Building your very own dream home or renovating a property beyond recognition is an exciting but daunting challenge.
It’s something that homeowners across the country have aspirations of achieving, yet with so much at stake, people are often left overwhelmed by the scale of the challenge.
Read our Q&A with renovations aficionado and Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud to find out his top tips for home renovations.
What are your top three pieces of advice for people taking on a renovation project?
I’m a big fan of the design process, so that means prepping, planning, researching, learning, and thinking. It’s a circular process, a little loop. Then it’s important to absorb all that information and write your own brief, being your own architect. Think about the context, the site; where the sun rises, where the wind comes from, where the light comes from, what the view is and how you can frame it. Suddenly it’s exquisite. Get a skylight, watch the sky and the stars and the moon. It’s an aspect of the process that is often overlooked. I’d rather have a £700 sofa and a £7,000 skylight than the other way around. Remember it takes time. Question and examine what you want to do.
Secondly, employ somebody. Architects enjoy their work if it’s challenging and hard work. It’s always worth employing a good architect because if they’re worth their salt, they’ll save you money and will build you a more valuable property. But it’s not about spending money, its about saving money and you want them to bring their brilliance to the design.
The third thing to think about is your relationship with the contractor. Every project I’ve ever seen that’s been built and secured through trust has been better. So, speak to all of your friends and ask them how their builders work and find the person who’s right for you. They must be people who share the same vision of the world as you, that’s fundamental. For example, if sustainability is important to you, find someone who also cares about being green.
What are the pitfalls of taking on a renovation project?
There are many, many pitfalls. The biggest one, the biggest failing of people, is hope. We all hope somehow in life that things are going to get better. Hope is an extraordinary emotion that drives us to the very edge of the cliff and sometimes pushes us off. It’s responsible for enormous self-delusion. It can lead to going over-budget and going over-time. What I’m trying to say is that people should have a sense of realism (and also find a quantity surveyor).
How can an everyday person improve their property on a shoe string budget?
The most interesting homes all have this, and it’s when a property is autobiographical; when it’s decorated and cherished in a way that reflects the personalities of the people who live there. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your house should look like a show room, else we’d all just buy show homes rather than the real thing. The most interesting homes for me are the ones that have an old chair that’s been passed down the family, a table that you’ve had since you were a student, maybe something from your childhood that you absolutely love. I have always been amazed by rooms that are filled with objects that tell stories of someone’s life, they’re magical places. It’s like you’ve been given privileged access into someone’s world.
If someone wants to change one room in their home before they sell to help increase value, which room would you recommend?
I’d actually suggest that it’s not one room but the outside of a building. I think the arrival of a threshold is always important. We can all improve a building internally, but if your house is the one that you can see from the street has clean windows, that speaks volumes. White paint, a beautiful path lined with lavender, as a visitor you understand that the owners have made an effort and that they love the place. But inside, just try to create a neutral space in which the visitors are presented with a blank canvass and can envisage putting their own identity on it. But kerb appeal and the garden is where I’d put my money. Make the place feel loved. Human energy is what sells a home.
Why should more people be living in sustainable homes?
I’ve got children, my eldest is 32, but I’ve got no idea what kind of planet their children are going to live in. We’re extinguishing other species and polluting the world with plastic as quickly as the rate at which we’re consuming land and timber, we’re doing a fantastic job of screwing things up. But I think there are good, technological answers on the horizon. We all need to reduce our carbon footprint and engage in recycling schemes. We can all be doing a huge amount more.
What’s the most impressive piece of technology you’ve seen in a home?
The most impressive piece of technology I’ve seen in a home has to be a Japanese toilet that I saw earlier this year. It plays music, it lights up in different colours, it’s self-cleaning, it washes you and dries you, and for all the world it probably makes tea as well. Who knows what’s next in the toilet world? It’ll probably evolve to have its own tablet screen and be a gaming console before long. You could spend hours on it.
What does your ideal home look like?
My ideal home doesn’t look like anything really. But as I get older I’d like to design a smaller place and what I want out of a home is something spiritual. I’d love to have somewhere with a view of the sunset and with a cloistered garden. A deck or balcony where I can sit out in the rain but stay dry and watch that sunset, and I’d loved to be able to have a hot shower outside every morning. I enjoy painting, so I’d like a studio to paint in, and I also spend a lot of time working on old bits of engineering – old cars and so on – so I’d like a workshop as well. All of a sudden, there’s the brief! But I go to houses and discover things all the time and think ‘wow, I’d love to have that’. I’d also like a beautiful wooden-panelled ceiling in the bedroom that I could wake up to every morning. It’s the poetic things that I love, really.
What’s the secret to a happy home?
People. A home isn’t a home without people; it’s just a shell, an object, a waste of money and time.
Countryside or city?
Inside or outside?
Penthouse or bungalow?
Period or modern?
Neither – they can both be the same thing over time
Cinema room or swimming pool?
Technology or back-to-basics?
Wood or glass?
Both – I don’t want wooden windows or glass furniture
Neighbours or isolation?
Fixer-upper or new home?