The 1920s Mediterranean-style villa that celebrity interior designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard recently purchased in West Hollywood had undeniable star power before he even moved in. Previously inhabited by Dennis Hopper, Tina Turner, and Andy Warhol, the property was refreshed by Bullard himself back in the ’90s for one of his clients, late-night television host Craig Kilborn.
“I had always loved the house and thought it was the ultimate little L.A. pad,” the London-born, Los Angeles–based designer recalls of the home, which is perfectly situated in the heart of the Hollywood Hills, just minutes from his office. “When I heard it was for sale and I could afford to buy, I couldn’t believe it. I was the first person to see it, and I bought it even before it officially went on the market.”
Amazingly enough, it looked almost exactly the same as when Bullard first designed the residence 20 years prior, down to the original furniture, as it had been sold fully furnished twice in that time.
“It was so bizarre. It was like walking into a time capsule,” he says. “But, that being said, it needed a complete renovation.” So the A-list designer—who counts Elton John, Cher, Tommy Hilfiger, and the Kardashians among his clients—embarked on a quest to create a home that accurately reflects his personal style and how he and his longtime partner, Michael Green, actually live.
“There are quite a lot of unexpected twists in here, which is something that is the signature of my work,” Bullard says. “I like to mix the old and new. I like to mix periods. In decorating, there should be no rules. And certainly, for somebody like myself, where one’s home becomes an experiment pad, it’s important to take the things that you love and see how you can make them work together.”
Bullard let the architecture dictate the direction of his designs. “Since it’s a Mediterranean-style house, I wanted to add Moorish flavor to it—I think it adds a certain sex appeal,” he explains. “I also wanted to incorporate the midcentury look and comfort level I’ve been using in so many of my projects lately.”
Known for his unabashed intermingling of graphic prints and vibrant colors, Bullard layered bold patterns on top of a black-and-white palette that’s first introduced in the marble flooring in the entry foyer.
“Black and white to me is always a perfect neutral,” he says. “It allows the architectural details to pop. You can add any color to it and make it your own. It’s like a face: Black and white becomes a perfect bone structure, and to it you can add whatever makeup you want to create the look.”
A big believer that every home needs a star moment, Bullard created one here on the living room ceiling, which he says his artist, Brad Southwick, painted flat on his back for three weeks.
“The ceiling had a beautiful fault, and I wanted to make a feature of it, but I didn’t want to add plaster,” Bullard says. “So to do the paintwork in a really strong scale not only gave that room major wham-bam, but it also made the room feel taller and adds real vocal impact to the house.”
For four months, while the rest of the house was under construction, Bullard gutted the kitchen, giving it a dynamic face-lift. In an effort to make it feel like “more than a typical kitchen,” he incorporated a bit of Moroccan spice—seen in the backsplash of zellige tiles and the screenwork silhouetted by aged brass on the cabinet doors—while integrating all the latest mod cons, such as top-of-the-line appliances deftly concealed behind custom cabinetry.
“I wanted all the best appliances, yet I still wanted the kitchen to feel like it was of the architecture,” he says. “And I used these two beautiful green colors—one that’s a deeper shade that reflects the greenery from the garden, and the second is lighter, a little bit more fresh and modern in palette.”
As part of his extensive renovation, Bullard transformed all of the bathrooms into sanctuary spaces of lavish marble, with sumptuous soaking tubs. He reconfigured entire rooms, too, including the bar area, which he converted from a breakfast nook, and the dining space, which he opened up to the kitchen, to create a less-formal place to better accommodate gatherings. A massive custom kitchen island by Christopher Peacock extends to a giant arch that denotes the dining area, which now feels more welcoming and airy.
“I also changed the windows in the dining room,” he says, “so they disappear into the wall and completely open up to incorporate the garden into that experience.”
Bullard also added a 1,000-square-foot expansion that contains a tented screening room oozing with old Hollywood charm and Moroccan flair, plus an enhanced grand master suite that encompasses a gigantic master bath with abundant marble details and a brass tub; a large seating area; an impressive combination dressing room–closet; and, behind the bed, a wall clad in grisaille wallpaper, depicting a tropical scene that plays off of the large magnolia trees visible just outside.
In another instance of melding the interiors and exteriors, when designing the backyard oasis of his three-bedroom, four-bathroom, 4,200-square-foot home, Bullard drew from the black-and-white palette of the interiors for the tile work of the patio area and pool, which he completely reshaped. He also constructed an upper-deck level with an outdoor bar and TV screening area, added a side patio complete with a firepit, and totally relandscaped the grounds.
“I wanted to make the garden a destination,” he says. “So it has lots of wonderful lounge seating and different areas carved out, and it’s all beautifully lit at night. It has that vacation feel, which inevitably is what you want for your own garden if you can create it. That vacation-at-home experience.”