Sitting on the balcony of his first-floor studio on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, Jake Arnold, British interior designer to American stars, is telling me how Californian he has become after almost a decade living in Los Angeles. ‘I have a life coach, a therapist, a trainer and an acupuncturist. I meditate, I take a tonne of supplements. I switch my phone on to flight mode at 8pm and I make sure I sleep eight hours a night. And I am still stressed,’ he laughs.
With his shoulder-length hair in a top knot and wearing a long moss green parka he doesn’t look it. Rather he’s a picture of calm as he glides around his office, a dimly lit room the colour of dried blood (the shade is, in fact, called ‘lighthouse’) with twin marble desks he designed himself. It is here that Arnold conceives California homes for actors such as Dan Levy, Aaron Paul and Rashida Jones, plus singer John Legend, and New York residences for Away luggage founder Jen Rubio and Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield.
Despite his elevated status as Hollywood (and the tech world’s) interior designer of choice, there’s nothing lofty about Arnold, who turned 30 in March last year with a Covid-safe ‘dance party’ for three people.
He swears liberally, fetches me water twice and is such good company that our 45-minute interview goes on an hour longer than planned as we discuss everything from his favourite room (‘bathrooms — it’s where you are truly taking care of yourself’) to his definition of luxury (‘I hate the word but true luxury is making your senses feel good: lighting, music, touch, smell’) to what his celebrity clients tend to request: ‘They want a sanctuary. Not to be ostentatious. No one would come to me for a blinged-out house. It’s not the Nineties when it was all “the bigger, the better”. Houses now are about quality, warmth and richness.’
He is not afraid to have a bit of fun with his celebrity clients and that’s all part of the charm. For the reveal of Aaron Paul’s five-bedroom cabin in Sun Valley, Idaho, for example, he hired the wife of a plumber he had used and a friend to dress up as flappers and sit at the 12ft bar he’d installed in the basement speakeasy. ‘I told them to ignore Aaron and Lauren. It was one of the best days of my career.’
During spring lockdown he designed the LA HQ for Cravings, Chrissy Teigen’s cookware company. They hit it off and Arnold is now a familiar face to her 34 million Instagram followers. His biggest project to date is her and husband John Legend’s new 10,000-plus square foot home in Beverly Hills, which they bought for $17.5m. ‘I’m going to try to move them in in March but then it will be another year and a half [until it is completed]. We are designing the spaces from scratch, all the way down to custom dishes and bedding. It’s… everything.’
I wonder if there is ever any push-back from high-profile clients who think they know their own style better? Arnold shakes his head: ‘I don’t act, I don’t know how to write a script, or sing. I don’t tell them how to do their job. And it’s the same thing [with my job].’
Arnold’s LA story began with a revelation. While trudging through a three-year business degree at Nottingham University he read books about spirituality, including The Seat Of The Soul, by Gary Zukav. His takeaway was at odds with the accepted wisdom that academic excellence is the only path to success. (A few years earlier his headmaster at Radlett Prep, Hertfordshire, had told his parents, a jeweller and a charity worker, that Arnold was unlikely to pass his GCSEs.) ‘I went from not being academic, not enjoying university to, “Wait, I really have control of my own destiny.” It just pushed me into this way of finding opportunities and experiences that I kind of just manifested.’
One summer, on a whim, he DM’d an LA-based design company on Twitter asking for an apprenticeship. They said yes, he impressed and after graduating — with a first — the company agreed to have him back, eventually sponsoring his visa. ‘I had no money, no friends. I was paid $900 per month and my rent was $500 per month. But I used to watch Netflix in bed and I was so happy just being there.’
A few years later while he was in-house at an architecture practice, a client asked whether the firm offered an interiors service. It was Dancing With The Stars’ Julianne Hough (sister of Cheryl Cole’s ex Derek) and Jake got the gig. ‘It was so much stress. I had no vendors, no contractors, nothing. But there’s a celeb asking me to do their house, who could be asking whoever the f*** she wants. [I told myself] I have to do this.’ The house made the cover of Better Homes & Gardens magazine and the pair remain close friends.
‘People say, “Wow you’ve done so much so fast,” but these last nine years I have said “yes” to everything. It was a real hustle. There’s no secret. No shortcut.’ Success, though, comes at a cost. ‘Aside from design, my job is to make people happy. Sometimes there are people you can never make happy. It’s the nature of a service business. And I have accepted that. My job is relying on other people — contractors, fabricators — and I am the messenger. And the messenger gets shot, all the time.’ Plus his life outside of work has, at times, had to take a back seat. ‘I have had amazing friends and great relationships but you have to sacrifice a bit of that to do what you want to do.’
With a mid-price product line on the way and his side hustle, theexpert.com — an online platform on which you can book a one-hour Zoom consultation with some of the biggest names in interiors — just launched, Arnold won’t be returning to set up shop in Pimlico Road any time soon. ‘No disrespect, I love London, but I’m so un-British in my philosophy. You’re brought up to be modest and told that talking about money or success is not appropriate. But you should never make yourself feel small to make someone else feel okay. I’m so happy to see other people succeed.’