We meet Colin and Justin at Yas Mall, Abu Dhabi

The interior designers talk perfect homes and styling for A-listers

Fashion Hits Home at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Mall welcomed world-renowned, style-savvy Scots Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan to share their well-honed interiors advice. The pair were in town for the event, revamping two rooms in less than 30 minutes (harking back to the days when they were resident designers on the UK’s popular daytime TV show, 60 Minute Makeover).

The pair have also hosted their own TV shows, broadcast across the world, including Colin and Justin’s Cabin Pressure, Game of Homes and Colin and Justin’s Home Heist. This dynamic duo also regularly rub shoulders with the rich and famous, interviewing A-list celebs, such as Hugh Jackman, Ryan Gosling and Madonna, on the red carpet. Oh, and they’ve written three bestselling books.

The pair were in Abu Dhabi hosting their Battle of the Rooms, using products from leading home stores – including Home Centre, west elm, Pottery Barn, THE One, Debenhams, Muji and ACE Hardware. Yet, amid the madness, they took a much-deserved break to talk upcycling, bad taste and how Jennifer Anniston is a “dry fish”.

How do you style the perfect room?
JR: It’s all about planning. Our biggest motto is to fail to plan is to plan to fail. We see so many people who buy a home, or decide to redesign a room, and they don’t have a strategy, so they run out of gung-ho and it never really works. If you applied that same sensibility to sartorial matters you’d be walking around in a ra-ra skirt, flip flops, a cowboy hat and a scarf from India. All those things look great in the right place when merged properly. Get your colour scheme right, get your big items next and then gradually layer.

And how do you make it work on a budget?

CM: Spend your money wisely. Never skimp on comfort. You actually want to buy the best bed you can buy, the best sofa as well, because you actually can create the look for a lower cost with accessories, and other items. We’re really into upcycling. I think stuff like that is a really good way of adding a sense of heritage to a scheme – it stops everything from looking so brand-new as well. It’s great to bring in some older pieces, but [upcycling] also gives you a chance to be a total individual. Here in the mall you can shop around – we were in THE One today, putting together some ideas, we went upstairs and there’s a little sneaky bit at the back where you can buy last season’s stuff and things that are a bit dented for less money.

Have you got any nifty upcycling tips for us?
Sure. Upcycling is a great response to people wanting to have really nice stuff without overspending. So people are going to markets, online auctions, secondhand stores; they’re buying stuff from friends and repurposing things. Obviously make sure the piece you’re buying is complete bones and then you can do anything with it; if it’s riddled with woodworm and it’s all rickety, and you can’t put it back together again without good carpentry skills, then you’ve got the wrong thing.

Paint is your best friend, the most affordable medium with which to affect considerable change. Colin and I have a line of paint called Chalky Patina, and it’s designed specifically for people who want to find that old chair and then strip off the varnish for that lovely time-worn look.

What advice do you have for someone who is unsure of their own sense of style?
Find out who you are. It’s really, really simple. Ask yourself what you like – where did you feel really happy? Where have you felt that actually the interiors made a difference? Maybe it was a holiday destination; maybe it was your honeymoon, where you had an amazing room and it was the best day of your life. Why wouldn’t you want to capture some of that and bring into your home on a daily basis? Perhaps you’re being practical – maybe you just like the style of the bed in the room, or the timber finishes on the wall, the colour of the tile in the bathroom. Stuff like that adds up to something that matters.

What home style trends should we be looking out for at the moment?
Everybody wants that slightly industrial/farmhouse look. For some time we were all driven by couture, and high fashion, and everything had to be glossy. That’s still important, but I think it’s really good to mix it with a lovely old rustic find. A farmers’ bench; a milking stool positioned against a pastel wall, with a big shot of fabric and really clever accessorising.

CM: And your man-made versus nature is an incredible trend that I love. You see it in buildings, where there’s concrete forms etched with leaf designs, and that’s suddenly finding its way into the home. So you could buy a concrete based vase with a timber section in it and it’s set on a wooden plinth.

