Before you consider hiring interior designer Melanie Rose to create a personal lovemaking retreat, there’s something you need to know. “I’m slightly dominant,” she admitted in a recent interview with Salon.
She views that as a comfort to he clients. After all, people hire her for a specialty explained in the title of her Netflix series: “How To Build a Sex Room.” Rose is an expert at making people’s kinks and sensual fantasies a reality by transforming an ordinary room in their homes into a swoon-worthy boudoir built for connection and coitus.
For that, she explains, one has to be able to take command. “Because if someone’s coming to you with a blank slate, you have to be able to tell them what to do with it, right?”
The Los Angeles-based British designer takes on a series of spaces for clients who range from married couples that have back-burnered their sex lives to long-distance relationship partners seeking a landing pad between their separations. There’s a family whose children have taken over, and there’s a family consisting of two women and four men in a polyamorous relationship. Rose carefully listens to all of their needs, helps them consider options they hadn’t thought of, and in the end hands them a space designed for connection, play and plenty of kink.
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One strains to imagine this show occupying a slot on HGTV, and yet the aspirational appeal is the same. Although Rose’s sex rooms are luxurious in every sense of the word, they are attainable with a bit of creativity and an unfettered imagination. A recent interview yielded a cascade of tips on how to create your own getaway for getting down, along with speaking to the question of whether her reputation as “The Mary Poppins of Sex Rooms” gives her a leg up in terms of putting nervous clients at ease.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
“I think that’s really what it boils down to, is my rooms are sexy and sensual.”
It’s been said by many people, including John Oliver, that Americans hear or interact with a person who was born and raised in Britain and has a British accent in a way that assumes authority and also assumes comfort. For example, somebody called you “The Mary Poppins of Sex Rooms.” How do you feel about that? Does that annoy you?
Not at all! I mean, I, am very British. And yes, I love being called Mary Poppins. Why wouldn’t I? I think it’s fun.
I wonder if your way of speaking adds additional comfort when you’re sitting in front of people and having these very frank conversations about sexual preference, as in “Do you like bondage?” Or, say, when you’re pulling a butt plug out of your purse. This is not something that many people do on TV or, you know, in any public place.
I agree. Certainly my English accent, I think people do find some comfort in it. But also, subtle is not in my vocabulary. I’m just very matter-of-fact about it. So if I come across like that, then people tend to think, “Oh, thank goodness, OK, she’s approachable.” You can talk to me about anything; it doesn’t matter. I’m here to listen, as a designer, to what your needs are. And I think my accent and just my personality hopefully helps.
Enough about that! Let’s get to the meat of this conversation, which concerns your design skills. What makes a sex room different from a room that might be described as, say, sexy or sensual?
That’s a very interesting question, actually. I think most of my rooms, to whatever point and whatever the client wants, do come across as sensual as well. I think you can say, “Oh, this is a very sensual living room” or “This is a very sensual bedroom.” And what makes it different from my rooms is what’s actually in there. What’s actually hiding beneath the sheets? What’s hiding behind the picture frames, or what’s in drawers? I think that’s really what it boils down to, is my rooms are sexy and sensual. There is also a little bit of hidden vibrators, cock rings, butt plugs and floggers somewhere around there.
Ryan, Raj, and Melanie Rose in “How To Build a Sex Room” (Courtesy of Netflix)
You’ve been doing this for quite some time. Are people a little more familiar with those devices than they were when you first started?
I think so. Over the years it has become a little bit more approachable to talk about these things. And of course, we’ve certainly had those stores on the high streets open up. Then we also had, you know, talking points from the movie and things like that. I think that opened people’s minds and doors. I do know during the pandemic, sales of adult toys or sex toys actually went up 400% because people needed to find things to do when they were at home just being, you know home and alone, I suppose.
You mention in the series that one point in your design career, you had not designed a sex room until a client asked you to do. How did that room rate on the scale of, you know, what we’re seeing on the show?
Oh, that was very interesting. Yes, I had been with this particular client for about four or five years. You find in interior design, you do have long-stay relationships with your clients, and they ask you continually for your help, and so forth.
She asked me one time if I’d ever designed a sex room and I was like, “Uh, ‘sex room’? No?”
I’m curious by nature. So I went home and Googled it and found all these sort of like dungeons and stuff like that. And I was like, “Ooh, those don’t look very nice.” Then I thought, “But, why? Why don’t they look nice, when they could look really beautiful?’ So I thought, Why not? Let’s just go out and design a sex room and make it look beautiful. Make it something that people, when you mention the words “sex room,” don’t think that it’s disgusting and dirty. Because my designs are not like that at all, as I’m sure you can see from the show,
You said you looked at these examples and said, “Oh, this isn’t very nice.” What were some of the things that you decided to do differently?
I found them depressing. I found them very sterile. I didn’t feel they had any personality. And a sex room doesn’t have to be like that. You need to bring personality into a room. And, you know, I wanted to make them much more higher end.
