x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

'A house on stilts is my ideal'

Home in the life of Martin Waller. The owner of Andrew Martin International, a travel-inspired home furnishings emporium.

Jonathan Player for The National

Martin Waller is the owner of Andrew Martin International, a travel-inspired home furnishings emporium with branches throughout Europe and the US. The latest store has recently opened in Dubai International Financial Centre

I was born in Mombasa in Kenya but moved to England as a baby and enjoyed a very conventional country childhood. My grandparents bought the house I grew up in before the war and when my brother sold it, the original sofas were still there more than 50 years later. My father was born in Morocco so we used to go there on holidays and that may have ignited my love of exotic things, but I didn't travel much further afield until I started Andrew Martin.

There are two places. We have a home in Sussex where my wife Sue and children live full-time and I spend the weekends. During the week I live in my apartment in central London but I also travel a lot so don't get to spend too much time there.

The Sussex house is decorated in that very glamorous, glossy, Hollywood style which is so popular at the moment and my wife loves it. My apartment is much more reflective of my personality and taste, which is quite masculine and very multicultural - the essence of the furnishings and fabrics at Andrew Martin. I love strange objects and I love texture - especially on walls, which I don't think people spend enough time on when decorating. There are more walls in a home than anything else, so why would you only spend five minutes choosing paint?

Yes, but it wasn't a house, it was a shop - Biba in London. I just adored it and became very influenced by the idea of retail and shopping just by spending time there. The early 1970s - in Biba's heyday - were such a fantastic time for design in general; the era makes us look so insignificant now by comparison. I started Andrew Martin in 1978 as a fabric house and the travel-inspired prints just caught the public's imagination. I think our Chinese calligraphy print is one of the most copied fabrics of all time.

Yes, I am a bit of a collector. I have bought fantastic things throughout the course of my career which I have then gone on to sell in the shop. The interesting thing is that I collect but I don't feel the need to own anything for life. The thrill of owning an ancient Egyptian antiquity - even for just a short time - is thrill enough for me.

No, I wish I could, but there is such a challenge now to get furniture to market so quickly that there isn't even time to try out prototypes. At my apartment I have had the same furniture for years - old favourites that are classic in style. The hallway is even decorated with the Chinese calligraphy print, so it has been a while since I've had a change.

My favourite room would have to be my study in Sussex that is packed with interesting things. I have a 19th-century German-made Noah's Ark that is just beautiful - even though I keep coming across various animals from it in the garden that have made their way there courtesy of my six- and four-year-old children.

Several years ago we started the Andrew Martin International Interior Designer of the Year Awards and it has become enormous in the industry. I get to see the most glorious rooms from the world's top designers. Of them all, my favourite are the guest rooms Stephen Faulk designed for the Saxon Hotel in Johannesburg. The hotel, which used to be a private home, opened in 2000 and I still love the rooms as much as the first time I saw them.

I have always been very covetous of Thai houses on stilts. I love the area around Chang Mai and very nearly bought a stilted house on the river there many years ago and regret that I didn't. It would still be my ideal.

When you are 19 you wear embarrassing outfits because you haven't found your own look yet and I think the same is true of homes. A home reflects who you are as a person and it can take years to get it right - and this is not a case of having "good" or "bad" taste. There isn't really a definitive gold standard of taste - it is a reflection of our background, our culture and climate. If you walk into your house and you feel a huge level of comfort - even though most other people may hate it - then it is home.