Karl Mok from Newcastle is the first to pack up his moodboard and leave the new series of BBC’s Interior Design Masters.
When called in for his sofa grilling by head judge and design guru Michelle Ogundehin, and guest adjudicator, New York-based designer Jonathan Adler, Michelle said Karl’s handmade plywood sofa looked seriously uncomfortable, and Jonathan fretted that Karl’s funky mid-century inspired theme had far too many sharp corners to fulfil the family-friendly apartment brief.
The first episode of Interior Design Masters 2023 brought 10 aspiring designers together, pitched them into pairs, and provided a £1,800 budget to kit out living rooms and bedrooms in apartment show homes in Elephant and Castle, south east London.
Speaking exclusively to House Beautiful, architectural designer Karl, from Newcastle, admits his timing got him in a tizz, but told us he’s already got his eye on a potential winner.
How does it feel to leave after the first round?
Honestly, I am a little bit bummed that I fell at the first hurdle. There were multiple factors, such as deliveries not arriving on time, but I’m going to look at it in a positive light. If I hadn’t taken part, I would never have met those nine amazing designers. And I wanted to show what I was capable of.
What surprised you most about the experience?
The physical side of it was quite a shock. Whilst I’m sad that I didn’t progress further and get to show off all my design skills, what I took away from the show was a little wake-up call; how fit you have to be as a designer, how energetic you’ve got to be. I was exhausted after the 48 hours, especially as it was really hot weather when we were filming and we were surrounded by glass.
Immediately after the show I hired a personal trainer. I now go to the gym and swim, and I’m not eating so much crap as I used to do. I grew up healthy in Malaysia, and did competitive swimming as a kid, but my dad had a heart attack when he was in his 40s. I’ve been focusing on building my business, but there’s got to be a balance to all those late nights in the office.
Was Michelle right? Do you think you were a little over-ambitious?
In my job, I’m used to doing ‘hard’ things like built-in furniture and kitchens. Designing an entire room was a completely different experience. You get a brief that’s two dimensional, and then you get in the room and suddenly some things are a bit different.
I had in my sketch wiggles on the walls which I was going to hand paint. But my teammate, Temi, had a really extravagant ceiling in her circus tent bedroom, and I thought, I’m not going to add to it.
Michelle said your room had ‘a big sense of unfinishedness’. What would you say to that?
If I was to do it again, I’d definitely do it a little bit differently. I wouldn’t be overly ambitious. I would buy more ready-made things and I would be concentrating on the styling. I’ve realised that you don’t have to bash out a new dining table and build a sofa, you can buy two or three major things. The sofa was a big part of my design, and obviously we had a problem with the thickness of the wood, which didn’t help with the timing.
So, where did you source the standalone items and accessories you used?
Obviously you can’t just go and buy everything from IKEA. It’s all secondhand, Facebook Marketplace, pre-loved places, salvage yards. Newcastle has massive charity shops. I’m a big believer in sustainability, so in that respect it was very easy to follow the brief. I’m overwhelmed by how much waste goes into things.
I got an Atom mid-century chair from this great woman in Leeds. I had to go and collect it. I lugged it all the way on the train back to Newcastle. I have to give a shout out to all the train passengers who I met along the way – and there were a lot of Ubers going back and forth. Then everything was couriered down to London for the show.
Do you have a favourite to get to the final?
I’ll tell you who one of my favourite contestants is – Joanne. We’ve got that northern connection and we got on so well. Her style is completely opposite to mine; she’s got something there, she’s humble and she’s got so much to learn, but she’s got a lot of spunk and pizzazz. She’s bright lights and Technicolor. I’m Team Joanne. As Michelle kind of said, just go big or go home.
Tell us one thing about behind the scenes that we don’t know…
What really surprised me is how with 10 really creative people, everyone comes in with their own really different vision and ideas. When you’ve been working on your own for a long time like me, you kind of don’t appreciate that’s going to be the case. I was astounded by the quality of talent, someone so artistic like Tom, or a dresser like Monika, not just in the design field but in the maker field.
One of the interesting things is that at the very beginning, you’re not allowed to meet each other, as they have to film that first meeting in Brighton. There are only so many places that 10 creative people can hide in a chain hotel; we all somehow found each other.
What are you doing now?
It was really good to collaborate with other people. It’s inspired me to rebrand my business into Friends Studio, where creatives can collaborate on all kinds of design projects. We held a launch party in Newcastle and Ry from this series and Peter Anderson from series three, who’s also from Newcastle, came along.
There are tons of really talented creatives in the North. Sadly they leave for London or greener pastures. One thing I’ve learned is that we’re nothing on our own as a creative, you’ve got to be with other people.
• Interior Design Masters with Alan Carr, series four, airs at 8pm every Tuesday on BBC One. You can also catch up on BBC iPlayer.
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