“This is Los Angeles where money and style are everything.” So sayeth interior designer Mary McDonald in the opening of Bravo’s newest reality series, Million Dollar Decorators. The show follows the professional and personal lives of five of L.A.'s top-tier interior designers, whose clients don't have budgets and who say things like “Sometimes I think my job is more important than the President of the United States.” Raina Cox of If the Lamp Shade Fits is here to take us through.
Here's where everyone lives.
We kick off in Mary McDonald’s glam office, actually a converted home—red lacquered double doors will transform any space into style central. The woman on whom it’s rumored the Will & Grace character of Karen is based describes her design aesthetic: “People think of my work as rather glamorous. I’m not stuck to glamour, but I think that’s kinda stuck to me.” Then adding, with a laugh: “Ooooh, why did I say that?” Sitting at her desk surrounded by the empty picture frames, McDonald heaves a sigh, complains of a time constraint, and says she will text her personal assistant/dog wrangler to lend a hand. Cue Lavin’s entrance with a Valentino-esque gaggle of slobbering pugs.
Next, we’re given a tour of UK ex-pat Martyn Lawrence-Bullard’s house, originally built by silent screen legend Rudolph Valentino. The interior looks like a moneyed mash-up of Pier One and The Bombay Company—a global craft fantasy of colonial furnishings and vintage textiles made by the romantically impoverished in faraway lands. Bullard, who fancies himself a swinging British sexpot, casts sexy film star glances at the camera and huskily states “I’m currently working in six countries, possibly seven very soon. At this stage in my career, I can’t really take on jobs that have less than a million-dollar budget.”
Bullard came to Hollywood in his '20s and set aside a failed acting career to take up decorating. He still has stars in his eyes as he rattles off his list of clients: Sir Elton John, Christina Aguilera, Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne, and Cher. "Okay, let’s write them down because I’m not going to remember them all,” he says. We get the sense this lovable tart, with his saucy one-liners, is going to steal the show.
At his office, Bullard looks vaguely uncomfortable seated behind his desk and summons a glass of wine. Through the window, we can see it’s broad daylight. (We’ll learn later that drinking at all hours is part and parcel of high-end decorating.) In a stunning display of completely unrehearsed B-list celebrity name-dropping, Bullard asks his office manager “Will you call Eva Mendes’s assistant and see if she wants me to swing by at 11 on Saturday morning and then I’ll run straight over to Ellen Pompeo? And do we have any news from Jada Pinkett Smith?” The office calm is quickly broken when Sharon Osbourne emails that an early return to L.A. will shorten the two-week installation of her new Hollywood pied-a-terre to a mere three days.
At Kathryn Ireland’s Provencal-meets-California Mission hybrid of a home, we meet Jacqueline, the French housekeeper who may just be zombie Diana Vreeland:
Ireland, who sounds like Rod Stewart after a week-long whiskey bender, waxes philosophical about the most important things in life—“food, sex and decorating,” of course. So emphasized by a wardrobe of stretchy, low-cut stretchy dresses.
Now we’re back with McDonald, whose favorite client has asked her over for a look-see at a two-story guest house. McDonald had worked on the main house for more than a year and reflects on the collaborative nature of her client relationship: “I love this house—it’s really me.” When told that the client’s husband wants would like a piano in the living room, McDonald exclaims “What?! No! He can’t do that! Yeah, no, you can’t do that. I don’t want a piano.” The client persists but McDonald shoots her down—“I feel like Kendra’s house is my house.” McDonald hates the guest house.
After the commercial break, we get a glimpse of Nathan Turner, whose privileged childhood led him to an early career in antiques. Of her son’s early career ambitions, Turner’s mother advised “It’s like shopping on a big scale all over the world with someone else’s money. You were born to do this!” Turner is also prides himself on being McDonald’s main "gay."
