Interior designer Martin Waller reveals his adventurous side – and how his travels from Nagaland to Timbuktu are central to the work at his interiors studio
A couple of months ago, Martin Waller found himself gazing at El Mirador, the lost city in the middle of the Guatemalan jungle. It had taken two helicopters and a private plane to get there, and the interior designer was alone save for a local guide and guards.
“This was a city that might once have been the largest in the world, and is now completely deserted, like something out of Ozymandias,” he describes. “It’s poignant, moving, and you become fascinated by the culture. There’s also an astonishingly rich textile heritage in Guatemala, with wonderfully bright colours and beautiful handwoven designs.”
Waller founded the interiors company Andrew Martin in 1978, then based in Richmond, specialising in fabrics and home accessories. A decade later, it had moved to Walton Street, where the company’s headquarters remain, selling furniture, lighting and wallpapers alike.
“If you want Michelangelo to design your wallpaper, we can do it”
Its distinctions include showrooms across India, the Middle East, Russia, China and the United States; as well as a licence with the National Gallery that permits the company to reproduce any of its artworks on textiles or wallpapers. “If you want Michelangelo to design your wallpaper, we can do it.” The designer has also worked on film sets – from James Bond in the 1980s to Harry Potter – and for hotels including the Marbella Club and The Langham.
Yet it is Waller’s passion for travel that has long epitomised Andrew Martin. He has set foot on every continent, travelling to Siberia in search of mammoths, through Nagaland and visiting some of the most remote locations on earth. He spends around half the year on the move, but finds that travel is as much about people as the actual place.
“People are endlessly astonishing,” the designer says. On his way to Timbuktu, Waller met Bozo and Dogon communities that live clinging on to the Bandiagara Escarpment in Mali. “They have this culture of carving and ceremonies that is so different from our sculptural history, which is based on the classical Greek style, yet so familiar because it was such an inspiration for Matisse and Picasso through the wars. One is so astonished by man’s endless creativity.”
Almost all Waller’s creations reflect something of these experiences, be it in colour, texture or print. “To translate an experience into a fabric, you either buy vintage artefacts and textiles from that place,” he says, “or you take inspiration from a quintessential motif.”
An Andrew Martin interior isn’t about transplanting cultures or creating themed rooms, however. “We bring an African sculpture into a room that might also have a Chinese wedding cabinet and a comfortable English sofa or a Turkish rug,” he says. “We’re not about direct pastiches of looks. We bring influences from all over.”
Waller has also found that his travels have raised a number of deeper questions about our modern world. He cites people in Timbuktu who take camel trains and caravans across deserts just by following the stars, walking for days on end.
“UNESCO is now putting computers in schools there. Do you try to preserve the culture that does this astonishing thing, or do you let them develop the skills to use GPS?” Waller poses.
“I don’t know the answer. There’s no doubt that cultures and languages are being lost all over the world at an incredible rate. Even British culture is completely different from 500 or 1,000 years ago – and we think it’s progress that we don’t have ferocious Vikings pillaging churches. But sometimes we think about other cultures being isolated and preserved like that forever.”
Waller’s bags are probably already packed for his next trip. The rainforest in Cameroon has been on his hit list for a long time, but he laughs that his top interiors tip is far closer to home. “The great bargain of our age is English antiques. The next place one should travel to is the Cotswolds.”