The only show with a prize worth winning


It’s a tale as old as time. You wait forever for a Sound of Music-themed bedroom in a former convent and two come along at once. It can only be the return of Interior Design Masters.

Alan Carr is back for a fifth series, with 10 aspiring Linda Barkers, this time competing to win a contract with online retailer La Redoute to create their own homewares line. As one of the few skills-based reality competitions with a prize actually worth winning (especially on the BBC, home of the “coveted RuPeter Badge” on Rupaul’s Drag Race UK), the contestants are a mix of dedicated amateurs and semi-professionals genuinely trying to make it in the design world.

As ever, they are a bunch of eclectic dressers, which proved helpful to keep track of everyone via identifying features like “clown-suit”, “beret and pinny” and “extreme eyeliner”.

Thankfully, the show has ditched its recent opening episode format of pairing up the designers, which always muddied the waters (better to keep the dreaded focus on “collaboration” for later in the series). It has instead returned to letting the group loose on 10 identical spaces on which they must imprint their signature style with a budget of £1,000.

Interior Design Masters with Alan Carr S5,12-03-2024,Series ,Generic,(l-r) Ash, Sheree, Francesca, Hannah, Benat, Domnall, Roisin, Anthony, Matt, Jess,**Embargoed until Tuesday 5th March 2024**,Darlow Smithson Productions,Kevin Ralph
(L-R) Ash, Sheree, Francesca, Hannah, Benat, Domnall, Roisin, Anthony, Matt and Jess (Photo: Kevin Ralph/BBC/Darlow Smithson Productions)

In this case that was 10 four by two-metre nuns’ cells in an old Norfolk convent, now a B&B run by homelessness charity, Emmaus. The brief was to turn the rooms into “destination” bedrooms, a slightly vague term that seemed to boil down to “theme” based on the end results.

The rooms needed to be practical, comfortable and welcoming and include at least one upcycled item from the on-site charity shop. They categorically did not need to be Sound of Music themed but that didn’t stop Domnhall, who went extremely literal (and full Airbnb) with his mural and inspiring quote on the wall, or Sheree, who mentioned the film once and then proceeded to design a room that had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Working in such tiny spaces did not breed restraint and the old adage “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” hovered ominously (as did Carr, inexplicably wandering around handing out ice lollies at one point).

There was botanical maximalism from Roisin, clever upholstery from Jess, a slightly intense love of textured walls from Matt and an extraordinary transformation from Ben, a historicist who dresses like he’s walked out of a Holbein painting and turned his cell into a Victorian train carriage.

Formidable head judge Michelle Ogundehin (former editor-in-chief of Elle Decoration) was joined by designer Abigail Ahern continuing the show’s strong line-up of guest judges who don’t hold back. Although the catchphrases could use some work (“standout space” for the winning design, while the bottom three must sit “on Michelle’s sofa”), the actual criticism had bite. One contestant was devastatingly told that she has produced “a decorated room, not a designed room” (it turns out that graphic shapes do not a design philosophy make).

As first episodes go, it suffered from being pretty obvious from the start who was going home – Sheree’s horizontal approach of cheerfully proclaiming she had “no plan” and chillaxing on the lawn while letting Alan attempt to hand-paint her curtains had early exit written all over it – but who goes home isn’t really the point.

The point is the opportunity for us to snark from the sofa about paint colours while ignoring the actual DIY we need to do in our own homes. And with taste levels ranging satisfyingly from completely forgettable to actively horrible to quite nice, actually (and taking in someone unfathomably choosing to include an actual commode), Interior Design Masters more than meets the brief.


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