Full of Character: Interior Design Masters Winner Banjo Beale Shares his Beach Retreats Redesign
Light. Colour. Character. The winner of this year’s Interior Design Masters with Alan Carr knows what it takes to bring a space to life. And, he tells us, it all starts with a story…
From the salty sea-dog sister of Laurence Llewelyn Bowen kicking back in a shepherd’s hut, to a drunken botanist making a country house hotel his home, Interior Design Masters’ 2022 winner Banjo Beale’s fictional characters kept us entertained and enthralled throughout this year’s show.
The BBC One series hosted by Alan Carr saw eight contestants compete over six weeks to impress design judge and former editor of Elle Decoration Michelle Ogundehin, in the hope of winning a contract to refresh one of our Beach Retreats at Watergate Bay.
Inspiring the designs he brought to life in each episode and driving him to seek out the vintage finds, unique styles and problem solving mindset that saw him take the Interior Design Masters crown, imagination has always sat at the heart of Banjo’s spaces.
And the property redesign he tackled as his prize was no exception. Tasked with refreshing Winnow, a four bedroom Beach Retreats at Watergate Bay, Banjo played with natural textures, bountiful light, bright colours and one-off salvaged pieces to weave a story that sings from the moment you walk in the door.
Fresh from applying the last lick of paint, we caught up with Banjo to tell us more about his Interior Design Masters experience, the insights he learnt and the things he discovered about design, creativity and Watergate Bay through the process.
To see Winnow in full, click here.
Congratulations! How does it feel to be the winner of this year’s Interior Design Masters (IDM)?
I'm buzzing to have won IDM. It was a rollicking rollercoaster around the country that ends in gorgeous Cornwall... or is it just the beginning?
What were your expectations of the show before you took part?
I expected an adventure and what I got was so much more. I got well out of my comfort zone, tried things I'd never dream of and in my pursuit of that perfect wow piece, I travelled the length of breadth of the country, picking up a vintage canoe in Grimsby, ripping out port hole windows from a boat in Brighton harbour and driving eight hours for a vintage parasol from Ibiza.
An incredible apprenticeship I'd call it, albeit with cameras in your face and Alan Carr heckling you but I got to hone my skills and create some crazy spaces, from dangling a canoe from a Cotswold cabin to now, designing a holiday cottage in Cornwall.
Which was the most challenging brief you tackled in the competition?
I had no idea just how intense pulling together a whole room would be. I am not a natural born planner, it was a challenge, pulling everything together from the paint down to the last screw. I am more of a dreamer than a doer, but I quickly learned to get my hands dirty, solve problems fast and keep moving. Plus, for someone like me, forever hunting that elusive vintage piece, it meant lots and lots of driving.
Any moments that really stand out for you, perhaps a turning point, a challenge you overcame, something funny and/or unforgettable?
It was the in-between moments where the magic happens. The characters you meet on the road and the friends who become family, from the contestants to the crew. For me, the most incredible moment is seeing the owners reaction to their space transformation. These businesses are their livelihood and that's a lot of pressure. But to see tears of joy and to know you've changed their life a little bit, you can't beat that feeling.
What would you say is your signature style as a designer?
Natural, vintage and reclaimed with a healthy dose of greenery is my signature style. I enjoy natural textures and pieces with character, particularly primitive design. On the show, I was stretched to embrace more colour and although I really enjoy a neutral design story, I found colour unlocked a new world for me.
I'm also really inspired by storytellers like Wes Anderson and Roald Dahl, people who create imaginary worlds and bring them to life. I live in my own dream land half the time, so I love creating a little bit of make believe in spaces. Every space I tackle now I like to create an imaginary character and bring their world alive with objects, art and history. When I'm shopping or hunting for treasure, it helps me get into their mind, whether it's an 18th century drunk botanist or an 18-year-old party girl from Manchester.
My other design inspiration is my granny friend, or Franny as I like to call her. She built the cheese farm we live on and at 83 years old, she has taught me many amazing things from weaving willow, making pottery, and caring for tropical plants (in Scotland!) in her giant glass barn. She is always dreaming and always scheming.
