Kevin McCloud: Grand designs don’t have to be expensive

Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud, 55, shares his tips on getting the best people for home building projects, avoiding ‘eco-bling’, and why he’s an advocate of a healthy diet

“If it’s not too personal,” says design guru Kevin McCloud, speaking from his Somerset home, “I’ve just been for a pee.”

He doesn’t want to talk about any kind of prostate trouble, he deadpans, rather he explains that hanging in his loo are photographs his daughter gave him of his 50th birthday, “so I am reminded [of my age] every day”.

When he reached his half century five years ago, he says, he felt “a little old and full of dread”. But adds: “Now I have more energy now than when I was 20 or 30. I’m leaner, I weigh less and I’m fitter.”

McCloud, an MBE and presenter of the Channel 4 show Grand Designs, where ambitious home owners show off their architectural dreams, says that 50 is when life gets really enjoyable.

“My aunt said to me it ‘it all starts now, you will have great fun, until bits start dropping off’. And she was right.”

A man’s health at 50

He advocates sleep as well as diet as large components of good health, avoiding beef, wheat and dairy, saying doing so makes him feel “hugely better”.

“I don’t know if it is true for women but with men, it takes a good few decades for them to get to know who they are and understand how their bodies work.

“Men tend to be a little bit more stoic, drink too much, eat too much, eat the wrong food, maybe smoke (I don’t smoke) and think they can get away with that.”

McCloud certainly needs bags of energy. He is currently promoting the new series of Grand Designs, a programme that has been running for 15 years, and starts on Wednesday (3 September).

Alongside this, he runs eco house building firm HAB (which stands for Happiness, Architecture, Beauty), creating homes that he says are popular with people downsizing after their children have gone to university, as well as young families. He is a passionate advocate of mixed communities where the very young and old can live.

“Great houses are a very important constituency for us but it is also very important that we don’t create ageist ghettoes, as we mustn’t create social or racial ghettoes.”

Grand Designs Live

He is currently gearing up for Grand Designs Live at the NEC in October, where he will take to the stage to make a chair from bits of an Airbus A320: “A bit like a cookathon, only with metal.”

He’ll also a present a series of talks from people who have created their own grand design, including a couple that built a cutting-edge, sleeky-designed home that would suit marine captain Jon White, who lost three limbs after stepping on a land mine in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile the new TV series – a post-recession Grand Designs perhaps – will feature smaller, cheaper projects, costing around £120,000 and a handful of more expensive ones (around £500,000).

There is the architect who designs and builds his home all out of wood, learning carpentry so he can also create his own furniture, and the UK’s first amphibious house on a Thames floodplain in Buckinghamshire.

The series kicks off with a glass-fronted property high on a cliff top that experts say could fall into the sea within 60 years.

Simple designs make for cheaper projects, McCloud says. “What makes the difference between the dull inexpensive house and the brilliant inexpensive house, is the ideas, the way of using stuff, of taking that material and twisting it through 90 degrees so that it looks completely different, much more funky.

“Those are the great moments on Grand Designs where you go ‘wow’, really nice idea that. Lovely, cheap, simple.”

A north Cornwall architect in the new series builds his home and furniture almost entirely from wood

As well as simpler, less expensive designs, McCloud advocates looking for materials you can do a deal on. “You can buy seconds. Insulation that is a little bit damaged, who cares? Great, no worries.

“The word ‘grand’ does not apply to budget, nor does it apply to the physical size of the building, it applies to the design risk of the project.

“This series has been a timely reminder of post-recession projects. They are financially modest but my god they ooze design risk and vision, and that makes them really quite compelling.”

We all know that what makes the show especially fun to watch are the people who ignore what the architect, engineer or contractors suggest and plough on regardless. What happens when he steps in to warn people of their potential cock-ups?

“I keep [giving advice] to people on camera and they just ignore it and keep on. That is human nature. We, all of us, believe that whatever we do is going to be perfect.”

Kevin McCloud’s tips for your own eco grand design

• Get a great team together. “Find the people you can trust who really know what they are doing. There is no point finding an architect you like who has no understanding of what you are trying to do.”

• The team should be made up of a project manager, quantity surveyor and architect, and more depending on the scale of the scheme.

• Hire people who are better than you. “Michael Dell, the founder of Dell computers, says if you are the smartest person in the room, start hiring people who are smarter than you. It’s a wonderful tip and one I’ve followed all my life.”

• Eco homes don’t have to be expensive. “£100 spent wisely down at the home store is a very good way to start in terms of retrofitting your home.”

• McCloud advocates secondary glazing, draught-proofing and insulating the loft as three straightforward ways to make a home greener.

• Watch out for ‘eco bling’, or add-on products that seem sexy. “The big market for that is my age group. It is people who have a little bit of money and are thinking of staying in one place for a few years and want to reduce their energy consumption.”

Solar panels, for example, can be very effective but McCloud says there are prototypes in production that are three times as efficient as those currently on sale, so it is worth waiting a year to get something completely up to date.

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