This week sees the highly anticipated new series of Grand Designs returning to Channel 4, so what better time to catch up with the grand guru of design and master of ceremonies, Kevin McCloud. With the UK’s leading contemporary home show, Grand Designs Live, returning to the Birmingham NEC next month, and his innovative development company Hab Housing about to hit a record crowd funded investment figure this is an exciting time for Kevin, whose enthusiasm for the design world is infectious.
His development company Hab (Happiness Architecture Beauty) Housing was set up back in 2007 with the ambition to offer a design-led alternative to the stale standards of suburban mass-housing. In 2011 Hab completed its first scheme comprising 42 new social & private homes in Swindon, today it has a handful of other projects underway and is going from strength to strength.
What led to the initial creation of Hab Housing?
My frustration more than anything else, I was just fed up with the way that even before the recession everything that we were building looked the same. There was no respect for place, quality was poor and the rooms were small. There was too much circulation space, halls and landings took up far too much room in houses and rooms off them were tiny and we were just building badly. Architecture wasn’t getting a look in, brilliant gifted designers weren’t allowed to design housing and this wasn’t always the case. I thought we needed to return to a time when we build really good quality housing for ordinary people.
Why did you decide to use crowd funding and how have you found the experience?
Well with HAB we always try to do things differently, we have always wanted to do things differently and to I suppose always willfully be different. Because we felt that housing and development was such a traditional, dinosaur industry that we thought well lets also raise our money that way as well, which we did. To be fair we had looked around the market and spoken to our banks for example and although our banks were keen on the idea of lending for projects we felt actually we’d be far better off looking beyond the conventional route for investors and crowd funding just came along. It was an obvious thing really, because the thing about crowd fund investors, there's something like 380 of them, is that the reason they have invested is because they believe in what we are trying to do. And that makes it worthwhile, that one thing means when we want to do something – when we have an initiative, we can turn to our crowd source share holders and we can say what do you think? I am finding it a much more dynamic and a much more responsive way not just of raising money but finding a new constituency and our view is that many of our people that have invested might actually one day be potential customers.
So far the Crowd Cube figures show it is a huge success, currently to date with 133% of the initial target reached at £1,337,220. I think actually if we get to our one and half million mark which we are not far off it will be the largest crowd fund ever through a website, certainly through a crowd funding website.
Crowd funding is such a great idea. What do you think is the realistic future of social housing? Do you think development companies like Hab Housing could be the future?
The sad word there is realisitc; I know we are in for a rough ride as there is no government money going into social housing at the moment.In my most pessimistic of moments I think it is all actually destined for a really difficult time where we produce schemes of really poor quality. Certainly the golden age of social housing is not right now, it is unfortunate but true. In my better moments I think “no we can do this – we can deliver and we can do some really high quality schemes.” I think that is all possible but it is a lot of hard work right now. The time was just a few years ago when the government not only put land into projects but also money, it doesn’t do that now as it claims it has no money. Ideally, I’d like to see a national budget for housing, a national campaign and a national drive for production and a dedication to providing good quality social housing. So currently it is a hideous situation, the HCA are actually putting land into schemes because the HA is a national body representing national government interest, and at least that is happening, I have to say that is one good thing.
Do you think that in the current financial climate sustainability in house design has become more important than style – or do you think the two can happily co-exist?
What is really interesting here is that in a recent survey that the government produced they discovered that houses which had been retrofitted to low emissions standard in all areas across Britain generally were worth up to 16% more than houses that hadn't. Now that is a really great endorsement of the government’s green deal and retrofitting campaign. And actually I am really excited to hear that because I think that’s brilliant. But as a household I think that of course if you are strapped for cash then obviously it is going to matter less, simply because you have got enough to think about.
Is there still a place for luxury in home design – or do you think this has been redefined by the recession?
I think there is a place for luxury, there is such a thing as eco-luxury. You can be luxurious and green, they aren't mutually exclusive.We tend to define what is luxurious in different ways – for many people what is luxurious is having the time to do certain things. For other people it is defined in terms of holidays, others it is money, others it is how many games of Wii you can get in before bedtime.
How would you describe your own home style?
Eclectic, which is another word for chaotic.
What is your favorite room in your home and why?
My favorite room is my shed. My shed is my sanctuary; it is down by my woodlands and is where I tend to spend most of my time.
What are your highlights from the new series of Grand Designs?
Oh there are lots - it's a really good mixed bag this year we have got everything. There is a house that looks like it was designed by Darth Vader, a beautiful Japanese house made out of Japanese Larch in the forest in Wales, which is for a Japanese client actually so it is a really interesting building. A house on an airfield in Scotland built by the owners of the airfield, which is half house half control tower and an underground house in North London on a tiny triangular site. There is also a giant retrofit of a house in South London which is a fantastic refurbishment.
Lots to look forward to then! You also have Grand Designs Live at the NEC next month – what do you enjoy most about being part of the UK’S leading contemporary home show- is it one of your favorite projects?
Well it is in as much as I don’t get to meet many of my customers, and it is a great way of just engaging with all of those fans. And it is a fun time – it is really enjoyable.
Speaking with Kevin you get a real sense of why Grand Designs is still so popular after fourteen years, why there is now the hugely popular live home show, and even why Hab housing has proved so successful, it is all thanks to the perfect mixture of his undeniable charm, ambition and true passion for great design.
Tune into Channel 4 tonight (September 4th) for the first episode of the latest Grand Designs series and head to the Grand Designs Live website for more information about what to expect from Kevin & co at the NEC show next month and to purchase tickets.