By the time boiling water taps reach the general population, via B&Q or Magnet, McCloud has moved on. Bi-fold doors are so last season, darling, where is your corrugated hemp fibre and sugar resin panelling? But that is his raison d’être: to inspire us. Like the artist of architecture that he is, for McCloud it’s all about the sightlines, the quality and the craftmanship.
“It’s why I don’t advocate products. Your kitchen has been specially made, then I’m interested. Otherwise, no, it’s simply a standard issue product out of a catalogue. And that isn’t architecture, it’s shopping,” McCloud, 60, has said.
“Taste gets in the way, and sometimes fashion does, and often money does. Lack of money certainly gets in the way. But the quality of design and craftsmanship is always important.”
McCloud has been doing a round of interviews to mark the 20th anniversary of Grand Designs on Channel 4. It is back next week for a special series of shows, including one where he picks his favourite projects.
Kevin McCloud has been presenting Grand Designs for 20 years
In the two decades since McCloud first walked across our screens with his trademark North Face jacket and laconic, baritone delivery, certain features that looked ludicrously fancy then now seem commonplace: poured concrete floors, double-height ceilings, ground source heat pumps and, of course, “going over budget”.
A feature of the 200 episodes McCloud and his crew have filmed since 1999 is the final segment when he gets down to the nitty-gritty of the money with the owners (one couple spent £1million more than they had planned).Claiming that he doesn’t care about their budgets, McCloud dislikes it that many viewers tune in for the last 15 minutes of the programme just to find out how much the build cost and what it looks like finished.
As a nation, we are far more obsessed by how much money people spend on buying and renovating property than we are in the conception and realisation of the project, he says.
“What upsets me isn’t the ‘Will they or won’t they finish?’ All I care about is the bloody design. I just want it to be well executed.” In fact, he says, the money side of it is tedious because “it means we’re just going to talk about money for the next 45 minutes of filming.”
Given his aversion to the M-word, it’s ironic that McCloud is at the centre of a struggling property investment venture himself. It emerged this week that small investors who sank millions of pounds into his eco-friendly Happiness Architecture Beauty (HAB) housing businesses could face losing up to 97 per cent of their money. Between 2013 and 2017, private individuals who invested £2.4million into McCloud’s bonds were promised returns of up to nine per cent a year from a string of fundraising schemes. It seems they are now on course to lose most of their money.
Another set of investors, who invested £1.9million in one of the HAB companies, say they have not received a penny.
Using reasons often cited by the Grand Designs owners who go over budget during their builds, McCloud blamed project delays, “systemic faults” and large debts.
“I stand shoulder to shoulder with those who have lost money,” McCloud told one newspaper. “I will of course do everything in my power to improve the current situation.” In March, McCloud, who turned to the public to help crowdfund a series of eco-friendly developments, apologised for “delays and problems” at one of his schemes in Kings Worthy, near Winchester.
In 2013, HAB Housing attracted £1.9million from 650 people. In January 2017, a mini-bond scheme raised £2.4million for HAB Land. During the past few days, the January 2017 bond investors have been told they would lose 74 per cent in the best case, or 97 per cent in the worst.
As a result, the company has proposed restructuring and delaying paying investors back until 2024. “I’ve learnt that business is really tough and that, even if you have an inspiring vision, skilled team and strong backing, other circumstances can pull the rug from under you,” McCloud told The Guardian.
He is a fervent environmentalist and champions innovative, eco materials and designs.
Raised in a house his parents built themselves in Bedfordshire, McCloud studied history of art and architecture at Cambridge where he was in the Footlights comedy ensemble with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.
An accomplished designer (he carved and painted the rococo-style vegetable ceiling in Harrods’ food halls) McCloud flirted with becoming an opera singer before going into television.
Kevin’s Grandest Designs is on Channel 4 on Wednesday at 9pm
He lives in rural Somerset with his wife Suzanna and their four children (one son is an architect) and will never talk about his own style, let alone permit an “at home with the McClouds” photoshoot.
He has seen Grand Designs as his mission, to open the nation’s eyes to building in a way that isn’t simply glass boxes or grey extensions.
But while the programme hasn’t inspired a hi-tech, green revolution on a mass scale, McCloud says not a week goes by when he isn’t thanked by a stranger in the street for kick-starting their own grand design. “It’s all about trying to make the building feel not only part of where it is, but that it’s from where it is,” he says.
“A building ought to be able to tell us to put our phones down, come and enjoy the view or a connection to friends and family. I was in an amazing place recently where you just wanted to sit and gaze through the skylight at the clouds.
“What I love is when we get a retiring businessman who wants a low-energy home to save money. By the end of filming, he has sold his 4×4 and bought an electric car. He’s got solar panels and become an eco-warrior. I like following people on their journey of discovery.”
● Kevin’s Grandest Design is on C4, Wednesday at 9pm, followed by a rerun of Grand Designs Series 1