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Interior Design Masters with Alan Carr: contestants run riot in former convent cells in this series opener

The fresh crop of would-be interior designers hoping to go pro (BBC / Darlow Smithson Productions )
The fresh crop of would-be interior designers hoping to go pro (BBC / Darlow Smithson Productions )

“It’s hard work doing this interior design lark,” said Alan Carr in the opening gambit of last night’s opening episode of Interior Design Masters, now in its fifth series.

Lucky for work-shy Carr he’ll be overseeing proceedings, as this latest crop of ten would-be interior designers aim to prove their worth with a paint chart and power drill.

The BBC have resisted the urge to fiddle with the formula, which sees Michelle Ogundehin set a weekly decorating challenge before wheeling in a guest judge – from Mary Portas to Sophie Ellis-Bextor – to assist with the subsequent appraisal.

Each contestant will hope to repeat the trick of series four winner Monika Charcula, whose brand of goth-tinged Victoriana won her a contract to overhaul a West End outpost of The Cocktail Club.

This opener revealed the big prize as a chance to release a product line with La Redoute – best known in the interiors world as the zenith of affordable rugs.

The contestants offer their disparate styles to a former convent (BBC)
The contestants offer their disparate styles to a former convent (BBC)

Carr’s announcement that the first task will take place at a Norfolk convent was met with an air of faint incredulity, before the crucial word ‘former’ is dropped in. Contestants will in fact be tasked with transforming old nun’s cells into bijou B&B bedrooms.

“Be warned, they’re holy walls,” riffed Carr. “But nothing a bit of polyfilla can’t fix.”

At four by two metres, each cell is barely larger than those enjoyed by British prisoners and nattily decorated with a Seventies sink and exposed pipework. “Who did this to the poor nuns?” asks permanently beret-ed lingerie designer Ben.

Still, it’s the closest thing to a blank slate they’ll get this series, which will also see our panicked rookies design Wembley dressing rooms and holiday lodges at Blenheim Palace – hopefully emerging as those eponymous masters in the process.

Ben installs faux wood panelling in his nun’s cell (BBC / Darlow Smithson Productions)
Ben installs faux wood panelling in his nun’s cell (BBC / Darlow Smithson Productions)

But a Sound of Music-inspired colour scheme proves easier-promised-than-done, and the on-site furniture charity shop an unlikely breeding ground for intra-contestant resentment. Ex travel advisor Roisin, meanwhile, installed her very first light bulb.

With the nuns long gone, judging duties fall to Ogundehin and designer Abigail Ahern, who wants to see decent storage as well as evidence of decorating nous.

Kenyan-British interior therapist Ash has nailed her colour palette and Ben’s train carriage is suitably transportive, but copywriter Sheree still needs to land on her signature style.

“These curtains are a bit DIY. They’ve been splattered with paint,” said a doubtful Ogundehin. “That I don’t understand.”

Other contestants fall foul of muddled focal points (“part of the process of design is learning when to stop”) and a “blasphemous” photograph that certainly wouldn’t have washed with the nuns.

Sheree, Hannah and Francesca are summoned to Ogundehin’s sofa and ultimately Sheree is the first to leave the series.

Unable to package her signature style as a quippy one liner, she is pulled up on the daubed curtains and a lack of cohesion in her design. “Those pieces were all telling different stories,” says the head judge.

The fifth series of Interior Design Masters with Alan Carr continues on BBC One at 8pm next Tuesday 19th March.

Meet the contestants

Anthony

Anthony (BBC / Darlow Smithson Productions)
Anthony (BBC / Darlow Smithson Productions)

Style: Colourful traditional

Occupation: Stay at home dad and interior stylist

A former musical theatre actor, Liverpool-born Anthony toured the world with Evita before becoming a dad and freelance interior stylist. He’s recently designed his partner’s restaurant and is big on natural materials and upcycled elements.

Ash

Ash (BBC / Darlow Smithson Productions)
Ash (BBC / Darlow Smithson Productions)

Style: Africa modern

Occupation: Interior therapist

A diplomat’s daughter, Ash lived in Bonn, Stockholm and London before returning to Nairobi as a teenager. Now based in London, the former lawyer spends as much time in Kenya as possible and wants to challenge the tired ‘tribal’ look.

Ben

Ben (BBC / Darlow Smithson Productions)
Ben (BBC / Darlow Smithson Productions)

Style:  Victorian maximalist

Occupation: Lingerie designer

History-lover Ben was born in San Sebastián but is now based in Wolverhampton. He found his passion for antiques after becoming obsessed with the Edwardian era as a child, and has recently transformed an old French horn into a lampshade.

Domnall

Domnall (BBC / Darlow Smithson Productions)
Domnall (BBC / Darlow Smithson Productions)

Style: Graphic mid-century modern

Occupation: Illustrator, artist and shop owner

Raised in Derry, multi-hyphenate Domnall designed a bar and restaurant for the Millennium Forum Theatre last year. In 2015 he opened a studio shop selling reclaimed and upcycled furniture, original artwork, prints, fabrics and jewellery.

Francesca

Francesca (BBC / Darlow Smithson Productions)
Francesca (BBC / Darlow Smithson Productions)

Style: Playful colourist

Occupation: Textiles maker and teacher

Based in east London, crafts teacher Francesca also takes on freelance sewing commissions and recently started an upholstery course. She charted the progress of her own pandemic home renovation on Instagram.

Hannah

Hannah (BBC / Darlow Smithson Productions)
Hannah (BBC / Darlow Smithson Productions)

Style: Colourful Brutalist

Occupation: Interior designer

Now pursuing a career in interior design after two decades in visual merchandising, London-based Hannah has done a handful of projects for friends. She’s also set up her own homeware business selling cast cement pots and vases.

Jess

Jess (BBC / Darlow Smithson Productions)
Jess (BBC / Darlow Smithson Productions)

Style: Memphis inspired mid-century

Occupation: Upholsterer

Memphis-lover Jess moved to the coast when she landed a job in events for Dreamland Margate, but pivoted to upholstery after taking a part-time course. She’s also the co-owner of a gay bar, which she decorated herself.

Matt

Matt (BBC / Darlow Smithson Productions)
Matt (BBC / Darlow Smithson Productions)

Style: Elegant brutalism

Occupation: Bathroom designer

Cheltenham-based Matt won a school award for product design and went on to do a degree in Interior Architecture. His dad is a restorer of Japanese antiques, and Matt spent a summer working with him in the workshop.

Roisin

Roisin (BBC / Darlow Smithson Productions)
Roisin (BBC / Darlow Smithson Productions)

Style: Colourful maximalism

Occupation: Former travel advisor

Originally from the Isle of Mann and now living in the Wirral, former travel advisor and lifeguard Roisin is a keen traveller. She overhauled her parents’ home during lockdown and is currently collecting followers for her interiors-focused Instagram account.

Sheree

Sheree (BBC / Darlow Smithson Productions)
Sheree (BBC / Darlow Smithson Productions)

Style: Colourful Scandi

Occupation: Copywriter                                                        

Margate-based copywriter Sheree grew up in a creative household, with a musician dad and arty mum. She’s currently renovating her new terrace and thinks her half Jamaican, half Danish heritage will influence her decorating choices.