So was it the colors? I don’t want to belabor the point, I’m seeking clarification. Was it colors? Was it textures? What was it?
Colors and textures – I mean, you know, dark and dingy, dungeon-like. Dark grays. Concrete. Brick walls, that kind of thing. Nothing that would make me want to go in there and, you know, be seduced by a dominatrix or something like that. That’s not it. They just didn’t look very nice. And I think that comes also partly comes down to lighting as well.
Melanie Rose in “How To Build a Sex Room” (Courtesy of Netflix)I wonder if that’s kind of the related to the puritanical view of sex as something that’s secretive, and therefore is relegated to a utilitarian space. If the thought is like, “Since I’m going to have a sex room, it’s going to go in my basement, because these things must be kept out of sight.”
Yeah, I think it is. I do agree that certain rooms that do come across as utilitarian. Not my rooms. I want mine to be more accessible to people. I’m creating experience for them, so I want them to fall in love with that room. I want them to be able to gravitate to that space, and have some fun. You know, that’s really what this is about: to have good sex and be able to communicate with each other and express, perhaps crossing the boundary or two.
“It’s just a question of being creative, and using your imagination.”
I’m actually kind of obsessed with design and design shows, so let’s talk about that. What do you think is essential if somebody wanted to begin the process of constructing their own sex room in their house?
I think that if you are going to, if you don’t have an alternative space or an additional room, the most obvious space is the bedroom. So therefore, if you want to turn it into something a little bit more sensual, I would certainly think about some mood lighting. You want to create an ambiance. You want to create that romance, that sensuality that then, hopefully, eventually leads to a couple or partners making love. Change your bedsheets. Get something luxurious. Put some throw cushions in there, have some candles. I don’t necessarily use real candles. I’ll use the ones that are battery-operated, where you can have the have them lit up or use them on a dimmer. Just create that room that’s something special.
The design aesthetic in Europe is at a higher level than much of what we have in the U.S. because we shop at a lot of big box stores. There’s a lot of utilitarianism to our design, almost the equivalent of fast fashion, that might defy what a sex room requires. Is there a way to find that meeting between, say, an IKEA budget and a sex room construction? How do those ends meet?
Look, there’s nothing wrong with shopping in IKEA. And there’s lots of IKEA hacks out there where you can actually get the furniture home, decorate it in a different way, put on different knobs and things like that. I tried to keep my designs as timeless as possible. I don’t want it to be a fashion fad at this moment in time. I want to listen to what the client wants, and then provide for them what they actually need.
I do a lot of thrifting – obviously not with sex toys.
Of course not. I would hope not!
God, no. But my question is, do you have to be willing to splurge or perhaps set a standard on certain things, besides the sex toys, in order to achieve the look that you are demonstrating on the show?
Just let me go back to the sex toys for a moment. There are lower-end sex toys out there in the marketplace. I would actually splurge and go for want something that’s actually going to last and last a little bit longer. And as far as thrifting things, if you want to update your bedroom into something more sensual, it’s just a question of being creative, and using your imagination.
How To Build A Sex Room (Caleb Alvarado/Netflix)
So let’s talk about specific episodes, because I think that we have a tendency, when we look at these shows, not only look at the room, but also kind of wonder how much of a personality match we might be to a couple who’s featured. In that respect, what was the most challenging room of the season and, I don’t mean this in pejorative way, but who were the most challenging clients?
I think that the challenge in designing for any of them, especially for this show, was our time constraints. You’ll notice that some rooms just needed some light redecorating in a sense. Other rooms needed full-on remodels and pulling stuff down.
What was the most challenging one? I think, probably, at the end of the day that would have been the family, simply because there are six people, there are six different personalities. So for me as a designer, I need to listen to each one of those and take that on board and try and bring them together, bring all those ideas into to one design.
And particularly because I needed to put in a tiled floor, because of their sexual activities in that room. It also needed to have a drain. So there was a lot of a lot of work on that.
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Have you grown into your comfort level with different sexual lifestyles in your clients? Or have you always had that comfort with them?
I’ve always had that comfort with clients. Look, subtlety is not a word I use. In my conversations, I’m very open. I do swear a lot. And I think that actually puts people at ease, because they go, “Oh, my God, she swears as well.” Yes, I do. I’m quite normal. And it gives them comfort. But yeah, I’m not shocked by anything at all.
Is there one common thing that you’d say would be wrong for a sex room?
Yeah. Don’t try and hang a sex swing from the ceiling. If you’ve not got backing in there, it’s going to end up with disastrous results.
Have you known that to happen?
Oh, yes, it’s happened to people. It’s like, ” What? You’re going to put it in drywall and hope that it’s going to carry 150 pounds? 180 pounds? 200 pounds? Are you kidding me? Put it in a ceiling joist or reinforced that particular area. Yeah, it’s nuts, what people do sometimes.
“How to Build a Sex Room” is currently streaming on Netflix. Watch a trailer via YouTube.
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