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Anns making her mark

You’ve been presenting Interior Rivalry on five – the second series aired earlier this year. What’s it all about?
It was a reality television show to find the best and most talented ‘house doctor’ – that is, someone who comes in to your home and changes the interior so you can sell for the market value or more.

I haven’t been doing House Doctor for while – we’ve completed the eighth series and there are no plans for number nine yet.

Have you enjoyed doing something different, after so long on one show?
It’s been a totally different experience – it was a chance for me to take everything I know and have learned over the years and put it out there for other people. My role was to observe and then make some hard decisions on who would be the best person to win. Basically, I had someone’s future in my hands. It wasn’t a show that tried to embarrass or humiliate people though.

What inspired you to came up with the concept for Interior Rivalry?
I’ve been teaching lots of house doctor courses in the UK and after one extended course I thought it would be a great idea for a reality show. This was long before other shows had come out, like The Apprentice and so on, but it was three years before it came together.

How did your own career start and how did you get into interior design?
I started my career as an estate agent, but after 13 years I realised that it was the interiors of houses that interested me. I started doing ‘home staging’ (preparing homes for sale) and really enjoyed it, so

I did an interior design course and very quickly my business took off. This was in 1990 – it was a huge learning curve for me. I’m a natural at interiors but I was learning the business side as I went. And when I started the training courses it was more intense as I had people looking to me for work and training.

Why did you start the training courses?
It was during series four of House Doctor that I decided I needed a new challenge. I was getting tired of the programme and I knew there was a gap in the market here for home staging. It’s very big in the States and is growing rapidly in the UK. When I first started the courses, about 11 years ago, only about 5% of participants were interested in setting up their own home staging businesses. Now, of those who attend the course, about 95% want to set up a business because they can see it as a viable option.

How did your television career start?
I was in Italy taking an al fresco painting course and I met an interior designer who later came out to visit me in the States. She was fascinated by the concept of home staging and told her friend, who worked as a producer at the BBC, about it. I then got a phone call asking if I’d do slot on Home Front, but I wouldn’t get paid very much. I don’t know how many times I heard that! Daisy Goodwin, who was the producer, moved to a different television company and asked me to do a pilot of House Doctor. It was commissioned straight away, and eight years later it’s still going! So, without meaning to sound egotistical, I launched the concept of home staging in the UK.

What aspect of your job do you like the most?
I like the variety, meeting different people and the creativity of it. Since doing the training courses I’ve found that launching other people into successful careers is an amazing thing to watch, as it changes their lives. I get the most satisfaction from watching other people grow and develop.

Where do you go for interior design inspiration?
The best thing for me is getting away – travelling gives me the biggest creative stimulation. I’ve done a lot of travelling to primitive places and I just love the colours, the artefacts, the people, the smells, the tastes. I’ve travelled all over, including trips to the Middle East, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Greece, Peru and Ecuador to name a few. I particularly love visiting markets and getting out into nature – beaches or mountains present so many beautiful colours and light effects.

What did you last buy for your own home?
I love buying art – not necessarily expensive pieces, but they have to captivate me. Our house in Palm Springs is in an area with a retro 50s and 60s vibe. I bought a modernist painting by a Japanese/American artist from 1958, which fits perfectly.

What was your favourite House Doctor makeover?
It was when we were called in to do a widow’s house – it just wasn’t selling. She’d had a good life with her husband, with lots of entertaining and parties, and they had a wall that they had asked all their friends to sign. She was very reluctant to give up her memories, so I had a photo taken of the wall and then made it into a moveable wall so she could take it with her. She was so pleased; it was very touching. I like happy endings.

Which makeover proved to be the most challenging?
One of the most intense was a house where we had to completely gut the bathroom and take down a wooden conservatory that the owner had built, because it was dangerous. There were so many problems with that house and we had just 10 days to fix them, but we managed it. The owners did sell it in the end, so they were happy. It’s hard to move on from a house as it can bring up psychological issues – your house is the closest thing to who you are. It represents years of memories and emotions and people get very attached to where they live, so it can be hard moving out.

How would you define your personal style?
Eclectic – even though it’s an overused word – as I like both old and new. I like clean modernist lines and buildings that are 400 years old – that’s why I like antique shops. I’ve bought two houses in totally different styles – one’s an old colonial house in Mexico and one is a very modern property in California. They satisfy both of my needs.

Georgian or Victorian?
I like Georgian – I find Victorian claustrophobic, although I do like certain pieces. I also like modern though, I’m not a purist in that sense, liking just one period.

Who is your biggest influence?
My uncle, who’s also my Godfather. He taught me to think outside the box. He was born in the 20s but should have been born in the 60s. He was avant garde. He gave me the confidence to do anything and be anything I wanted to be without being afraid to take a risk.

What’s the most expensive item you’ve bought for your home?
A piece of art I bought a few years ago from New Mexico – it’s hanging in our casual sitting room. I don’t buy art as an investment, just for pleasure. It’s something you can love forever.

What book are you reading at the moment?
A book called Rain of Gold by Victor E. Villaseñor – it’s a true story about two Mexican families coming together when they move from Mexico to California. It’s an amazing read.

Who would you like to swap places with for 24 hours?
Camilla Parker Bowles! We don’t have a royal family in the US and they fascinate me, so I’d like to get an inside scoop.

What’s your favourite place in Britain?
I’d have to say London – I feel at home there. There is always this ‘Paris/London, which is better?’ debate going on in the US and most people say Paris, but I don’t think it has the buzz that London does. London has everything, although it might take you three hours to cross from one side to the other!

What shop can’t you walk by without buying something?
Portobello Road market in west London – I like to find a bargain and I’m a great market hunter. I also love going to TK Maxx for home stuff. They have some amazing things from all over the world at such good prices. My pulse races when I know I’m going to TK Maxx and might bag a bargain. And I usually come away with two pairs of shoes as well!

What is the biggest regret of your career?
I wish I could have started some parts of my career earlier – I still feel I have so much to do and I don’t have time. I should have been more serious about it early on.

What is your proudest career moment to date?
Doing what I did in the UK – not just the television presenting, but being able to change people’s lives and being responsible for kicking off the ‘house staging’ concept in the UK, which has changed the way people sell houses.

What is your number one decorating tip?
If you love it, don’t be afraid to use it – whether it’s colour, furniture or fabric. Look at what makes you happy and don’t be a slave to the rules.

Who would you like to play you in a film of your life?
Kate Winslet, because she seems real.

Who is the most fanciable male in film or television?
Johnny Depp, over anybody else. And Jude Law comes a close second.

And what should be avoided?
Don’t do something just because it’s fashionable this year. Find out what works for you, not just what the magazines tell you to have. People generally like to be told what to do, but decorating your home is part of self-exploration and what works for you, won’t necessarily work for anyone else.

What’s the biggest mistake house sellers make?
People think that because they’ve lived in a house for years and have all their personal things around them, the buyer will feel the same way as they do about their house. They over-personalise and are not able to see their house through the buyer’s eyes.

What have you got planned for the future career-wise?
I want to grow my training business, there’s more writing I’d like to do and I have something in the pipeline television-wise – but I can’t say what it is yet! I feel like I’m done with House Doctor – never say never, but unless they come up with a different concept I won’t do it again.

And finally, what do you do to relax?
Shop! I don’t relax very well – I find movement relaxing, so any type of shopping, whether it’s supermarket or markets or normal shops, helps me wind down.

Photos: Shutterstock, Getty Images & Lander Rodriguez

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