Also, mixing old and new. It’s finding that sweet spot between having one single piece of antique furniture in a white room, where it becomes a gallery, or having old, plus old, plus old. Because if everything’s old, your place is old. You’ve got to balance it. You do that by having older pieces, but maybe not having older wall coverings – go for block colours; something soft, like pastels, that’s going to lift the whole thing.

JR: Everywhere we travel, whether it’s Australia, Britain, Canada, and here in Abu Dhabi, there’s a definite return to formality and I really like that. We’re sat today in probably what is one of my favourite, favourite brands – Ladurée – and it’s so elegant, but it’s not stuffy. It’s still quite formal – there are tiers of desserts and silver coffee jugs – but there’s a certain casualness that really makes it work. And that’s something we see coming back. Also that vintage feel.

CM: Everyone is into vinyl again. THE One actually has a huge vinyl section. They have that because people want it; they want it as part of their lifestyle. And I think that’s a nice evolution as well, that it stopped being just about design and it’s become about the experience. People want to eat the right things and they want to cook in that environment, so they want to have a well-equipped kitchen, they want to turn the lights down and put some great scented candles on, put the music on, on a turntable, and get their friends round.

Enough about interiors! You’ve also met loads of A-listers. Got any gossip for us?
Don’t listen to anyone who would tell you otherwise – Madonna is the most courteous, friendly and easy-going people you’ll ever meet. We interviewed her after her W.E. movie, which had just been to the Venice Film Festival and it was savaged. I think she came to Toronto [International Film Festival] on a charm offensive; she was incredibly friendly to all of us.

I said to her: “Madonna, what does it feel like to wake up to all these shocking headlines?” We had been talking about the film and how badly received it had been. She said: “I’m Madonna Ciccone, I don’t need to read the headlines because after all I make them”. I loved that response.

What was really lovely to see – she was so fantastic with everybody and she went into her movie, and before it started she asked for a round of an applause for all the volunteers, because that festival happens with a lot of volunteers and it couldn’t exist without them.

We saw how lovely she was. But the next day the media said Madonna arrived at TIFF, wouldn’t talk to anybody, marched right up the red carpet, disappeared in and sat down. Complete rubbish.

CM: We’ve been lucky, we’ve met some really, really good people. Hugh Jackman is one of my favourites. We’ve got to meet Jake [Gyllenhaal] on three occasions – he’s such a great actor and such a great guy as well. On the third time, he was familiar with us. And one of our colleagues interviewed him a year later and he looked at the identifier on the microphone and he was like “Where are Colin and Justin?” She was like “Oh my goodness!” So they put her on the news channel in Canada!

JR: Hugh Jackman is probably one of the most charming people I’ve ever met in that context.

We interviewed Julianne Moore last year. She was really super-friendly and it was going really well. Colin said to her: “You know what, Julianne, it’s incredible that a woman of your vintage is still working incredibly well in the industry.” She went: “What did you just say? Of my vintage?! A car can be vintage, old clothes can be vintage, I’m a woman!”

CM: Whoops!

Anyone you’ve met who wasn’t very friendly?
Jennifer Anniston is a bit of a dry fish.

CM: Yeah, she was quite icy. Maybe she just didn’t like us, or maybe she could have been having a bad day. It’s different strokes for different folks. Like, we interviewed Chris Evans and he was incredible; we were laughing and we were getting him to do the human torch thing. Then he goes down the carpet and gets interviewed by other people. Then the carpets closed and so you’re chatting with your colleagues. I was like “Chris Evans – the most amazing” and they said he was like “yes, no, yes, no, wouldn’t answer any of my questions”!

Sometimes it’s just down to the chemistry…

JR: We interviewed Richard Gere, and I said to him: “You’ve had such a fantastically illuminating career, you’ve done absolutely so many fantastic films – what’s your favourite role?” And he went: “Like I’ve never been asked that question before.” And I thought, what a shame to be so rude to the interviewer, because then I lost interest.

I would never be like that. If it wasn’t for you asking questions, then people would never hear. If I asked someone something and they said that’s a really dumb question, I’d just say: “Well there’s no such thing as a dumb question, but there is such a thing as a dumb answer. Next!”

For more information, visit www.yasmall.ae.

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