Interiors: Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen designs beautiful Cirencester home
PUBLISHED: 12:22 02 June 2020 | UPDATED: 12:22 02 June 2020
Candia McKormack talks to Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen about working on a design project close to his heart – and Siddington home – as well as trying to get home from Australia during lockdown, and seeking the elusive positives in Covid-19
Interior design sex god, This Country muse and Siddington resident, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, found himself on the other side of the world from wife Jackie and family when the coronavirus hit.
“It was a real challenge getting home from Australia,” he says, now safely ensconced in his 16th-century manor house, surrounded by family. “For a start I was having to dodge the closures that spread state-by-state across the country and maintain a serene yet glamorous face, whilst secretly panicking the airlines might not have a seat for me.”
In typical LLB style, though, not only did he escape Sydney where he had been filming season 7 of House Rules, but did so with “several trunks of flouncy things.”
“I heard from Jackie that the UK was sliding inexorably into quarantine,” he says. “It was very unsettling being literally on the other side of the planet away from all that I hold most dear and holy whilst society sounded as if it was dissolving in front of everyone’s eyes.”
Before the recent global dramas unfolded, however, he found a design project much closer to home to get stuck into, in the form of a four-bedroom David Wilson-built home near Cirencester.
“Y’know, I think people always assume that I’m far too busy flitting all over the world to entertain the idea of top-to-toe do-overs,” he says. “Actually, if the brief’s exciting and there is, of course, plenty of gin, me and my swashbuckling team of Designateers are up for an intriguing domestic challenge or two.”
And so he set about fulfilling the brief for his client who wanted to go beyond all the Cotswold clichés, “setting aside the Farrow & Ball tropes in favour of rooms with swagger, sophistication, and glamorous dollops of Hollywood Regency.”
“My favourite kind of job is one I can do where I live,” he continues, “so I always jump at the opportunity when I’m asked to work in the Cotswolds. This one was a brand-spanking new house, just a stone’s throw away from my home, and the juxtaposition wasn’t lost on me. The seamless confluence of new and old is something that the Cotswolds does in a uniquely successful way, and I love the idea that the oldest and newest homes might use stones from the same quarry.”
A few years ago, he was tasked with revamping the impressive 19th-century mock castle Cecily Hill Barracks in Cirencester for money.co.uk, who have their head offices there. The result is a £3 million spectacular collision of rock ‘n’ roll sensibilities and timeless baronial style, and nothing has made me want to move offices from Cotswold Life HQ more. It really is quite spectacular.
“Going from the relative grandeur of the Cecily Hill Barracks,” he says, “to a small-ish family space was a great way to flex my design muscles, giving me an opportunity to apply the same design style I might use to refresh an aged country manor in a house almost identical to the rest of the neighbourhood.
“My first stop was to break-up the living room walls with some lightly-deployed classical proportion, through dado panelling and subtle picture lighting,” he continues. “The cobalt blue walls [interestingly announced as the Pantone Colour of the Year just as the project was completed] is the perfect way to administer a hefty dose of urbane Hollywood Regency to any Cotswold living room.”
Fortunately for those of us with little or no artistic bent, Laurence’s gorgeous designs are available to buy in the form of wallpapers so, even if just a statement wall, you can inject a bit of LLB sexy into your home. And the Cirencester showcase is a great example of this.
“Using one of my designs in the hallway, I added an ombré that swept through the space all the way up the stairwell, accentuating its height,” he says. “A spot of tropically-influenced hand-painting in the kitchen worked wonderfully alongside the Italianate garden design just outside.
But surely, what works in a country manor house can’t be pulled off in a modest, modern family home?
“People are quick to call me a maximalist,” he says, “and I’m fine about that because impact is the key to getting smaller spaces to work properly. Getting rid of everything won’t make your room look bigger, it just makes it look empty.”
You’d be forgiven for thinking that life chez Llewelyn-Bowen must be a similar show of excess, but you’d be very wrong. And this current crisis has shown exactly how level-headed, practical - and even thrifty - the L-Bs can be, with Jackie in particular showing admirable skills as homemaker, creative cook, gardener and mother of hens.
“I think it’s the human condition – no, actually the British way – to always make something positive out of a negative situation,” Laurence confirms, “and, yes, we are now trying across the board to make everything work better and be more gentle in everything we do. Jackie who is, let’s face it, Mother Russia meets Mary Berry, has created such a wonderful and welcoming lifestyle within our stockade. Vegetables being planted, eggs are being gathered (obviously from the hens) and we’ve all decided to use local independent suppliers rather than the supermarkets.”
Of course, we are all trying to make the best of the situation we find ourselves in, but surely it’s a challenge trying to accentuate those positives and eliminate the negatives... and who can imagine Laurence messing with Mr Inbetween?
“We’re all working very hard to make the set isolation experience nurturing and positive,” he says, thoughtfully. “Actually, when you think about it, most of us spend so much time moaning that we don’t have enough time to be together, to read, to relax, to spend time in the garden; this is surely an opportunity for everyone to enjoy rebooting and slowing down. That said, there are still mornings when life inside the homestead feels more than a little bit Game of Thrones – we’ve had a couple of Red Breakfasts.”
And the immediate future of the business? There can be no working trips to Australia and Asia on the cards for the near future, so what impact is coronavirus having on the LLB empire, and how is Laurence and his team making best use of the period of self-isolation in the Cotswolds?
“We’ve spent the time to redesign and relaunch our website, LLB.co.uk,” he says, “to make it as inspirational and topical as possible to alleviate the feelings of claustrophobia I think a lot of us are feeling. I’m also recording a series of fireside chats, that I like to think are like a podcast with pictures, called Laurence’s School of Flock. I’m also remotely promoting my new series which has just started in America on the Discovery Channel, as well as House Rules: High Stakes season 7, which has just started.”
So, with more time at home in the Cotswolds planned and the probability of more design work on this side of the globe, does Laurence feel his wings are being clipped... or is this in fact another opportunity in a – let’s face it, pretty dark – disguise?
“Being able to influence and improve the area where I live is such a privilege and one that I don’t take lightly,” he concludes. “The Cotswold design style inevitably starts with Arts and Crafts but has found so many creative ways to interpret those rules that everything you see here has a sense of unity whilst remaining unique. Every village and town has such distinct personality, but they are all just undeniably ‘Cotswolds’.”