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Lean, green and keen at Grand Designs Live

October 5, 2013

GDL_kevin3If you watched Gogglebox this week – the programme that watches people watching TV that currently follows the latest series of Grand Designs in the schedules – then the most memorable comments came from the posh couple who watch their telly in their 17 bedroom mansion through an alcoholic haze. In a hilarious moment Dominic observed that the long black gloves worn against a black dress by one of the characters in Downton Abbey made her look like she was missing most of her arms. In a not so hilarious moment Stephanie described Kevin McCloud as an ‘arse’.

Kevin McCloud is a personal hero of mine since watching the first series of Grand Designs back in 1999 and so I was suitably offended on his behalf. Two days later I came face to face with the man himself on the opening day of Grand Designs Live at Birmingham’s NEC.

The first encounter was while waiting at the entrance to the event with a vast crowd eager for the show to open. A giant image of Kevin stares down at you as you enter a calming blue tunnel to the atrium of the event from where you can choose to explore the wonders of Build, Interiors, Bathrooms, Kitchens, Gardens and Technology each of which was guaranteed to bombard the senses with grand and beautiful designs and some very clever ideas.

The second encounter was watching him make a guest appearance on the Miele cooking experience demonstration where he seemed quite happy to make an ‘arse’ of himself for the sake of entertainment and only went up in my estimation as a result.


Here is a contemporary TV personality and celebrity who is inspirational and has made sustainable design and living very popular at a time when the world will benefit from us all doing our bit to use less and conserve more energy. Anyone who can draw a big crowd on topics about sustainability should be applauded in my view.

With a lot of the exhibitions and events I’ve attended in recent years, particularly in the IT industry, becoming quite barren, turgid and depressing affairs as the recession has ground on and on, I wasn’t sure what to expect with Grand Designs Live.  I’m very pleased to report that it was well worth the early start and long queues as it had a real buzz about it that was refreshing and re-invigorating. With signs that we are finally emerging from the first and hopefully last ‘great recession of the 21st century’ this is an industry sector that’s looking lean, green and keen.

So here are some of my highlights from Grand Designs Live 2013 …

  • Team effort at its best

    GDL_norrsken1The biggest highlight was undoubtedly seeing the efforts of a great bunch of folks I am currently working with coming to fruition. The company is Norrsken and they produce high performance windows and doors. This was not just their first Grand Designs Live but their first big event and it was a last minute decision to attend, with them taking one of the last available spots at this popular event just two weeks earlier. In true ‘Grand Designs’ self-build style, they put in a massive personal effort to design, organise, build and staff the stand themselves, as well as continuing to run their growing business. I get a sense that this event will well and truly put them on the map for their beautifully designed and crafted products and their knowledge and enthusiasm about sustainable building approaches.

  • Green heroes

    In a week when the Conservatives are gathering for their annual conference and are reiterating their commitment to ‘nurturing responsibility’ and encouraging those who can work to do so, I spotted perhaps an ideal way for our young unemployed in particular to give something back for their benefits. From Green Heroes winner TGO (The Great Outdoor Gym Company ) comes an innovative set of gym technology that converts people power into electrical energy and helps them get fitter in the process. I make the comment with tongue very firmly stuck in cheek but somehow suspect there would be a few Tory MPs who would love the idea of turning people into power 😉

    Sponsoring the Green Heroes section of the event was Solar Slate who do exactly what their name suggests, create solar generating tiles that look virtually indistinguishable from normal slate tiles. Although the very visible nature of today’s mainstream photovoltaic panels makes a useful statement about the uptake and growth of solar energy as a viable renewable approach, I will certainly admit to thinking that a large array of panels is not a particularly attractive sight on a typical picture postcard cottage in places like the New Forest and the Cotswolds.

  • Garden buildings

    As you might expect, the garden section of the show had some of the prettiest and eye-catching exhibits, with Outdoor Living illustrating the many and varied ways you can move water around in contemporary ways these days and Moss Art putting on a bbq_hutparticularly fine display of their Art Noveau inspired sculptures. However, it’s the continued innovation in garden buildings that caught my eye. They are such a great way of experiencing the ‘essence’ of your typical ‘Grand Design’ on a smaller scale and tighter budgets. My award for the quirkiest garden building goes to the Finman BBQ Hut, the idea for which originates in Lapland where they are called Grillkotas. I was given a guided tour of the one they had on the stand and despite it looking like an overgrown playhouse from the outside it was surprisingly comfortable for someone well over 6 feet tall 🙂

  • Self-cleaning swim spas

    Not only did I come face-to-face with my hero Kevin but also one of my greatest objects of desire – a swim spa.  Costing £30K, the beast of a swim spa Hydropool had on display is just the sort I have dreamed about owning and have imagined installing in a suitably ‘grand designed’ garden building one day.

  • Less roof, more sky

    Whenever and wherever my next personal grand design comes to fruition, I’d love to incorporate one or all the product ideas provided by Roof-maker. With the latest developments in fibre glass flat roofing and the associated ‘green’ roof creation that they enable, I can imagine a beautiful frameless skylight or two providing wonderful light below while the area above continues to contribute positively to the environment.

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