Me And My Home: Express yourself

Caroline Wingfield talks to Martin Waller about textiles, Thai stilt houses and personal taste
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The Independent Online

Martin Waller is managing director of the textiles company Andrew Martin. When he's not travelling the world, he lives in a flat in Holland Park, London

I've lived here for about eight years. Why? Because of the Kensington and Chelsea parking permit. It's the most valuable thing in London. And there's a Tootsie's across the road (the hamburger place), which is essential for any civilised life, but mainly I live here because Holland Park is a great place to live.

"Travel is an important part of my life: I like to find strange things and go to strange places. The world is so small now that you have to go to fairly obscure places to get anything a bit different. I first travelled to the Far East 20 years ago and I still go back frequently. On a recent trip I visited the head-hunter tribes in Naga land on the Burmese/Indian border. I was the first Englishman to go there for 40 years and it was fascinating; they are friendly and welcoming people.

"I am always buying things on my trips and I particularly like textiles. I've got fabrics from South-east Asia, ikats from Central Asia, and an embroidered Ottoman-era coat, which hangs on the wall. I found it in the grand bazaar in Istanbul.

"I love auctions. I have a Ming merchant cabinet from China and a 3,000-year-old Egyptian funerary mask that I picked up at Christies. The mask sits on a big coffee table next to a large Buddha, both of which came from Thailand. I'm a great fan of the 'big' principle of decorating: scale is important, go for fewer and bigger.

"I'm generally a believer in painting light rooms light and dark rooms dark. In the West Indies, where they have masses of sun, they paint everything white. When you're in a room that isn't very big it's better to make it dark, especially in dining rooms and studies. Black's a great background and I've used it to paint the bedroom walls. I've got Kuba cloths on the bed, Ethiopian shields made from hippo and a sketch by John Lennon of him and Yoko (it's not that rare, he did lots). In contrast, I think kitchens and bathrooms should be much crisper and more modern. I've used stainless steel all over - a bit like you'd find on an aeroplane.

"The interest in interior design at the moment is extraordinary, but it all adds to the sum of human happiness. The thing about interior design is that people think of it as an irrelevance in life, but actually the way people dress their homes is very important for them. I think it's hard to feel happy in a home you're not proud of.

"One of the great fascinations is the interior design from history and I think it has an enduring appeal. It's a great indicator of what a golden age we live in that things like sport and interior design and celebrity magazines are so high on our list of priorities because it means we're not worrying about all the terrible things.

"Every year Andrew Martin publishes an Interior Design Review and hundreds of people from around the world send in entries. What the book shows is that you've got to be comfortable with your own style. Taste is different throughout the world. What is the taste in the Rocky Mountains is not the same as the taste in Manhattan, let alone in Riyadh or Buenos Aires or Berlin. Are we too critical of others' tastes? Absolutely; fantastically critical. But it's always been that way. I mean, we look at Georgian things and think how perfect they were and look back on it as a kind of golden age of design and architecture and they all had exquisite taste. And the Victorians thought nothing of it.

"I think my home is an expression of my interests rather than a statement on design. It's a reflection of travel, but it also shows my interest in antiquities. I've never been an interior-design obsessive, though I'm sure the flat says something about my attitude to it. It's a bit like fashion. When you're young you're very tempted to buy different outfits, but when you get older you find a certain look suits you and you constantly buy the same thing over and over. And I think that's probably true in my home, not to say that if I moved I wouldn't do something else.

"I would love a traditional Thai house. About 20 years ago I almost bought a house on the Ping river, in Chiang Mai. And I'd still like to buy or build one. The thing is I'm not entirely sure that I want to go and live abroad for a long time. I've never been someone who wanted a house in the country or a house in France that you feel obliged to go to whenever you've got time off. I wouldn't want to go there all the time, however beautiful it was. I'd want to go somewhere else.

"Storage is one of the big problems in flats. I haven't got any in the living room. I use a lot of suitcases and Chinese trunks as I've acquired a lot of stuff that I don't want to throw away. I deliberately have to find very small things on my travels now - if it doesn't fit into a small box, it's too big. I look for curious things. I've got a Mogul coin, bone necklaces from Ethiopia, a Roman ring, an Etruscan bridle bit, from before the founding of Rome - they're worth nothing, antiquities are very out of fashion.

"It's like that film Charade with Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. There's a moment in it when they realise that the huge sum of money they're looking for is actually in stamps. But the nephew has sold them to a stamp dealer, so they go back and explain their mistake. The stamp dealer says, 'I know there must have been a mistake, but to have owned it just for a day was enough.' That's sometimes how I feel about things. Otherwise I would be completely drowning with stuff."

Andrew Martin, 200 Walton Street, London SW3 (020-7225 5100). The 'Andrew Martin Interior Design Review book 7' is £25