Brilliant, beautiful, British

Kevin McCloud of TV’s Grand Designs has been on a 10-year mission to put a sparkle back into the design of our homes.
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Kevin McCloud
© David Hiscok/Tyson Sadlo
Kevin McCloud is impressed by the poetic quality of the housebuilders he meets
The drama of building your dream house makes compulsive viewing on Wednesday evenings on Channel 4, as grand master of design Kevin McCloud presents another jaw-dropping epic of endurance and persistence.

There is rarely an evening which does not end with every viewer wondering why that person or couple put themselves through such extreme hardship to achieve their goal — surviving on low budgets, suffering in freezing winters, or scouring the globe for the right brick or fitting, at the right price, to restore or build the property that is to become their new house.

Ten years and more than 80 projects later and Kevin — as he is universally known — has become a house-building guru. Even if he sees trouble coming, he waits patiently for the dream-builders to find out if they can complete their task as he offers one of those opinionated, conspiratorial asides to camera: “Can they pull it off?” Four million viewers wait with him to find out.

The ceiling over the dining area in Springett House in Primrose Hill opens up
© Paul Massey/Mainstream
The ceiling over the dining area in Springett House in Primrose Hill opens up. Design by Matthew Springett and Kirsteen Mackay
What is so compulsive about these people? "They all have a poetic or heroic quality, and that is their unique appeal," McCloud explains. Filmed painstakingly over months, or even years, their projects are real. But, crucially, they are not reality TV. "Grand Designs does not need fake dramas," he says. "Some are simply the stories of simple dreams come true."

They are about the trendy elderly couple who put up a pre-fabricated Huf Haus imported from Germany , and the charmingly uncomplicated “Ben in the woods” (Ben Law) who built a self-sufficient retreat from salvaged goods and sweet chestnut coppiced from his own woodland. Or the couple whose children had left home, so they left England for their fabulous wreck in France. "They were simply making their dreams come true.”

Cedar-clad ecological home near Glasgow by KAP
© Tyson Sadlo
One of Kevin’s favourites — a cedar-clad ecological home near Glasgow by KAP
Kevin is, like his subjects, a man of passion. He is currently nursing five broken ribs having pursued his passion for skiing too exuberantly. Another passion is his missionary fervour for eco-issues. "It is a moral issue," he affirms. "It’s not about saving the planet, it’s about saving humanity — or there will be nothing of any quality for our children, let alone our grandchildren." McCloud is an ardent ambassador for the Worldwide Fund for Nature (which used to be the World Wildlife Fund) Its new name reflects its environmental concerns.

‘Grand Designs does not need fake dramas’

This year he is airing his messages at Grand Designs Live, the UK’s biggest home design exhibition. Homes & Property is joining him, as media partner at ExCel in Docklands on 25 April. At the show, you can find inspiration for all your home ideas, from serious insulation to a simple new space-saving technique.

Not surprising, then, that the major theme of Grand Designs Live 2009 is "sustainable builds, architecture and eco-homes." Homes in construction and in use account for around 30 per cent of all UK energy emissions. So, energy saving on the domestic front can make a real difference. Accordingly, you will find a "one-stop shop" for ¬everything; from a complete "carbon-neutral" eco house to the best insulation for your loft.

"Super-insulation" is the McCloud mantra — but difficult, he concedes for Victorian and Edwardian London terraces and semis. "Adding layers to the wall will obliterate all the period details, and who wants that?" But you can top up the loft — he has 16 inches in his Somerset farmhouse, where he lives with his wife Susanna, and their four children aged seven to 20.

Bude home by Cloud Nine
On show at Grand Designs Live is this innovative Bude home by Cloud Nine. With ecologically friendly heating system, solar micro- generation and deep insulation, it comes in modules and is assembled on arrival at your plot
Draught-proofing is another essential, and a new super-thin double-glazing system suits period windows (investigate; 0131 557 2121). To save more energy, fit timers and sensors, check thermostats, change light bulbs and buy only A-rated appliances.

Thus all Londoners can take part in McCloud’s "great British refurb" at Excel. Although he himself lives in a farmhouse in Somerset, McCloud has a very real affection for cities — "country living is not necessarily all it is cracked up to be." Streets can be powerful communities, he suggests, and could take collective action — commissioning an architect to devise insulation for their common building types, for example, or to design a wind turbine.

Kevin McCloud’s bible

The Grand Design Handbook, just reissued in paperback by Collins, features several attractive and ingenious London case studies, along with exhaustive advice on all you need to build/extend/convert your own.

To save 20 per cent and order your copy of Grand Designs Handbook at the special price of £11.99 (usual price £14.99) please call 0870 787 1732 and quote Dept 283A. Free P&P for all UK orders. Please allow 21 days for delivery.

Grand Designs London Live

See the show

Grand Designs Live at Excel, at Royal Victoria Dock, E16, runs from 25 April to 4 May.

Homes & Property readers can book two tickets for just £17.50 (saving up to £18.50 off the weekend door rate).

To book visit or call 0871 230 5577 (quote HPT09). Plus Kids go FREE and you’ll receive a FREE showguide worth £8. Offer closes 3 May 2009. Booking fee applies.

Build it yourself

About 20,000 new homes were self‑built last year, which was one in four of all detached houses, and about 10 per cent of all new homes — a figure likely to rise to 20 per cent as housebuilding generally decreases, according to the National Self Build Association ( Indeed, the recession favours self-builders, says Paul Brown, director of the Selfbuild Alliance, a consultancy that advises self-builders on all steps of the process. Developers have lost interest in sites, or are selling them off. Costs of materials and labour are down.

Mortgages are available for up to 75 per cent of a project. “The average self-build is far less ambitious than the typical Grand Design, and can cost from £250,000 to £300,000.”

For more information, call 07971 571 276 or visit

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