Profile: Kevin McCloud

Profile: Kevin McCloud

A strident supporter of sustainability, the Grand Designs presenter keenly encourages everyone to rethink the way they live: “It behoves us all – in fact, I think it’s an ethical prerogative – to minimise the use of highly processed materials, to recycle, to insulate and minimise the use of fossil fuels.”  He wants to reduce the level of CO2 generated by domestic dwellings, currently accounting for a staggering 27% of all man-made emissions in the UK. Now he’s putting his money where his mouth is as a developer.

Kevin McCloud is a one of a select number of experts assembled as sustainability ambassadors for this year’s London Olympics.

By Helen Brown in The Telegraph (8 December 2011):

“I love pebbledash” is not a sentence I expected to hear from Kevin McCloud. But, in Kevin’s Grand Design on Channel 4 – a bid to do for British housing what Jamie Oliver’s been doing for the British diet – we saw the presenter prowling around Swindon, soaking up the local architectural flavours to ensure that his new low-cost, low-carbon 42-home property development would blend into its commuter belt context. Acknowledging that his passion for the “sandcastle” qualities of pebbledash was unlikely to be shared by househunters, he took more design notes from a row of nearby railway workers’ terraces.

McCloud’s own Grand Design may have been more ordinary-looking than most of the high-concept projects he’s followed since the programme began back in 1999, but it was arguably more ambitious and certainly far more relevant to the average viewer. For while the (mostly wealthy) folk who slog and spend their way through the conversion of their fantasy ruined castle/beached oil tanker/acre of scenic bogland have only to please themselves and the planning authorities, McCloud was aiming to “put the happiness back into housing” for an integrated mix of private homeowners and social housing tenants. He was at pains to point out it was his own money he was risking and that, despite a decade of critiquing other people’s development dreams, he had never built anything himself.

The first episode of this two-part series took us back to the economic buoyancy of 2006, with an idealistic McCloud railing against Britain’s sprawl of identikit homes, which are the smallest in Europe, leak heat, lack a sense of place and force us to lead “very insular lives”. These homes are McCloud’s Turkey Twizzlers and he wants people to rise up against them. He planned to offer his own alternatives in three-bedroom, £160,000 eco-home portions.

Then came the recession: property prices went into meltdown and mortgages slipped beyond the reach of McCloud’s target market. Like so many of the Grand Designers over whom he’s furrowed his brow, he began to lose control of his vision. Having preached that “design is a process of resisting compromise”, he was forced to change sites, scale down, change architects, give the whole project over to social housing and aim to break even. At the end of episode one his utopian development had a slick of mud for a village green, builders shaking their heads over the “hempcrete” walls and neighbours who thought the place “looked like a barracks”. Those who follow property news will know that “The Triangle” has been finished, and to the satisfaction of at least some of those involved. But part one left McCloud looking as grey – and as full of hot air, cooled – as hempcrete.



By Paul Barfoot For BBC Lifestyle

Near-miss singing career

Beneath the dulcet tones of Mr McCloud’s rather seductive TV-presenter voice lurks a bellowing musicality that came close to guiding him down an all-together different professional pathway. After school, Kevin contemplated heading to Italian shores to train as an operatic baritone. Advised by his teachers and parents to net an academic degree first, he joined the ranks of Cambridge University’s intellectual elite to read history of art and architecture, and never returned to his tuneful aspiration. “It just sort of petered out. I don’t think I’d have got hugely far as a singer and I would have found it hard,” declared Kevin modestly. Opera’s loss was a grand gain for architectural design.

Glowing past

Prior to his TV fame, Kevin ran a lighting, product design and manufacturing business by the name of McCloud Lighting. Although the enterprise is currently shelved, its creative legacy can be found in the carved rococo-style ceiling of the Food Halls in London’s iconic shopping emporium Harrods, and the bespoke lighting solutions in such landmark buildings as Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire, Edinburgh Castle and London’s Savoy and Dorchester hotels – all of which carry the McCloud Lighting hallmark.

Space invader dad

Kevin credits his compulsion for craftsmanship, functionality and slick engineering to his late rocket scientist father, Donald. “He was a brilliant man. He used to do electronics for rockets and test systems for guided weapons and missiles. Lots of Official Secrets Act stuff. In 1969, I remember he turfed us all out of bed at 3am and turned the TV on so we could watch the first lunar landing live. He was fanatical about the truth of science and its power to change the world, and one of the gentlest human beings I have ever met,” announced Kevin, who is as passionate about developing solutions to change the architectural landscape on Earth as his father was about masterminding technology to revolutionise Space.

