“I feel like a winner”.
Frank Newbold, finalist of the new BBC and Netflix hit TV series, Interior Design Masters talks to My Interior Design School.
In this exclusive interview with Course Director Anne Wall, Frank reveals how his childhood passion for styling led him to be chosen for the series, what he thought of the other contestants and judges and the project he was most proud of.
Hear the inside story of life as a contestant, his advice for anyone wanting to work in interior design and his plans for the future.
By his own admission Frank Newbold, finalist of the TV Show, Interior Design Masters is a “bit of a character”. His own website declares his style to be “loud, abundant and evocative, much like my personality”. So it was with much intrigue and a little apprehension that I chatted to him recently about his time on the new BBC2 and Netflix series.
It appears that Frank’s styling talents were obvious from an early age. His design influence came from a favoured aunt, who he spent time with in her rambling Victorian house in the West Midlands. He recalls a blue eucalyptus tree in her garden, that made such an impression, that aged just seven, he knew would make a fabulous Christmas garland. He got to work decorating her home for the festive season and she was happy to indulge him. From then on his love of styling, changing spaces and creating mini ‘stage sets’ was born.
When his aunt bought a period farmhouse in Spain, packed with Moorish décor, tiles and the opportunity to decorate, Frank spent summer holidays there as a teenager, re-creating the interiors and learning how to use proportion and space.
A German neighbour who was an artist and ceramicist had a huge influence on the young Frank. Helping in his shop and watching him create bespoke pieces for clients gave Frank an early introduction to working for paying customers.
“He was a crazy man” admits Frank “but was probably the biggest influence on me. Even now, when I hear a certain Spanish song I can imagine myself back in his shop, surrounded by colour, texture and just that feeling of creating something amazing”.
Frank’s styling skills led him to work in visual merchandising for retail interior design brands. It was his love of travel however that was to be a major turning point in Frank’s career. Visiting India for the first time, with its rich abundance of colour, aesthetics, pattern and texture was such a transformative moment, Frank knew he wanted to work in interiors on his return. After gaining experience working for clients for an Ascot-based consultancy and honing his skills via an online interior design course, Frank felt confident to launch his own consultancy and design practice.
With his portfolio of projects and experience on residential projects, gaining a place on Interior Design Masters came at just the right time for Frank, as he felt ready to showcase his distinct design style and vivid personality.
He had no qualms about being in front of the camera either. “I knew they wanted ‘characters’” admits Frank “and as my career as a design consultant was already up and running, I was keen to get my face and name out there.”
And the camera loved Frank. As the eight week design challenge show progressed, viewers saw Frank give his sometimes forthright opinions about his fellow contestants and their designs. “They just asked me what I thought” explains Frank “so I was honest”. Whilst some viewers thought he could be too harsh, we saw Frank take on the judges’ advice, design according to the brief and listen to the client more carefully.
The key lesson Frank took from the show and now uses in his successful interior design consultancy, he says, is that “the client is king”.
His proudest moment he says was his hair salon design in Whitstable, Kent. Although he did not complete the challenge, his change of flooring, new layout, meeting the brief and dealing with budget and time restraints, made it his most satisfying design challenge of the series.
After the demise of the BBC’s ‘Great Interior Design Challenge’, I was interested to discover if Frank thought the show was a good representation of the interior design industry today. After some reflection, he admits that any ‘reality’ style TV show which is also a competition (the eventual winner, Cassie Nicholas went on to secure a bar design project in the Dorsett Hotel in London) was always going to limit its integrity.
“The tight budgets and time frames, as well as the TV format encouraging friction and drama was always going to feel unrealistic” suggests Frank. “But I know the show has inspired a really young audience which can only be a good thing”.
Apparently, since the final aired on 2nd October, Frank has been inundated with messages of support and questions from ‘wanna be’ interior designers as young as 8. At the recent Grand Designs Live Event at Birmingham’s NEC, a young fan astonished his mother by putting up his hand and asking Frank for some top tips. “It made my day” says Frank “and it felt worthwhile doing Interior Design Masters for that moment alone”.
The viewing figures for the show have also proved Interior Design Masters to be a hit, with 2.2 million tuning in to Episode 7 to see the contestants battle it out to win a place in the final.
On Friday 18th October, as well as being on BBC iplayer, the show will hit a new worldwide audience by transferring to Netflix. “I’m a bit worried about hearing my voice dubbed into Chinese” laughs Frank “but it’s amazing to think the show will soon be going out to interior design fans around the globe”.
There are rumours of a second series of Interior Design Masters launching in March 2020, so I asked Frank what advice he would give our students or anyone else applying to be on the show. His reply was an emphatic “get the skills and knowledge from an interior design course like I did and then experiment. Have a go in some real-life interiors and learn from any mistakes”.
Being on the show, he reminds me can also be a great way to improve your design skills thanks to the advice from the team of expert judges. Frank was lucky enough to be mentored by his design heroine Kelly Hoppen who he declared to be the “Coco Chanel of Interiors”. She in turn was delighted by this accolade and tweeted that it “had made my year”.
Frank also ‘enjoyed’ the critique of his design schemes by series judge and former Editor in Chief of Elle Deco UK magazine, Michelle Ogundehin. “I wanted to improve and make the most of the opportunity the show had to offer” says Frank “so I really took her advice on board. And I loved her quote from the show so much I even put it on my website: “Interior design is about a lot more than having a way with cushions and a thing for paint charts”.
His favourite judge, he reveals, who “really got his vibe” was Matthew Williamson, who was generous in giving his time and help.
(Photo courtesy of the BBC)
And what is Frank’s own advice for our students who are already out there making a new career in interior design? How should they get noticed and promote themselves? He suggests getting on Instagram, defining your brand and showing your face! Be real and talk to the camera and this will lead to potential clients seeing and believing in you and hopefully getting in touch to employ you.
As the runner-up, how does Frank feel now about not gaining the overall trophy and the coveted prize of the hotel bar commission? “I absolutely loved my time on the show” says Frank “and I have some really exciting projects in the pipeline, so it has opened up some amazing opportunities for me, so I feel like a winner anyway”.
And has Cassie, the actual winner, invited him for a drink in the Jin Bar (they famously had a somewhat tense on-screen relationship)?
“Not yet” laughs Frank “but she has asked me to her home in Bristol. And I am practically best friends with Ju and Nicki – we talk every day, so we did all get on – honest!”
From his early experience styling his aunt’s home for Christmas, to a finalist on Interior Design Masters, we are in no doubt that this ‘character’ Frank Newbold has even more talent and creativity to share with his thousands of fans (young and old) and plenty of new clients around the world.
You can follow Frank’s career on Instagram @franknewbold and via his website www.franknewbold.com.
All photos courtesy of franknewbold.com unless otherwise stated.