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It was a crucial week on Interior Design Masters with just four designers remaining to fight it out for a place in the semi-finals.
Split into two teams, it was boys versus girls with Banjo and Paul on one team and Fran and Amy on the other. The challenge: to redesign two cafes in the seaside town of Margate, Kent.
Paul and Banjo took on Olby’s Soul Cafe, where they were tasked with channelling a cool Caribbean vibe whilst creating a multifunctional space that doubles up as an evening venue for gigs and DJs. Meanwhile, flying the flag for girl power, Fran and Amy got to work on Charlie’s, a seafront cafe, whose owners were looking for a design that avoids seaside cliché but has a welcoming vibe that matches their ambition to provide reasonably priced food.
The finished venues needed to attract both daytime and evening crowds – and while the overall look had to be cohesive, each team member took ownership for their own zones.
Having impressed week in, week out with her creative flair and attention to detail, it was Fran’s journey on the show which sadly came to an end. It was a stressful, emotional week, with tears, a lot of challenges, and definitely not enough time.
House Beautiful UK had an exclusive chat with the lovely Fran, discussing the emotional task week, that red paint spillage, and why she disagrees with head judge Michelle Ogundehin…
How did you feel watching the episode back?
I got a bit emotional. I’ve got to be honest, it was a really hard one, it was tough. I think we had a lot to do in a very short space of time and you kind of forget the intensity of it all. But it was really lovely to watch it back.
When you all sat on the sofa, did you have a feeling that you might be at risk of leaving the competition?
Yes, I thought I could be going, definitely. I spoke to Amy beforehand and she was like, ‘no, we’re both going through, don’t worry’. She’s super positive and I was like, ‘no, I think my time’s up’. The week before Margate, my daughter – she has type 1 diabetes – ended up in A&E, really, really ill, and my cat had died, and you know when the stars are aligning, it’s time to get home, back to real life. So I kind of had an inkling.
How does it feel to be leaving at this stage of the competition when it’s so close to the final?
I think obviously you’re going to be gutted. It’s funny, we were filming when the Euros were on and I kept saying from the very beginning that as long as I could do as well as England would do in the football then that’s okay. So in my head, I just wanted to make it to the final four, so I got to where I wanted to, and anything else would have been brilliant. I’m really proud and I worked so, so hard, but equally, all of the other designers are so talented – I feel pretty privileged to have got this far.
Reupholstering the banquette area took the biggest chunk of time, on reflection, would you still focus most of your time on this area?
I put some detailing on the back with some metal studding, and actually, you didn’t even notice that on camera. It’s a detail that you would notice sitting down on it, but it was that kind of detail that you don’t necessarily need in a competition like this. I could have just covered the whole thing. Amy said this to me but I wanted to do it because I’m kind of all about the experience. I was always aiming for a really professional finish, and not something that was slapdash, so yeah, I shouldn’t have done that.
What other challenges did you face that perhaps didn’t make the edit?
From the front door into the main area of the shop, I laid some lino. I’ve laid lino before, and I took the old lino out, put that to one side, and I got the new lino out and started putting it in. Everyone was saying, ‘you should just use the old bit as a template’. I don’t normally do that because if the template’s off, then you’re not going to get a good fit. I’d rather just fit it in the space, which is what I’ve done previously.
But I ended up using it as a template, and I don’t know my left and right – I find it really hard and get really confused with mirror images and reflections. So I got the template, put it down, cut it all out, picked up my lino, flipped it round, but I copied it in the reverse! So basically, when I put my lino in, it would have been perfect if I could put it in upside down, but when I flipped it, it was all wrong. I didn’t have enough to rectify it, so that was really crappy.
But there was a lot of painting to do in that space. You didn’t see in the corner of the room, but they had an ice cream dispensary that they created during COVID, which was made from old shower doors, like an actual shower screen, so I had to come up with a design to hide all of that. And then I spent half a day painting the inside and no one even looked in there. But again, I just wanted it to be really finished for the client. To be honest, Wayne the TV carpenter told me, ‘what are you doing? No one’s going to see that’ and I was like, ‘no, I want it to be perfect’, like an idiot. So yeah, I definitely could have used my time in a different way.
And what about all the red paint that spilled over in the van? Did you manage to save any of that?
That was hilarious! No, we didn’t salvage any of it. To be honest, there’s probably still paint in that van now. The entire can went everywhere, killed our suitcases, it was all over the road, it looked like a murder scene.
There was a disagreement between yourself and Amy over who was doing the curtains in the bar area and you got a bit tearful afterwards, tell us more about that…
I think it was a really emotional week anyway, off the back of what I said had happened the week before, and Amy had done a lot of the preparation. I don’t drive, she can drive, so I would find a lot of the stuff and she would pick it up. But I was also working all of the preparation week, so I was very aware that she’d done a lot more than me. When we got to the site and I got distracted with the banquette, I got a vibe that she was doing loads more than me.
