Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen on the return of Changing Rooms: We’ve got really very serious, decent budgets
Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen is known for his bold design choices but his thoughts on how the Prime Minister and his wife should decorate their Downing Street flat might still raise eyebrows.
The nation’s “foremost residence” should be unashamedly “quirky” the interior designer and TV personality asserts. “Let’s get a bit more Brit-popular again,” he says, “put a bit of paisley on the front door, for sure.”
Speaking in the run up to the long-awaited return of cult interior design show Changing Rooms – which will see Llewelyn-Bowen back as a designer and will this time be helmed by Anna Richardson – the 56-year-old likes the idea of making strong interior choices for Boris and Carrie Johnson’s flat.
“Surely the whole point of Downing Street is to act as a showpiece for what British design is about and how incredibly exciting it is?” he contends.
“I would much rather our leader presented a vision of British interior, British craft, that was incredibly relevant and that was very much about leading the pack, that was very inspirational, rather than just being off the shelf from John Lewis or, you know, out of the tin from Farrow & Ball.”
It’s clear Llewelyn-Bowen is as fond of flamboyant style as he ever was. But when Changing Rooms comes back to our screens there will be some changes to the show, he promises.
Newly acquired by Channel 4, the cult programme which ran between 1996 and 2004, will mark 25 years since the first episode was aired on September 4.
“That is a very, very long time,” says Llewelyn-Bowen, noting the “big changes” to the forthcoming series are “the things that I’ve always wanted to change”.
“We’re still doing two days, we’re still swapping neighbours, we don’t know anything about our client, but we’ve got really very serious, decent budgets.
“So often with the original series, the designs were great – but they just never ended up being that well-built. With the best will in the world, it was kind of like, ‘it looks good but don’t lean on it because it’s like a Crossroads set’.
That comment instantly conjures memories of the now infamous incident involving designer Linda Barker, a floating shelving unit and the decimation of Caroline Hicks’ £6,000 teapot collection. Llewelyn-Bowen says lessons have most definitely been learned.
Noting that he “feels sorry” for participants involved in the forthcoming series, the designer laughs that builds are now “so over-engineered” that home-owners “won’t be able to get rid of them”.
“They’ve been designed to survive a nuclear fallout,” he declares.
Despite presenter Davina McCall initially being billed as the replacement for original Changing Rooms host Carol Smiley, the onset of Covid and multiple filming delays saw clashes arise between the reboot and her existing commitments as part of ITV’s The Masked Dancer.
“I felt like Davina was born to do Changing Rooms,” declares Llewelyn-Bowen. “She and I were very much part of the same Bazal production stable right from the beginning – Big Brother was one of the big shows alongside Changing Rooms.”
Praising McCall’s ability to be “sweet and sharp at the same time”, he mockingly declares that “she left me for Jonathan Ross”.
Describing the presenter’s decision to “watch celebrities with a traffic cone on their heads dancing” rather than joining the reboot, the designer triumphantly declares: “You know what, Divina? You could have had me in my leather trousers.”
With Naked Attraction’s Anna Richardson stepping in to save the day, Llewelyn-Bowen says working with her has been a “delight” and describes her as having a “rather starchy, Home Counties feel” with something “quite nurse-like” about her.
“She sort of gets you through Naked Attraction, you know? She’s got that ability to say, ‘Right, OK, now put it back in your trousers’.”
As for why 2021 proved the perfect time for him to return to the cult show – noting the project has “been in the air for about three or four years” – Llewelyn-Bowen says that age and perspective both have a large role to play.
“I was in danger of getting a bit too grand,” he confesses. “I think that’s the problem.”
“When you do shows in Asia and you’ve got 130 million viewers and all these awards, every time you get off the plane, there are 30 people standing there with clipboards all wanting to know what kind of sushi you want. You get used to that.
“The idea of getting back on to the Changing Rooms bus – and there literally was a bus, you know – staying in Premier Inns and all of these things, it was like having done all these stadium gigs all over the world and then, suddenly, I’m doing live and acoustic above the pub again.
“And actually, it’s been wonderful. It’s been absolutely wonderful.”
Describing himself as something of an “anti-celebrity”, over the years Llewelyn-Bowen has become just as known for his divisive design choices as he has his striking attire.
“I think people always assumed it would be a lot worse, which I rather like,” he says.
“When it wasn’t a tart’s boudoir with a rubber ceiling and large cows’ udders arranged as seating, they kind of went ‘Oh my god, I really like this’. So, in a way, I think the reputation that preceded me really used to do me quite a few favours.”
With the return of his leather trousers coming up in conversation more times than I’m able to count, the designer says their return was “pretty much a given” because, more than anything, they’re a “practical solution”.
“But then I started thinking, wouldn’t it be funny if I started wearing the stuff that I was wearing 25 years ago? A long frock coat and a big shirt with big sleeves and big cuffs.
“Then suddenly I went ‘Yes, but that’s Bridgerton’,” he adds, with a hint of pride in his voice.
“So I’ve now discovered, to my incredible surprise and delight, that, actually, 25 years later, I’m the cutting edge of fashion, wearing what I was wearing 25 years ago. Thanks to Bridgerton, I’m right up there.”
– Changing Rooms with Dulux will launch on Wednesday August 18 at 8pm on Channel 4 and All 4
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