In Turner's shop, designer Peter Dunham (labeled just as "Peter") arrives with a client in tow. Turner goes into shop boy mode flinging open rugs and fluffing pillows. He giggles “My store is a higher-end store. The majority of the items I have scoured the globe literally for. Can everybody buy it? No, but you can come in and enjoy it.” The camera pans over some of the price tags:
At long last, Jeffery Alan Marks is our fifth and final decorator. He tells us his clients “are the money that makes California tick.” Wait, is he wearing Tommy Hilfiger? According to Marks, “There’s only a handful of decorators at this level and we all know each other.” He’s super excited to show off the rowboat bolted to the ceiling of his bedroom:
Because it wouldn’t be Bravo without some major eye candy, we’re introduced to Ross Cassidy, Marks’s South African trophy boyfriend of four years and defacto office manager. In a Bruce Weber-for-Abercrombie-and-Fitch moment, the scantily clad boytoy bathes the couple’s golden retriever in an outdoor shower while Marks whines about doggie shampoo:
At the office, BoyToy artfully flips his hair around while flipping out about the delivery of an unsuitable chair. (To the side, a shipping box bears the label "JANUS et Cie," and this may either be a good or a bad thing.) Marks has two assistants named, more or less, “Demetra” but he seems confused as to what exactly they do for him. While going over the plans for a small-ish Malibu restaurant, he pulls out a swatch fabric by the one and only Bullard. BoyToy sneers: “You’re not still on Martyn’s fabric are you? It’s too cute. It’s too pop-y. I hate it.” Marks thinks Bullard will give them a break on the price if he can be tracked down. In a passive-aggressive (and spot-on) impression of the Brit, Marks says, in a low, breathy voice, “Dahhhling, I’m in Morocco—sorry!”
Talk turns to pirates as the two discuss plans for the restaurant:
At the Osbournes' new apartment, Bullard and his project manager discusses plans. He takes a 10-second call with Sharon and uses the word "dahhling" three times and explains that he's crossing "fingers, legs, and other body parts that we'll be done" in time. "This building is really a celebrity ahhhhnclave," he muses as he peers off the balcony at the $30M and $40M estates on the hillside. "I've done apartments for Cher and Sir Elton John in the building." We are starting to suspect that the word "Sir" will precede the words "Elton John" for the remainder of the show.
Quick project updates come during the middle of the episode—Bullard has a mini hissy fit about the Osbournes’ paint color; Ireland pops into her showroom to go over plans for her birthday dinner—we have yet to see the lady work; and in what would have been the show's first poignant moment, McDonald learns her clients are divorcing and plan to sell the house she loves so much. She screws up her face (?) and, in a compassionate consoling manner, blurts out, “So... and you’re not keeping... I love this house!”
In an aside, McDonald proclaims “This is a total tragedy because it’s my house.” The client asks that she decorate the guest house "more kind of minimal" to make the place more sellable. In an aside, McDonald says, "Oh, that Realtor wants everything minimal but I'm not listening. I'm just going to do what I want."
Now, Bullard goes shopping for artwork, furnishings, and accessories for the Osbourne apartment. At H.D. Buttercup, he selects a fake Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chair and refers to it as an “Eames.” (?)
Bullard briefly considers a “zeh-brah” rug at The Rug Company before settling on a carpet with an oversized Baroque pattern. The word "zeh-brah" is repeated again, thank god—that's good stuff. The Osbourne installation is now in full swing and Bullard is relieved to discover the paint color will indeed work. He’s worried though about Sharon’s reaction—“My name is on the line.” In the Hollywood caste system, he implies, you may vacation with the rich and famous but you’re always reminded of being simply the hired help. Osbourne arrives and expresses as much enthusiasm as her newly refreshed face will allow.
Et voila, the space:
It's back to Ireland's house for the birthday party prep. In the kitchen, she and Jacqueline tussle over the beverage selection. The designer is unhappy with the color of the wine. Her boys use rotten avocados to make guacamole and, in complete disregard for basic food prep hygiene, son Otis continues chopping onions after sloppily blowing his nose. With dinner plans falling apart, Ireland runs around her garden trying to create a tablescape reminiscent of her house in the South of France, but this isn't the South of France so it's just anorexic-looking sunflowers on a picnic table: “I get paid a lot of money to organize other people’s lives and I think I do it really well. When it comes to my own life, it seems to be somewhat of a disaster.” The guests (including Turner, McDonald, and Marks—Bullard can't make it because he's tied up with Osbourne) arrive and dig into the suspect guacamole. In a flourish, Turner unveils a custom cake (?) that's made to look like Ireland’s voluptuous torso, complete with a replica of one of Ireland's signature fabrics. But Ireland is deeply unhappy with the pastry bosoms and exclaims “Nathan, how could you get my cup size so wrong?!”
In a preview of upcoming episodes, Bullard travels to adult entertainment mogul Joe Francis’s Mexican getaway and Jimmy Choo CEO Tamara Mellon’s London home, Marks and BoyToy take a bath, Turner has a hissy fit about damaged antique tiles, McDonald blows off his husband’s affections, and Ireland is fired from a project. Bullard sagely predicts, “We’re going to need a lot of margaritas to get through this.” Join us next Wednesday for more drama, drinking, and design.