What was the most valuable piece of feedback or insight that you got from Michelle Ogundehin and the other judges and how has it influenced your process and thinking as a designer on your work at Winnow?
I absorbed everything Michelle said to me. I wasn't on the judging sofa too many times so I consumed lots of her writing and Instagram advice, from learning what a muddy green is to creating a healthy space. One piece of advice she gave was to make it warm, and I really brought that to my Beach Retreats space at Watergate Bay. I want people, in summer or winter, day or night to feel a summer glow in their holiday home. From the cushions to the lighting, my space is a little ray of sunshine.
What’s next for you and how has IDM and the process shaped those ambitions and plans?
I'd love to continue creating spaces and sharing stories. Design doesn't have to take itself so seriously so I want to make characterful spaces for colourful characters.
About the Beach Retreats project
What excites you most about working with Beach Retreats?
I had never been to Cornwall before this project and I have to say, I get it. It's all about the location and I was so inspired by the natural surroundings, bringing the outside in and creating a truly special holiday destination where people can come back down to earth.
What were your first impressions of Winnow and the setting?
Winnow was an amazing blank canvas. The bones of the building were great, perched on top of a hill overlooking cliffs. An architecturally designed building, with gorgeous natural light is a dream brief. My challenge was to create a space that was just as good inside, as Cornwall is outside.
From where have you drawn inspiration for the project?
Watergate Bay is a kaleidoscope of natural colours and textures. The wild Atlantic coast, craggy clay cliffs, wildflowers and sandy beaches inspired my natural colour palette and texture story.
Throughout the show, Michelle and the other judges spoke about showing your design story, a continuous thread of an idea across the space. What’s the story you’re telling with Winnow and how does your design realise it?
I started in Montauk, upstate New York, a seaside town with sloped roofs, modernist buildings and lots of creative types. I added a dose of Cornish seaside with intricate fine art photography of seaweed and shells and layered this with found art, objects and textures. My character? You know when you are a kid and you have one mate with just the coolest parents, well they were my imaginary client. An artist and a marine biologist who travel the world, collecting art and ephemera, and always land back in Watergate Bay in their large seaside abode, where their children, grandchildren and dogs reunite, sharing seafood feasts at long tables and reading in pillowy armchairs and daybeds.
How have you incorporated sustainability into your design?
I like to avoid big box stores and always hunt for reclaimed pieces first. I adore re-imagining unexpected things into useful objects, like my dining room lampshade I found at a market that was once a Hungarian chicken coop. If I buy new, I like to look at natural materials or interesting, forward-thinking brands like my living room chairs which are made of Pineapple leather. Pinatex take discarded pineapple tops and turn them into the most amazingly realistic leather like material. My other chairs are made from recycled plastic bottles.
Winnow is your first commercial project, what's been your biggest learning / surprise?
Interior Design is 99% logistics. The project stretched me from being a dreamer to a doer and unlocked the list maker in me. It taught me that with time, a trusting client and a brave outlook, I can create spaces that are a little bit magic.
About interior design
What are your top tips for giving your bedroom the feel of a holiday home?
Make it warm. Add natural textures like linen, rattan and wood and layer that with lots of cushions, relaxed furniture and art that talks to your favourite location.
Beach Retreats is all about being by the coast and living the outdoor lifestyle, are there any quick and easy ways to bring this vibe into interior design for the home?
The coast offers endless inspiration. For me, I wanted to create an outdoor living room inside. Charred timber cladding is typically seen on the exterior of a building so I brought it inside and in doing so created a natural, textural element that drew the eye back out to the view.
What's the one thing worth splurging on and what can you save on?
I like to mix high and low pieces. From vintage market finds that cost a dime, like my coffee table and Hungarian chicken coop light shade to designer pieces like my pillow armchair from Buchannan Studio and my bespoke table Galvin Bros and outdoor chairs from local maker, Mena woodwork.
What differences are there in designing a holiday space and the home?
A holiday home should make you feel refreshed, recharged and relaxed. Why should you limit that to your holiday? Why not make a holiday at home with your design choices?
To see Winnow in full, click here.