Interior Design Masters is a bizarre world of wainscoting and “softscaping”

Even Alan Carr’s pleasing sarcasm can’t save it.

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Before I found my forever hairdresser – women, you know what I’m talking about – salon visits were often borderline terrifying. The stylist would approach, scissors in hand, and I would think, “Oh please, don’t make me look like you!” I feel similarly about Siobhan, a contestant in the comically named Interior Design Masters (2 February, 8pm). Siobhan, whose look might best be described as “Madame Arcati goes bonkers in a fondant fancy factory”, is all sequinned turbans and flamingo pink. You’d no sooner let her loose on your home than you would a six-year-old armed with a tub of Play-Doh and some chunky felt tips.

But Siobhan isn’t the half of it. Who’s this, pitching up in a suit that looks as if it’s made of London Underground moquette? Yes, it’s none other than Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen (suddenly he’s everywhere, another weird, retro effect of Covid-19). LLB, who in his Changing Rooms days advised a contestant to paint lizards on their neighbour’s floor for an “Australian effect”, is the first guest judge of the series, and boy do the malapropisms and infelicitous pronouncements flow freely from his sometimes pursed, and sometimes wide open, mouth. A wooden room divider is “a gibbet”. A bedroom with a feature wall is “very redacted”. This “soft-scaping” does not involve enough “analysis”. That stripe of green paint has turned a bed into a “postmodernist four-poster”, a trick “the entire nation” will soon be copying (I won’t, Laurence). Watching him as he absorbs yet another fantasia on a Premier Inn, you can almost believe that the greatest danger to the world right now is not a devastating virus but the sinister way that cushions seem lately to be capable of breeding, like animals.

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Siobhan’s rivals divide into two camps: the unruffled minimalists and the over-emotional maximalists. An example of the former is Paul. Having run out of time in which to attach a border to his curtains, he simply painted one on. No, really. An example of the latter is Jon, who comes over all weepy when in the presence of a beautiful pelmet. Presiding over them as series judge is Michelle Ogundehin, once editor-in-chief of Elle Decoration (UK edition). She doesn’t have LLB’s taste for the baroque, in cupboards or conversation. But her chat is just as bewildering. “He’s mixed his metaphors here,” she said, of Paul’s colour palette. Wow. There are metaphors here? For what? Our collective ennui? The decadence of Western society?

Each week, contestants are set a makeover challenge. In week one, they were given either a bedroom or a sitting room in an Oxford show home and told to make it “aspirational” on £1,500. Hmm. My own interior design aspirations extend, this month, to maybe getting some new mugs. But what do I know? If I really cared I’d be “colour blocking” frantically, like some budget Piet Mondrian. The winner (the contestant, we assume, who manages to keep both hubris and bad lighting at bay throughout) will secure a contract with a Lake District hotel. That holidays are currently illegal is having no effect at all on my fear that I’ll somehow book it by mistake.

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Interior Design Masters used to be presented by Fearne Cotton. But she has gone the way of rag-rolling and Laura Ashley, which doesn’t surprise me given that she subtitled one of her several self-help books “letting go of perfect” (when a contestant explained that she’d been “too hot” to shift furniture, Ogundehin didn’t tell her she’d “let go of perfect”, she told her she was lazy). Anyway, in Cotton’s place is Alan Carr, he of the gapped teeth and the pleasing sarcasm. “I might use it as my passport photo,” he said to Mona, who’d drawn his caricature, an excrescence she intended to incorporate into her makeover. Alas, it did her no good. In spite of her working knowledge of bedrooms – “a bed is the heart of the bedroom,” she announced, in the manner of Moses unveiling a Tablet of Stone – Mona failed to include a blind or curtains in her design. And so she was expelled first: sent back to the real world, a place where no one knows quite what wainscoting is and room dividers are usually just called walls.

Interior Design Masters with Alan Carr

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Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article appears in the 03 February 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Europe’s tragedy

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