Kunle Barker is a property expert, journalist and TV presenter and began his construction career while studying for an MA at Leeds University. He set up Illustrious Homes in 2004 and to date has completed 8,000 residential refurbishments, 120 schools and three sports centre refits as well as countless private renovations. He co-presents the ITV1 show, Love Your Home and Garden with Alan Titchmarsh and Renovate Don’t Relocate with Sarah Beeny for Really and is the presenter and curator for Grand Designs Live, working with Kevin McCloud. He talks to Lynda Clark about his fascinating career, his first home and has some useful advice for first time buyers
Hi Kunle, Tell us about your first home?
I bought my first home when I was a student doing my Masters at Leeds University in 2001. It was a five bedroom Victorian townhouse and cost £60,000. I was very lucky as there was a graduate scheme and I got a 100% mortgage which really helped. As I had no income it was important that I rented it out to help pay the bills, but it was in a student area so relatively easy to rent rooms. I lived on the top floor and the students lived in the rest of the house. I had no money to renovate it, so I did everything myself; but I never touch anything to do with electricity or gas – I leave that to the experts. Eventually I decided to move back to London and sold it.
Where do you live now?
When I moved back to London I decided to rent somewhere with my girlfriend, who is now my wife, and eventually we decided to buy. We bought a larger apartment, then we moved into the house we live in now. It is an Edwardian terrace in north west London, and now we have two small children, it works well for us. We wanted to retain the original features, but we upgraded the windows and managed to find replica sash windows which are double glazed. We also have underfloor heating and we extended into the loft and added an extension. The extension has a glass roof that lets in lots of natural light, which is essential. We also have a very large glass door at the back of the house. It is important to get on the bottom rung of the property ladder and keep moving up if you can. Rent is so expensive nowadays and far costlier than a mortgage. So, if you can buy, it will pay dividends.
Tell us about your career?
I did my first degree in Manufacturing Engineering and then my Masters in Human Resource Management. I then decided to set up Illustrious Homes in 2004 and started renovating various homes in London. We worked with a variety of different clients – from local and central Government to first time buyers. It is a great team and we pride ourselves on our work and craftsmanship. I was delighted to have been chosen to work alongside Alan Titchmarsh on the ITV prime time show Love Your Home and Garden. I was chosen because I deliver fairly complex and high profile builds within a very tight timeframe and under budget. Apart from co-presenting, I was also the expert consultant leading the design and build on each show. It was great fun and I enjoyed every minute! I then worked with Sarah Beeny on a new series called Renovate Don’t Relocate, which was also really enjoyable.
Are you involved in anything else?
I speak at Grand Designs Live alongside Kevin McCloud ,who I work very closely with. I was selected as the Grand Theatre presenter and curator for Grand Designs Live 2019. I’m also part of the expert line-up at the Ideal Home Show. I sit on lots of panels for construction and property events and work closely with RIBA, and am an ambassador of Architecture and Design, promoting the importance of good design management. I’m always very busy but I like it that way!
What are your plans for the future?
KB: Well, apart from dreaming of being the opening batsman for England I am looking at building my own home somewhere along the western corridor just outside London. Maidenhead or Taplow are really very nice and it will only take 40 minutes to get into central London once the Queen Elizabeth Line has opened. You have the best of both worlds – the countryside, the river and near to town too. I am having so much fun and want to continue doing so. I make a lot of YouTube videos which cover different property-related topics and I also regularly write for Grand Designs magazine. I love working and there are a few other ideas for TV shows, so it’s pretty full-on!
What advice do you have for first time buyers?
KB: If you decide to buy a house or an apartment you should buy with your heart and trust your gut feeling. If you do see a property you are interested in then research the area, check out transport, schools and where the shops are located. You should have solid and sensible reasons to really want to buy the property. Also consider the resale value. There is nothing worse than being trapped in a house in an area that was expected to be on the up and never quite makes it. Nobody wants to live in their first home for, say, 15 years because they can’t afford to move out. You should buy a home and not an asset as it is where you will spend your time. It should be a place you feel happy, safe and secure in.
Kunle Baker, Projects Director, IH Flagship – kunlebarker.com