It's official: 2018 has been a big year for House Rules, with some larger-than-life contestants and room reveals leaving us in awe, and even bringing tears to our eyes.
And when it comes to larger-than-life, well, no-one can beat judge Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen!
"I'm very proud of the show," he says. "I think it's great that we've created something that's so under the skin of the country, it's kind of become a social event."
Sporting his Ray Ban sunnies (inside a hotel room, mind you) and giant cufflinks in the shape of scorpions, Now To Love sat down with the renovation show's most flamboyant judge to talk about the year that w-s and what we'll hopefully see more of in next year's season.
While there have been plenty of scandals and shock moments, LLB says that this year, the contestants have really raised the design bar.
"There's no doubt that I've obviously rubbed off on them because they kind of came out fighting, much more literate, much more creative about what they're doing," he says.
"One of the things I think has been really exciting, and this is why I was very interested in the show, I think that amateur interior designers will take risks that a professional never will and obviously that can be disastrous but sometimes that can be absolutely mighty."
So, like who?
"We've had several couples like Chiara and David and Toad and Mandy who did things most sane interior designers would never dream of doing," LLB continues. "But that in itself, you look at it and go 'That's incredible, there's an energy and a creativity there that has surprised me, I will be ripping it off'."
And as for the two couples who've made it to the grand finale, Laurence says that their talents are very different.
"Team Melve all the way had that commitment to what I call 'ghastly good taste'; they had that commitment to getting everything to work together, it was all very subdued, very tasteful, but that doesn't necessarily create an exciting, invigorating or indeed successful room," he continues.
"It's great if you're mass producing show homes. My fight with them was always to engage with some risks, which was something they'd never really responded to. But the fact that they're in the final shows that they have opened their hearts and their minds a bit."
As for Toad and Mandy, their journey has been the most interesting in his eyes.
"I mean, for a start where the hell does that come from? They're dairy farmers! where does this glamour come from? But they seem to take great strength from each other as a couple, which is very beautiful to watch. I think Mandy... She's a very intelligent girl and definitely has an ability to absorb style very well but then always find her own take on it, and I think Toad is very good at encouraging that in her."
But it seems like LLB had a soft spot for all the teams this year, in particular a certain Perth couple who just missed out on the final.
"David and Chiara were incredible all the way through," he says. "They were high camp, huge comedy, great tragedy, every banging and nailing becomes an opera with those two. But they had such an innate sense of humour and honesty; I love the way that they were never, ever pretending to be anything else, and also that they were completely unburdened by mainstream concepts and what you should doing.
"They were the couple that really would do what they wanted to do in their way, but they were very nice people, there was never anything sort of uncreative about them, they were very warm people."
Aside from his vibrant wardrobe, Laurence is probably best known for his unusual critique and sometimes savage burns. But the House Rules judge admits that he often doesn't remember what he says.
"It's not me trying to be clever, I'm actually trying to give everyone an illustrative statement about what it actually feels like," he confesses.
"When I said it looked like a muppet died there, that was about a nasty piece of fur fabric; that there was no quality there, no sort of dignity to it. And I always think that's sort of part of my role, to make sure that everyone at home understands where the judging is coming from and to give more information and that's something I'd like to do a bit more of in the next season, get people to really get under the skin of the decisions they make."
But when it comes to judging, it's all about the room and not the personalities.
"I don't care if they've smacked on people, bitten people, crawled all over people or been unbelievably nice and helped old ladies across the road. Actually it's what they've done to the room as far as I'm concerned," he continues.
"I mean, inevitably, it's a very high energy, high risk, high stakes environment and you get conflict, you get abrasion, you get friction, but I don't think there was a single team I would perceive as villains, unlike last year."
Don't worry, Laurence will be back for 2019 but he would like to see a little more variety when it comes to the houses on the show as he believes it would reflect the diverse audience.
"There's a risk with House Rules that it's about the same suburban boxes and I'd actually like to see a lot more heritage on the show, I'd like to see more city centre solutions as I think that's a very important part of Australian living these days and that's not necessarily covered by these programs at all," he tells us, adding: "Less of the cookie-cutter, mid-century modern Home and Away architecture."
If you're a hopeful who one day dreams of being on House Rules, there's one way to catch Laurence's eye. The interior designer has been working on a range of Graham & Brown wallpaper designed to add a bit of decadence and luxury into the bedroom, and he believes that we should be steering away from the neutral, Ikea style Aussies seem to have adopted.
"Obviously, your environment does affect your mood and I think if you're waking up every morning in the same very blank, neutral, understated bedroom, it makes you feel blank, neutral and understated whereas if you're waking up somewhere that feels opulent and sensual, I think it does help enormously," he says.
"In the wrong hands it can look like a rather tacky funeral parlour but actually, you can have opulence and richness, decadence and modernity and it doesn't mean that you have to have great big tassels and fake gothic stuff."
So if you're looking to revamp your bedroom and inject an element of sexiness, LLB suggests giving wallpaper ago. And before you say it's too expensive or fiddly, he says it will only take an afternoon and to "sell a kidney" if it doesn't fit in your budget.
"It's kind of an afternoon project. And women are instinctively much better at wallpapering than men, they have a better attitude to it they'll get less stressed by it, they're more committed to the detail."
Better get practising before they start casting for the next season!
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