Interview with Interior Design Masters runner-up Matt Smithwood

interior design masters with alan carr s5 matt
Interior Design Masters runner-upBBC/Darlow Smithson Productions

For the grand finale of Interior Design Masters series five, the two remaining contestants, Roisin and Matt, the youngest designer taking part this year, were tasked with translating the glamour of sumptuous Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire into holiday lodges in the stately home’s grounds.

With a budget of £6,000 and three days to complete the project, Matt proved his self-confessed 'elegant brutalist' style travelled well, with head judge Michelle Ogundehin fancying a 'large glass of wine' in his outdoor chill-out zone. Meanwhile guest judge, New York-based potter and interior designer, Jonathan Adler, loved runner-up Matt’s ambitious chandeliers and painstakingly-painted panels for, 'giving a nod to the baroque architecture of Blenheim'.

Speaking to House Beautiful, interior architecture and design graduate Matt Smithwood, 25, who lives in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire with his parents (find Matt on Instagram @Matt.Smithwood), lets us in on the secret off-camera skipping games and shares his latest inspiration, Morocco.

How did you feel the moment you found out you were runner-up?

I felt relieved, it was a relief, I didn’t really know what to think. It sunk in the next day. When they announced the winner I was really happy for Roisin. It’s always a little disappointing, but when you like the other person it’s easier!

I really did feel like a winner. What makes a person is not always how they deal with wins, but how they deal with their losses. There’s a lot to learn from losses, but I got to the final.

For lads reading this who are interested in interior design, what would your advice be to them?

That sense of embarrassment needs to be knocked on the head. Everyone interacts with interior design every day. It could be a concrete box, it could be a floral scheme. Someone might have a favourite pub, or a restaurant, it’s their favourite, and they don’t know why. They might even really like the toilets – and it’s all to do with interior design. It’s important to acknowledge that interior design is everywhere. It’s the same with fashion, with clothes, it’s the extension of your personality.

And, you know what? The cultures and civilisations that we learn about and study today, all of them took great pride in their interiors, art, architecture and design – Greeks, Romans, Aztecs. It’s not a feminine thing, it’s not a male or female thing – it’s for everyone. In today’s world, full of cheap new buildings, we need to hold onto the appreciation of design.

interior design masters with alan carr s5 matt
BBC/Darlow Smithson Productions

What have you been up to since the show ended?

I just got back from Marrakesh in Morocco. Moroccans put so much pride into their interiors, it is so inspiring. I went to the gardens [The Jardin Majorelle owned and co-designed by French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent until his death in 2008, now run by the Fondation Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent], and really just enjoyed walking about.

I really want to start to bring together Japanese style, one of my biggest influences – my dad being a Japanese antiques restorer – and Moroccan style. I want to insert this Moroccan magic, this glow, this amazing sense you get there when the sun goes down, into Japanese style. I really was inspired by this trip.

What's the one thing you did well and not so well in your task?

There's two. The two spaces I liked the most was the garden and the hallway. I really liked those. I did some pillars in the living room/kitchen/diner too and was pleased with them.

I was also really pleased with the softness of the curtains I hung to blur the boundary between inside and outside. I think I really needed to embrace the softness – as Michelle advised after the Wembley dressing room and that lack of cushions! I’d never put an actual room together before the show, it was the first one I ever did. I’ve had a lot to learn.

interior design masters final matt's holiday lodge
BBC/Darlow Smithson Productions
interior design masters final matt's holiday lodge
BBC/Darlow Smithson Productions

I was most disappointed with my bedrooms. I had serious creative block. I was kind of exhausted to be honest. When I was having the creative block I just tried to simplify it. I thought, 'how do I want the bedrooms to feel?' The answer was dark, cosy, secluded.

interior design masters final matt's holiday lodge
BBC/Darlow Smithson Productions
interior design masters final matt's holiday lodge
BBC/Darlow Smithson Productions

Tell us one thing that goes on behind the scenes that viewers don't know

It was the general vibe, for example we had this hide and seek game. Someone would take a photo of something, hide it, and the whole crew was running around looking for it. The first person to find it, wins.

There was lots of laughter. Me and the sound guy did a skipping competition. We were timing who could skip down the corridor fastest. That’s what you don’t see! The sound guy won, he had really long legs. He could skip really fast.

interior design masters with alan carr s5 anthony, alan and matt
Left-right: Anthony, Alan and MattBBC/Darlow Smithson Productions

Do you think you have what it takes to be an interior designer?

I do. I think I care enough, I genuinely care about interior design, which in a way is what you really need. I want it. I want to be an interior designer. I have self-belief.

I did an art foundation course, but when I was looking to go to uni, I didn’t want to do art. My mum booked me an open day for an interior design course – she knows me better than I know myself. When she said that I started getting excited, and when I went, there were sculptures, paintings and designs and models everywhere. I loved it.

The lecturer actually said, 'Matt, we need you on this course.' It clicked. It made sense. I absolutely loved uni. I studied in Coventry for two years, then Barcelona for a sandwich year, then came back for my final year.

interior design masters with alan carr s5 matt
BBC/Darlow Smithson Productions

Time to manifest! Tell us, what do you think you’ll be doing this time next year?

I want to be working on interior design projects, hopefully some commercial design, a café or restaurant, and I want to be travelling and be in the design business. I’ve got a meeting with a music producer, who has a house in Portugal, so that could be interesting.

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