I said to Amy I’ll do the back of the bar, not realising in her mind, the back of the bar included that curtain area. So when she said, ‘well, you’ve got to do it’, I was like, ‘what, I’ve got no budget to cover it. I haven’t even factored in anything to do with that. I don’t know what to do’. And I just burst into tears and was like, ‘I don’t know, I didn’t realise’ and she was really p**sed off and rightly so, to be honest. She’d done loads and I’d been stuck doing that sofa which she told me not to do. But it was all resolved and we ended up doing it together, and we’re the best of friends now.
How do you feel you both worked as a team on this project?
I think we worked really, really well. We’re tight. But I think that we probably could have communicated better. I think that because we’re really, really close, we relied on that closeness to get us through, rather than being like two separate designers coming together. We always had each other’s backs 100 per cent but we could have communicated better. Having said that, I can’t fault Amy and anything that she did. She’s just a trooper, her resilience is insane.
Are you happy with the final makeover?
You know, I think I am. I mean, Amy and I were chatting about it last night and if we were going to change the faux marble laminate – which did look a bit naff but we were trying to go for a little bit of luxury, even though I know vinyl isn’t luxury – what would we have changed it to? Would we have put a linen tablecloth? We didn’t have enough money for that. Like, what would we have done instead? I don’t really know. Would we have just gone with bold colours? I think you’ve just got to own it. I was really happy – it was cheerful, ice-creamy, a little bit Miami, a little bit 30s, 20s… you know what I mean!
On the sofa Michelle fires a lot of questions. How does it feel when you’re having to defend your design decisions?
Oh, it’s terrifying. You’re sitting there thinking about what she’s going to ask you. Also, she’s coming from this position of an insane amount of knowledge and wisdom and she is very much like a mentor, and she wants to support you. And I’m not very confrontational, so I don’t feel like you can turn around and go ‘well, actually, I think this, this and this’. So you just kind of sit there like a schoolgirl going ‘yeah, yeah, you’re right.’
I think when you leave, then you go, ‘oh, I should have said this’. But it’s very intimidating and a very, very intense environment. I don’t know, it feels like forever – it’s probably about at least an hour or 45 minutes, time stops on the sofa!
Do you agree with Michelle’s comments about the colour palette?
No, no, no way. No way. Like, yes, when you look at the painting and you see the colour palette, it’s not an immediate pull together, but I know that we took those colours directly from the painting. I don’t feel like it’s the be-all and end-all. It was a reference, it was a starting point, and in design, design moves and shifts and it’s a journey, so your starting point might be here but where you end up is somewhere else. But it’s that journey, it’s the creativity, it’s the process, so I don’t think that saying, ‘well, it doesn’t reflect that Turner painting’ is really relevant.
If you don’t like the colour palette then cool but saying because it doesn’t reflect Turner, I don’t really think that’s the point. The colour palette doesn’t work, that’s fine. But the fact that it doesn’t work, you can’t take away that we took the colours from the painting.
After Michelle said she was ‘torn’ over who should leave, you defended Amy, saying you both decided on the colours and faux marble together. You also said you ‘might regret saying it’, so, do you regret it?
Not at all, no way. Absolutely no way. I think that you’ve got to walk through life with your honesty and integrity. I was listening to Michelle and I felt like she was trying to weigh up who’s was responsible for this and who was responsible for that, and as soon as she said the colour palette and the marble table tops were Amy’s decision, in my head, alarm bells were going like ‘it wasn’t just Amy’s decision’.
There was a part of me that thought, well I could stay quiet, but that would just be wrong, so I had to fess up and say I was involved in that. And I didn’t finish the bar either.
What did you think of Paul and Banjo’s design of Olby’s?
I mean, it was amazing, wasn’t it? Sickeningly so! They’re so good. Banjo’s so good. I loved it, it was beautiful. Although in our defence, they had an amazing building. The architecture, the high ceilings, the different levels – they weren’t restricted really in any way. They didn’t have walls and walls of tiles to compete with, you know, they had the bare bones of what was a beautiful space. They couldn’t really have messed it up, I would say. But yes, it was stunning and the design detail was really, really lovely.
Who do you want to win?
I mean, obviously Amy. She’s my girl, and her tenacity and just the way she’s progressed from like the first episode to now, to someone who holds her own and is super tough, she always had that in her. I’m in awe of her intense focus and ability and creative talent. But I obviously think Banjo is going to be in the final too.
What’s next for you?
In terms of fashion styling, I’m still doing that and I’ve got some big jobs coming up. I’m also doing some interior design projects, which is fun, even though people message me and are like, ‘well, can you do this?’ And I’m like, ‘you do know I’m not actually an interior designer, I was just on an interior design show’. I’m very aware that I’m not an interior designer, however, people don’t seem to mind and I did learn a lot on the show. I’m also having discussions and collaborating with a charity who do interior design projects for people who need that help and aren’t fortunate enough to have the funds to do it, so that’s just putting some good out there.
• Catch the next episode of Interior Design Masters on Wednesday at 9pm on BBC One. Follow Fran on Instagram @fran_lee_creative.
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