Interior Design Masters with Alan Carr: a £1,800 eco makeover challenge sets a high bar in the series opener

Interior Design Masters with Alan Carr is back (BBC)
Interior Design Masters with Alan Carr is back (BBC)

Alan Carr is taking careful stock of a renovation job in progress: “I know Michelle is after sustainability and eco living, but I’m sure she didn’t mean reusing a manky 100-year old drainpipe.”

Cement splatters walls, tears are shed, and said rusty drainpipe is installed in an Elephant and Castle new build in last night’s opening episode of Interior Design Masters, now in its fourth series.

A new crop of ten would-be interior designers, from a content creator to a criminal defense lawyer, will hope to decorate their way into a new career by impressing returning head judge Michelle Ogundehin — plus big-name guests including Jonathan Adler and Matthew Williamson.

In this first task they are paired up with a fellow contestant for the eco makeover of a blank-canvas two-bedroom apartment in Elephant Park.

“It could be recycled materials, or upcycled furniture, but what it can’t be,” says Ogundehin, “is just some sort of add-on”. All for £1,800, please.

Contestant Jack chooses to upholster a sofa himself (BBC)
Contestant Jack chooses to upholster a sofa himself (BBC)

Assigning each pair a hypothetical resident — from a recent graduate to a 40-something couple — is a smart attempt to foster diversity across the design concepts, which run from circus-themed children’s room, complete with modish striped ceiling, to an Ibiza-style retreat.

Actually doing it is something different altogether, and DIY tiling, upholstering and cement mixing all come with the potential to throw up curveballs.

A carpenter is soon anxious to alert architectural designer Karl Mok to the fact that the OSB board ordered for his bespoke seating needs to be several millimetres thicker to stand a chance — cue a hasty phone call.

By the second day, the patient crew of tradespeople is looking as wild-eyed as some of the contestants. “Maybe I shouldn’t have had that second espresso,” reflects one giddy hopeful.

Weighing in this week is guest judge Jonathan Adler in his first appearance for the show, which launched on BBC Two in 2019.

“A space has to function and address the needs of the client, and only once they have achieved that can they layer on personal expression and voice. I cannot wait to see what these Brits have concocted,” says Adler, who runs an eponymous home furnishings brand.

Above all, the New York-based designer is keen to see cohesion.

“If the entire flat was like this I’d be like ‘oh this is fantastic’, but it’s the disjointedness that is harshing my mellow,” he says of stylist Peter’s white-washed Ibizan bedroom.

Onto his second room — a bright, clubby take on the same island. “He’s not even collaborating with himself”.

The comments lay bare the challenge facing the contestants, who must frequently collaborate with their fellow decorators — often resolutely wedded to an incompatible signature style – while keeping the show’s competitive format front of mind.

Head judge Michelle Ogundehin with guest judge and designer Jonathan Adler (BBC)
Head judge Michelle Ogundehin with guest judge and designer Jonathan Adler (BBC)

This opening episode reveals that the big prize is a contract to design a cocktail bar, but the wider aim will be to replicate the success of series three winner Banjo Beale, who fronts six-part BBC show Designing the Hebrides later this year.

The judging complete, teammates Joanne & Peter and Temi & Karl are summoned to Ogundehin’s sofa, and in the end it is Karl that is first to leave this fourth series.

Undone by his mismeasured OSB board, which caused precious delays and resulted in a more rudimentary banquette without an upholstered back, he is also pulled up on the profusion of ‘pointy’ corners in a space which needed to be suitable for a child.

As Alan Carr says in his opening gambit, “if you really want to stand out from the crowd, you’ve got to think bigger and better than the rest”.

The fourth series of Interior Design Masters with Alan Carr continues on BBC One at 8pm next Tuesday 14th March.