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Interior Design Masters S5/Episode 3: Ascot Hospitality Boxes

Interior Design Masters S5/Ep 3: Photo Finish



This week the remaining aspiring designers were under starter’s orders at Royal Ascot, having each been challenged to redesign one of the racecourse’s hospitality boxes.  Each box consisted of a cloakroom, a bar/dining area, a balcony from which to view the racing, with the addition of a tv and drinks fridge.  According to the racecourse website, each box needs to be able to accommodate twelve people for a seated lunch or 18 for a buffet – and during Royal Ascot costs a whopping £20,000 PER DAY to hire.

Michele was looking for designs to signify high society, luxury and sophistication, and wanted a ‘high end’ finish to reflect the ‘original, uplifting and elegant’ ethos of Ascot - although looking at the ‘before’ footage of the boxes, I can only assume that the previous ethos was ‘bland, beige and boring’.



I have a confession to make.  I have been to Royal Ascot.  It was many moons ago and I certainly wasn’t invited into a hospitality box, but my abiding memory is that I had never seen so many posh drunk people in one place in my entire life.  On the walk back to the car park after the racing I saw top-hatted fisticuffs, a morning suit-clad man asleep in a ditch, a designer dressed woman who had obviously wet herself, and another whose crab-like progress towards her taxi owed far more to several bottles of bubby than to her vertiginous Jimmy Choos.

Armed with this knowledge, I would have come up with a wipe-down design solution with the minimum of accessories, fixtures firmly fastened to the wall and ceiling, heel-resistant flooring, and removed everything that a carelessly flung cigar could turn into a raging inferno.   I often wish that the hotel owner/café proprietor/hairdresser etc could be included in the judging on this show, and in this instance I would have thought that the input of the hospitality box manager would have been invaluable (and possibly quite funny in a scathing kind of way).

But what do I know?  Armed with £2000, the services of the show’s resident decorators and handymen/women, and the jeopardy of this week being a DOUBLE ELIMINATION, our eight remaining contestants were eager to give us their vision.


After the first coat of paint

Anthony wanted to reflect the uniform of Ascot and came up with a dark (very dark) green scheme with panelled walls, gold accent colours and some ‘bespoke’ black artwork.  Unfortunately the dark green paint needed four coats before it looked anything other than awful, and although it did look very smart in the end and was probably the most ‘high end’ looking of them all it would look incredibly dark if the sun failed to shine.

Matt wanted to make sure that everyone using the box got a framed view of the racecourse, that his fairly neutral scheme didn’t clash with anyone’s posh frock, and produced some jockey silk-inspired artwork.   Definitely the designer who had most considered the end user.


'Is my face really that square?'

Domnall had - surprise, surprise - produced some racing-related graphic art for the walls (including caricatures of Michele, guest judge Kelly Hoppen and Alan), and more green paint on the walls.


Domnall's finished room

Jess decided that her inspiration would come from the recently-relaxed dress rules for Royal Ascot regarding trans, non-binary and queer racegoers and decided to decorate her box in a retro disco style.  This included hot glueing silver balls to the ceiling, upholstering the walls, adding gold tassels, but not replacing the original boring table and chairs provided by Ascot.  Alan kept repeating the ‘original, uplifting, elegant’ brief, but Jess channelled her inner Meat Loaf and insisted that two out of three ain’t bad.


Disco balls or robot haemorrhoids?

She hardly mentions it, but by now I think some of us may have an inkling that Roisin likes florals.  She therefore took her inspiration (very literally) from ‘an English summer house’, and fixed painted trellis to the ceiling and walls of her room, painted everything a very bright green, and added panels of very busy floral paper along with bright chairs and petal shaped lighting.  I think it is fair to say that Roisin hasn’t yet learnt the art of knowing when to stop – many of the guests in the box would be suffering from a visual hangover several drinks earlier than usual.


Trying (and ultimately failing) to line up the luxury ceiling trellis

Wannabe Blue Peter presenter Francesca was one of the few to avoid using green paint, and instead painted her box a baby blue colour with black and white chequerboard patterned flooring and a luxury lighting installation made from hand painted sticks.  Her walls were adorned with some jockey silk paintings from her ‘very talented at art’ brother (who judging from what he produced must be about five years old).  Not sure that Francesca had taken on board the numbers of people who might be expected to sit down in her box as her table was very small, but as no-one else commented on it I presume it didn’t really matter.  Does it sound as if I am biased because I’m not very keen on Francesca?  You wouldn’t get very long odds on that I’m afraid.


