Interview with Banjo Beale, winner of the Masters in Interior Design
After eight weeks of decisions, drama and thousands of miles traveled to secure these very special salvaged and used items to bring out his super stylish plans, Australian-born cheesemaker, salesman and stylist Banjo Beale, 35, who lives with his partner Ro on the Isle of Mull, Scotland, was crowned the winner of Masters in Interior Design 2022.
Chief Judge Michelle Ogundehin was joined by fashion and interior designer Matthew Williamson and businesswoman and London Cocktail Club owner Sarah Willingham for the final. Banjo and fellow runner-up Amy Davies have each been tasked with a personal project to transform two floors of their own bar in Soho, central London, both in desperate need of a style refresh.
Banjo’s client wanted a stylish ‘British Members Club’ vibe. Banjo admitted that he had never been to such an establishment in his life. The winning result? Sleek, understated and oh so impressive, the bar owner has now asked Banjo to give his own apartment a makeover.
Beautiful house was delighted to speak to Banjo – nicknamed by his partner Ro, because “he is very nervous” – when he returned to earth after winning the winner’s crown.
Hi Banjo, many, many congratulations! How did you feel when Michelle announced you as the winner?
I could not believe it. I love Amy and I really think we could both have won. I was really, really surprised and overwhelmed and speechless. It was such a long roller coaster, the whole process, and to be an absolute winner at the end, well I cried.
I know, I’m a crier – tears of joy, tears of sadness, tears of overwhelm, all kinds of tears – and in the end, it was probably tears of exhaustion.
Where did you watch the final and how did you feel?
We were actually in ‘my’ bar in Soho, with Alan and the rest of the other nine guys [10 designers took part in the competition], and the production team and a few others. Watching him with 30 rowdy Type-A personalities in a Soho bar was kind of crazy to me. It wasn’t like I was watching it in the small hotel room in London where I normally stay.
Where are you now?
I am staying with my friend in Herne Hill, South London. Before the show started, I only had one friend in London. And I have nine friends in London now…
Are you recognized in public now?
It’s really funny, I’ve been recognized more than once now. The most surprising are middle-aged straight men. They say, ‘oh, my wife loves you’, which, as a gay man on an interior design show, I find quite amusing.
Was your winning scheme – especially the bottom space – more masculine?
I wouldn’t say it’s masculine, really, I like the word beautiful, I like that kind of juxtaposition. You can have some sort of floral wallpaper – William Morris, of course – and be able to create a stunning little room, using the right colors to make it a bit darker.
Sarah said we needed mirrors? Did you add any?
No. The owner didn’t change anything. It is exactly as it was. They adore him. One of the owners even wants me to make his own apartment in London.
Tell us one thing viewers don’t see…
The intense pressure behind the scenes. I think I just lived and breathed the competition and every design. I fell asleep thinking about it and woke up thinking about it.
The whole process is exhausting, don’t underestimate that. I don’t shop at big budget stores so this involved a lot of driving. It wasn’t unusual for me to drive all the way to Grimsby, then drive back to London, then Bristol or wherever, then drive back, just to pick up this piece of treasure. I’m Australian so driving comes naturally to me, but it was tough because I couldn’t get home and decompress every week. I spent a lot of time on the road and a lot of time in hotels.
Make two floors of a Soho bar – a challenge! How did you even start coming up with an idea for a diet?
I was overwhelmed by the scale of it, not just the bar downstairs but upstairs and a cafe to the side which was a bit overlooked to be honest. So three very large spaces. The hardest part was how to make the ground floor space multifunctional for both a bar and a comedy club. That’s why I had to install folding chairs. Everything had to be modular, but creating a luxury bar with modules was quite difficult. I love that I landed on the cinema chairs as they could be folded up and stored away when not in use. I found them at Ardingly Antiques Fair in Sussex.
You like an interesting light fixture, don’t you? What can a solid shape do for a room or space?
I never mentioned why I like a fixture on the show, and maybe I should. It’s a big like that. You know if you put on a few extra pounds, you could buy yourself a nice pair of shoes to give you an instant boost? A light fixture is like that, it’s the fastest way to get a really easy result, a nice big result in a room.
The judges praised your “intuitive” understanding of interior design – when did you first realize you could have this?
When I was a kid, my mother would let me rearrange the furniture in our living room. I would always decorate my own room. And I would make installations for my mother, my family and my neighbors to admire. I would say, ‘look, but don’t touch.’ I grew up in rural Western Australia and getting into interior design wasn’t the right thing to do. I went in a different direction, advertising. It was always in the back of my mind, but it never really happened for me. Then I watched the latest series, and I thought ‘gosh – maybe that’s it.’
Of all the projects you’ve done on the show, which was your favorite, and why?
I have three. I really like the “drunken botanist” boutique hotel room in week two. It was the epitome, a moody dark green. I love the corners where you can curl up. I also really liked my shepherd’s hut (week five) – it was full of small collections. But absolutely without a doubt, the cafe at Margate (week eight), with the shutters and especially the reaction from the owners, it’s been such a buzz. And I was really blown away when, the same week, the coffee was used in this episode of [BBC drama series] Kill Eve, also on TV.
What advice would you give to anyone considering applying to the show in the future?
I think you have to believe in yourself and know that you can do it. It’s amazing what you can do. I don’t know where I got it from, but the pressure makes diamonds. My friend told me that once and I say it often. I love it. That’s life. That sums up the show. When you’re put in this position, it’s amazing what you can get out of it.
Will you now turn to interior design full time?
I hope to find that perfect balance. Make the winner’s project, [to transform a self-catering beach retreat in Watergate Bay in Cornwall], taught me a lot. I was almost an apprentice. After shooting something in two days on the show, it was quite different from doing a four-month project, with a whole production team and a huge budget. I’m really happy with the result – it’s just a space that is Banjo, sustainable and natural and reflects the environment.
I’m interested in pursuing other interior design opportunities, collecting things and reusing unusual items. I love antiquing antique rates and that sort of thing. I decided that interior design was 99% logistics and 1% design. And I’m not naturally organized.
After that ?
Now he’s back on the farm to build a whiskey bar! Chris Reade, 80, is the owner of Mull Farm where we have the cheese factory, farm shop and cafe, and we are his adopted sons. I go wild when I’m with her and we do all kinds of stupid things.
• Follow Banjo on Instagram @banjo.beale.
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