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Kevin McCloud: The joy of ‘stuff’

Grand Design’s Kevin McCloud explains why he thinks great design can help save the world

Kevin McCloudSince first hitting screens in 1999 Channel 4’s Grand Designs has made a household name of its presenter, Kevin McCloud.

With his boundless enthusiasm for great architecture and design, coupled with an unflappable optimism as projects go over time or budget – often both – it’s easy to see why he has become such a beloved televisual presence. 

Now in its sixteenth series and a stalwart of digital TV repeats, Kevin says the huge appeal of Grand Designs is “that it’s this great little adventure that we can all get involved with – the idea of making a place, making a home.” 

Over the years there have been many stand-out projects. Anyone who has follows the series will remember the incredibly ambitious castle in North Yorkshire , which was rebuilt from literal ruins into an awe-inspiring family home (now B&B); or Ben Law’s handbuilt, sustainable woodsman’s cottage  in Sussex.  

But for Kevin, one of the stand-out properties is Patrick Bradley’s shipping container house in Northern Ireland . 

“That’s special because it was directed by a great friend of mine, Rob Gill, and I love Paddy. It was just a revelation, I think, to everybody.” 

Built to last 

Kevin is a very vocal advocate for sustainability in design and argues that people have largely stopped valuing well-made ‘stuff’ that’s built to last. 

“I think as a society we’ve lost touch with the value of made things, the value of raw materials and the energy required. I don’t just mean fossil fuel energy, but also the human energy that goes into making things,” he says. 

Stuff gets better as it gets older, it attracts more stories

“We’ve got small makers and jewellers, and when you meet someone who’s made something in their workshop, when you get the opportunity to visit their workshops, commission the piece and buy the jewellery – it’s very exciting.  A tree goes in one end, a table comes out the other; a lump of unrefined iron becomes a beautifully wrought table or door handle. I think we’ve lost that, we’re not a making society anymore.” 

This appreciation of good craftsmanship can lead people to “start thinking about looking after things and not throwing stuff away, and when we see our friends we talk about it, we share the stories of that stuff, and every time we meet new friends the story gets richer”. 

“I can bore people into infinity, really, talking about a belt I’ve had all my life, or my old leather chair, and that’s the exciting thing: stuff gets better as it gets older, it attracts more stories,” Kevin says.  

With the world rapidly filling up with people, Kevin says this more sustainable approach will be vital in providing enough houses for everyone. 

“People talk a lot about carbon, they talk about energy consumption and all that stuff. It’s all technical, but actually, if you want people to save energy, if you want people to drive electric cars, to walk more, to cycle more, to share more, to buy less and consume less rubbish, to recycle more, then you’ve got to make them value what we have. It’s that simple.” 

A passion for design 

Outside of Grand Designs, Kevin is chairman of HAB, an architectural consultancy he founded. The idea that good design and sustainability needn’t be mutually exclusive is one of its core principles, with “more light, higher ceilings, skylights, extra storage”. 

I’m thoroughly looking forward to my later years - growing a large beard and brewing my own beer

“We try to produce better architecture which, oh by the way, also happens to be sustainable,” he says. “All of us are attracted by bling – the trick is to make the sustainable option more desirable. That’s the way to do it, not by saying ‘oh look don’t buy that, buy this hair shirt, it’s far more ecological.’

"No, the answer is to make the big surprise that the product is really well-made, that it lasts.” 

As part of Kevin’s 2012 series, Man Made Home, he put this philosophy to the test, building a personal woodland cabin using only local material.  

“The cabin is my spiritual home, and the older I get the more attached I feel to it. There’s something very, very beautiful about waking up on a mountain or in the woods or by a lake. I never really spend much time in cities. I like to visit them, but I grew up in a village and I don’t imagine that I could ever happily live in the heart of a city,” he says. 

“I’m thoroughly looking forward to my later years, growing a large beard and brewing my own beer in my own socks!”

Retiresavvy is brought to you by Skipton Building Society. The interview in this article was supplied by InterviewHub. This article has been commissioned by retiresavvy and any opinions voiced are the author's own.

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