Hannah decided to completely ignore the fact that the main activities indulged by racegoers are drinking, betting and watching the racing and instead turned her box into a Japanese-restaurant themed space.  No tv coverage of the parts of the course that couldn’t be seen from the balcony, no keeping up with the screen display of the betting odds and no easily grabbing another bottle of Bolly; Hannah decreed that the tv and the drinks fridge needed to be hidden away behind some sliding doors inspired by a game of Connect 4.  This took up a lot of time and was completely unnecessary – as were her padded walls (which would undoubtedly be covered in stains after the first day of racing).


Hannah loves circles but didn't want to include too many on this project.  Really?

This leaves us with Ben (or HMS Pinafore as he was dubbed by someone on Twitter), who only seems to be able to design film sets or theatre stages.  His ‘My Fair Lady’ scheme was very white, with a black and white striped ceiling that gave the impression of a tent (but also gave the impression of a job badly done as none of the stripes lined up properly), and yet more trellis attached to the walls.  How long would it be before a Hooray Henry decided to try and climb up?  About the same time it takes to drink a bottle of champagne I suspect.



Both Ben and Roisin’s schemes to be seemed more ‘garden centre café’ than ‘Royal Ascot hospitality box’ – I didn’t hate them, but didn’t think they had listened to the brief.


Michele and Kelly Hoppen toured around the boxes to give their verdict.  It is hard to tell what Kelly is thinking most of the time, for even when she declares that she really likes something she forgets to tell her face.  I rather think she probably would have preferred the beige boxes before the first tin of paint had been opened.

Kelly Hoppen looking very happy

She liked Matt’s scheme – ‘simple, nothing to offend’ – which made him so happy I thought he might weep onto his tracksuit at one point. 

Matt overcome with emulsion at Kelly's praise

Kelly predictably didn’t like Roisin’s wallpaper overkill, and also turned up her nose at Hannah’s marble-effect chequerboard flooring.   Michele and Kelly both liked Domnall’s room and then for some reason tried very hard to find something to criticise – eventually telling him that he does too many graphics and needs to pare it back.  They both loved Francesca’s blue room – Kelly remarking that it felt so spacious (that’s because her table is TOO SMALL); they both inexplicably liked the wooden stick lighting, and we found that the way to keep off the sofa is to include a bit of panelling as that’s Michele’s soft spot.  Anthony’s scheme also got the thumbs up (it reminded Kelly of going to Claridges for tea), but Jess got a mixed reaction.  Kelly immediately got Studio 54 vibes and loved the tassels and the upholstered walls, but didn’t like the colours chosen, the wall lights, or the fact that Jess hadn’t re-upholstered the chairs.


Ben got the thumbs down too – they both loved the ceiling, but thought that he had gone too literal with his My Fair Lady interpretation and wouldn’t it be luverly if he’d given a hint rather than smacked us in the face with his inspiration (apologies to those not familiar with the My Fair Lady soundtrack who won’t understand that last sentence at all)


So……who won Standout Space?  Anthony’s dark green room got the nod this week, with honourable mentions to Matt, Domnall and Francesca.  That left Hannah, Ben, Jess and Roisin to sit on the Sofa of Doom and the bookies in the Snowbunting enclosure gave the shortest odds to Hannah and Jess and subsequently cleaned up.  I didn’t necessarily agree with sending them home – I think Ben escaped by a short head – but I couldn’t see either of them progressing very far in the competition so not sure it will make much difference to who makes the final. 


The Sofa of Doom

What did you think?  Which of those boxes would you choose to book?  Who is your early front runner for series champion? 

1 comment

  • I concur. I suspect Francesca will be unable to contain herself and will revert to complete overkill next week. Heaven knows what Ben will produce next! Next week they will be working in pairs. Perhaps these two should team up and make it easier for Michele?
    Matt looks promising, if a bit ‘safe’.


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