Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen: Being brave as you get older is much more important than when you were young

The flamboyant interior designer believes our homes should reflect our personalities – including the outrageous bits. By Lisa Salmon.

Colourful character: Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen
Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen in a patterned suit jacket Colourful character: Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen

Known almost as much for his flamboyant dress sense as for his dare-to-be-different interior design ideas, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen is no stranger to the word ’outrageous’.

So it’s fitting that his latest show, Outrageous Homes, is all about eccentric homeowners, who – like him – aren’t afraid to abandon conventional style.

And the 59-year-old, who rose to fame in the Nineties on the BBC’s iconic home improvement show Changing Rooms, gleefully reveals the idea “quite obviously came out of a very boozy lunch”.

He adds: “We made it a bit like Eurotrash so it was funny, rather than being all about how much or how little your house is worth, and whether people need to decorate in a certain way. Why not just make a celebratory series about the fact everybody is a bit different?

Championing outrageous homes: Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen
Championing outrageous homes: Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen

“There are some people that are so different, and so happy about being so different, that when they come to decorate, they want to just do something that nobody in their right mind would ever want to do, that would take the concept of flying a freak flag into a completely different stratosphere.

“It’s the home design equivalent of Naked Attraction. Yes, it’s all a bit giggly, it’s all a bit, ‘Oh, goodness me look at that – look how that dangles!’”

Featured in the four-part series are a couple whose home and attire are based on a gothic vampire fantasy, including a black lace four-poster bed and red tiled bathroom – plus a walk-in wardrobe to die for.

“We hang out with a couple who want to be 14th century Transylvanian vampires,” says Llewelyn-Bowen. “But actually, they’re so honest about it, and they’re not on some kind of weird, mighty mission to turn the world into 14th century Transylvanian vampires, unlike all those people telling you that you’ve got to paint everything beige.”

Llewelyn-Bowen in the treasure island home which features in new series, Outrageous Homes
Llewelyn-Bowen in the treasure island home which features in new series, Outrageous Homes

And then there’s Dawn, who bought the treasure island and pirate-themed former home of the late publisher Felix Dennis, complete with life-size movement-activated animatronics of Dennis dressed as Long John Silver. “So she’ll be going around with a [vacuum cleaner] or a duster, and suddenly there’s Felix Dennis going ‘Oo-ar, me hearties’,” says Llewelyn-Bowen with a chuckle.

“I wish there were more people that were confident enough to do something that was a bit different, because they wanted to do it,” he continues. “There’s nothing worse than someone who has always wanted to be a bit different, but never really did it. We live in a world where difference can and should be celebrated.”

Another quirky home featured in the series is in Manchester, where householder Estelle introduces Llewelyn-Bowen to the furnishing delights of the 1970s.

“You walk through Estelle’s front door on a very ordinary suburban street, and suddenly you’re in a Joan Collins Cinzano advert, where it’s all so incredibly international and sophisticated,” he says.

“She’s created this kind of Valhalla of Seventies style, where it’s the best possible bits from everywhere, and it really works because it’s all together – it’s so exuberant, so heady. I’m not sure I’d want to live there, but it’s definitely a great place to go on holiday.”

Another Outrageous Home owner is 86-year-old Trevor, who’s spent decades creating his very own Venetian palazzo in suburbia, with plunging light wells, vaulted ceilings and lavish waterways forming a little slice of Italian heaven in Staines.

“Trevor’s been building his own personal Venice just outside Heathrow for something like 30 years,” explains Llewelyn-Bowen. “There’s not much to see on the ground level, but then you descend these staircases and you’re in a series of ruinous Venetian palazzi. There’s someone who at 86 is still proving that as you get older, it’s not a question of embracing the corduroy and the Werther’s Originals, you can actually still keep innovating.”

And that’s what Llewelyn-Bowen and his wife Jackie want to keep doing.

“Jackie has this big thing about us at the moment – our big commitment is that being 60 means we must never stop being brave, and that being being brave as you get older is much more important than it was when you were young and it was very easy,” he says.

So, is his own home as bravely outrageous as we’d all expect, too?

“We live in 17th century listed Cotswolds manor house, so arguably just about everything we’ve done that’s not a shade of beige is a brave thing to do in that kind of context. But I very much believe the original builders would have loved what we’ve done – it’s colourful, it’s patterned, it’s exotic – all these things were a big part of style in the 17th century,” the designer reveals.

“I think you should use something like the 17th century as a starting point for your own feelings about what your home should be. Our attitude has always been to reflect who we are, and that’s not just our house, it’s the clothes we wear, the food we eat. That’s what we do.”

He points out that through the internet, people can see what any outrageous design ideas they may have could look like.

“There are no excuses anymore. The internet can lead you into the most incredible spaces – it gives you a great portal into designers and craftspeople. So, all the things you dream about are absolutely in your power to achieve.

“There are 1,001 reasons to not do something – it’s actually being confident enough to get those reasons why you should do something, and I think something like Outrageous Homes is a great opportunity for people to be inspired.”

Paint is a “great starter”, he says.

“When people move into a house, just paint it. You’re not making a commitment, you don’t have to have that red wall for the rest of your life, but just make it yours, whatever yours might be – actually scent mark where you live, and colour is one of the first and greatest ways of doing that.

“When your haven, your comfort zone, is something that you feel is absolutely you, you become a much happier you,” he adds.

“If there’s one place in your life where you should be allowed a personal expression, it’s your home.”

Outrageous Homes With Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen airs on Channel 4 on Thursday, June 20.