Watched by millions of viewers on Channel 4’s Grand Designs, Kevin McCloud has his own company Hab, which builds hundreds of houses across the UK. He also writes books and is the ambassador at Grand Designs Live. Lynda Clark catches up with this very busy man to discover his advice on creating the perfect home, where he gets his inspiration from what is happening at the next Grand Designs Live show.
FTB: What are your three top tips for people creating their own home?
KMc: It depends if you are creating from scratch, or moving into someone else’s shell. But, I would say, look at the bones – without good bones, it doesn’t matter how much slap you paste over the top, it doesn’t make that much difference. Any building has something, which is to be taken advantage of. Usually, it is in the form of light – the way light enters the building or how the light moves around the building during the day. You need to get to know the building, before you start knocking it around. It is always good to spend a bit of time in a new place on a sunny day, just watching the sun rotate around the building – see where it comes in, where it falls and where the little moments of joy are. The one thing you don’t want to do is to block that out, or intervene in a way that will somehow damage that. Buildings often have things that previous generations have added, which don’t work well, and you can often help a building by removing something as much as adding something. That’s a really important tip. Another is to remember that, as a species, we like clutter and so people tend to buy a building, love it for its space and light, and then hang curtains and nets, and fill it with furniture. It is often said that we are a nation whose natural hobby is furniture dodging and we would do well to put smaller, fewer pieces into our homes and just enjoy the space a little bit more. The third thing is not to get hung up on what other people think. I believe that, for about 40 years, I have been saying (well, maybe not that long maybe 30!) we shouldn’t worry too much about how others judge us. We should fill our homes, decorate and build with the courage of our convictions, which represent our time and who we are. This applies to councils and architects, as much as it does to decorating a living room. If you do something because you love it, believe in it, like it and are passionate about it, then no matter how wild the idea, that enthusiasm will carry the idea.
There’s nothing worse than something done cynically, half-heartedly, or with an eye to what other people will think about it – it betrays itself too easily.
FTB: Who do you look to for design inspiration?
KMc: Oscar Peterson said there are only two types of music. Good and bad. You can listen to everything from classical to jazz, house to rap, or punk to baroque. Some of it is dreadful and a little bit is good. You’ve got to listen to the good stuff. I think it’s the same with architecture, whether it is 1970s Brutalism, 1950s post-war optimistic, Swedish Modernism, Georgian architecture or Palladian 17th century buildings, a medieval palace, a Roman temple or a hut in the woods. What matters is that it’s good. And if it’s good – it’s inspiring. Because all architecture is about the meeting of people, place and time. When they come together in a magical set of circumstances, with the right amount of genius, what is produced is something that has energy – an amazing amount of human energy, which resonates – so any good building is inspiration for me.
FTB: What is your favourite era for design?
KMc: I find myself constantly being surprised by good buildings from every period. I used to not like late Victorian architecture very much, but I have recently found myself photographing St Pancras and Kings Cross Station a lot. I’ve been looking at Victorian buildings, churches and houses and admiring the proportions. So, actually, I think our tastes and list of favourites change. Right now,
and for the past few years, I have really been – if I say this, I’ll probably immediately go off it – a champion of 20th century architecture. I’m a member of a society for the protection of ancient buildings, and I take the philosophy of their conservation, repair and championing of 16th-19th century buildings and apply it to 20th century buildings, because I think they are an unloved era – they represent a time that we now discard, we think of it as rubbish. How dare we obliterate our history like that! I am a fan of good 20th century buildings and we need to do more to look after and revitalise them.
FTB: What’s your best design city?
KMc: It depends which period you are looking for really, but I love London for its amazing variety. I enjoy Birmingham for its jollity. I think the architecture there is happy architecture and the stuff they use, you couldn’t find it in any other city of the UK, which is good. The city I go back to again and again is Rome. Not so much for the contemporary architecture, but for the classical and the Renaissance – it still inspires me.
FTB: What is your all-time most stylish hotel experience?
KMc: You have to understand that I spend my life travelling, filming and staying in hotels and B&Bs. So I equate hotels, no matter how nice they are, no matter how beautiful, with work. The idea of an all-time most stylish hotel experience, to me, is a contradiction entirely.
FTB: What can visitors expect from the upcoming Grand Designs Live show?
We are bringing a new team of Green Heroes to Birmingham, which is exciting. The Tech Box – which basically demonstrates the top technology of tomorrow – will be showing us what we will all be using and accessing in the future to organise and live our lives. It’s a little bit fantastical and a little bit experimental. This is all on top of all the usual features that we have showcasing contemporary and computer technology. There is also a new feature, which I am very excited about, because it is my idea. I wanted, since we’re in the autumn, to turn over a portion of Grand Design Live. I jokingly suggested that we should have a harvest festival there, get people to bring in their produce and have a root vegetable competition. In fact, what we have got is a rather stylish, urban version of that, which is Urban Allotment. This is going to be great fun, as we have got bees, chickens, herbs, wild flowers and food growing. All demonstrated by wonderful experts from national bodies of the British Bee Keepers Association, the National Allotment Society and an organisation called Poultry Talk – which is bringing the chickens. That’s going to be a lot of fun and I hope it will draw a lot of people.