Eco warrior

Kevin is a strident supporter of sustainability, and keenly encourages everyone to rethink the way they live: “It behoves us all – in fact, I think it’s an ethical prerogative – to minimise the use of highly processed materials, to recycle, to insulate and minimise the use of fossil fuels to keep our buildings warm.” In 2009, and in conjunction with such partners as the WWF (a charity for which he is a patron), Kevin launched the ‘Great British Refurb’ – a campaign calling for homeowners to proactively embrace energy- and cost-saving habits in order to reduce the level of CO2 generated by domestic dwellings (which currently accounts for a staggering 27 percent of all man-made carbon dioxide in the UK).

Carbon-friendly Kevin

Mr McCloud doesn’t just talk-the-talk when it comes to eco living. His personal commitments to reducing his own carbon footprint includes energising his home with a biomass woodchip boiler, using his orange Brompton foldaway pushbike for short journeys, driving a Saab fuelled by locally-produced bio-ethanol fuel and converting his Land Rover to run on vegetable oil.

New-build pioneer

Outside the realm of ‘Grand Designs’, Kevin’s time is consumed with running Hab (happiness, architecture, beauty) – a residential development company that he established in 2007, which is committed to creating dynamic and environmentally friendly communities. Hab’s first major commission is the much-publicised ‘Triangle’ project, a 42-house development on a former caravan park in the Wiltshire town of Swindon scheduled for completion in late 2010. Built to ‘Code 4 Sustainable Homes’ standards and bucking the trend for ring-fenced developments, the initiative will transform the landscape of the area and will set a new quality benchmark in new-build practices in Britain.

Haunting move

When Kevin moved into his current family home, an idyllic 16th-century farmhouse set in the Somerset countryside, he was pretty alarmed to discover that he had a supernatural squatter. “There was a very cold room in the house with a thick, heavy atmosphere. People staying above the room would hear a loud banging. There would be three huge knocks on the door but there’d be no one there. Someone was murdered in the house in the last century and we think that was the cause. It’s all sorted out now,” explained Kevin, who wasted no time in calling a man of the cloth to perform an exorcism and rid his pad of spooky shenanigans.

Motor mad McCloud

In 2008, Kevin indulged his love of cars and awe of V8 engines as a guest on Jeremy Clarkson’s flagship motoring show, ‘Top Gear’. Not only did he cause a stir by taking Jezza to task on his unsympathetic views on green issues, but Kevin also left a lasting impression partaking in the show’s celebrated ‘Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car’ segment (which involves famous folk doing a high-speed lap of the ‘Top Gear’ track in a bid to win a respectable time ranking on the leaderboard). Kevin clocked his lap in 1.45.9 minutes (just .1 of a second short of the reigning champion, singer Jay Kay of the funk-pop band Jamiroquai) and was as proud as punch with his second place victory (which goes unrivalled as of April 2010).

Words of wisdom

According to Kevin, good design is “trend-free, timeless, useable, durable and elegant”. The most important budget factor when building your own home is to “spend the money on the bones, the stuff that is going to be there for ever, not the frippery like kitchens and bathrooms which can be replaced. Think of the architecture, glazing and core materials”. And when it comes to interiors, he is keen to stress the importance sidestepping fashion and the pitfall of trying to replicate the pages of glossy style magazines. “What makes houses interesting are people’s biographies – their taste and who they are. I’m fed up walking into houses and seeing chandeliers inside plastic bags and a wall with black flock wallpaper on it. Are they trying to say: ‘I’m fashionable?’ Because next week they’ll be out of date. These things work in fast cycles,” commented McCloud.

Stuff and nonsense

As a child, little Kevin longed to be shorter and less self-conscious. As an adult, big Kevin claims he has “hair in all the wrong places”, but has learned to live by the motto: “You’re here, get on with it”. His favourite piece of architecture in the world is the rebuilt facade of the library at Ephesus in Turkey, and although highly unfashionable, he has a fancy for polished mahogany furniture and drinking Cinzano mixed with tonic water. Mr McCloud is not particularly materialistic, but if his house were ablaze, the one item he would salvage is his 1967 Hofner President Bass guitar (it’s highly collectable and he likes it a lot).


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