”
He selected wall coverings with patterns and textures that relate to the island’s storied history. “Grand Cayman was founded on a basket-weaving community, and I wanted to work with that in a modern way,” says the celebrity designer. “So all these wall coverings of dried and woven sea grasses are dyed in colors to capture the Caymans. There’s orange for the sunlight and blue for the sea, with textured layers to capture it all.”
Bullard’s color palette also refers back to the colors of sand and sky—and especially burnt sienna for the sunsets. “The name Seafire is for the flame oranges in the sunsets,” he explains. “So all of it is taken from nature. It’s all about island life in the 21st century.”
Bullard has a definition for what that kind of life should be, and interprets it here in his own bespoke way. “I believe that modern luxury is comfort, a sanctuary for the client and a real mirror to them for family and friends to see,” he says.
Bullard’s firm now employs 25 people, with an office in Los Angeles and satellites in London and New York. They’re presently at work on projects around the globe: in Ireland, Saudi Arabia, Istanbul, Miami, Malibu, and Connecticut. He’s headed to Italy in 2018 to shop for his first-ever Venetian palazzo.
The hotels he works on are legendary and iconic. “We’re doing the Raleigh in Miami Beach, the Hotel Californian in Santa Barbara, the Regent in Hollywood, the Sands in Palm Springs, and the Four Seasons Residences in Beverly Hills,” he says.
As Bullard travels, he’s known for taking pictures, making notes, and bringing it all back to Los Angeles for future reference. That could mean a smell, a taste, a face, a building, or a shopping bag. Whatever inspires him will ultimately find its way into a client’s interior.
An acting career may have eluded him in the past, but today he’s the star of a whole other kind of show.
For more information visit martynlawrencebullard.com
Image Credits: Lu Tapp.