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Grand Designs’ Kevin McCloud is spreading the word on successful small-space living
IT’S the design trend for a modern age, a triumph of form that does not sacrifice function. As the traditional quarter-acre family block steadily gives way to small-space living, artisan designers with an eye to practicality are thriving.
And who better to spread the message of how to achieve successful small-space living than British home guru and presenter of the television show Grand Designs, Kevin McCloud? “In Britain, we are the masters of building small,” McCloud says from his home by the seaside in Somerset in England’s south. “You watch Grand Designs and you think: ‘Oh yeah, another great big house goes up in the country somewhere.’ But, actually, most of us in the UK live in the smallest houses in the world.
“If you are living in a smaller space it forces you to think much more carefully about everything: about the size of your possessions, your furniture, about where stuff goes.
“Light becomes important: how that is articulated in your building. And of course storage is the big thing.
“When you’re designing your home, you’re not dealing with quantity: you’re not talking about acres of carpet, acres of marble, acres of paint. And that shifts the focus from manufacturing to craftsmanship, on a well-made object. I think that’s inevitably an aspect of smaller living which is a very positive.
“The second thing is you start to ergonomically question every single aspect of a piece of furniture. So if you buy a desk, it’s got to have storage. If you buy a kitchen, it’s got to be really functional. A smaller bathroom with great storage is a delight to use.”
McCloud will travel to Sydney and Melbourne in October as the star of the Grand Designs Live Home Show where more than 200 exhibitors will display the best products and ideas for modern homes and gardens.
Taking its inspiration from the TV show, which launched an Australian spin-off in 2010, the home show will feature a curated Design Arcade, where visitors can shop on location for unique products from hand-picked local designers, with products ranging from homewares to ceramics to artwork. As well as areas dedicated to building, interiors, kitchens and bathrooms, and outdoor spaces, there will also be an interactive Tech Box, showcasing the latest lighting designs and systems that also save money and energy. The exhibition will focus in particular on small spaces, where functionality in beautiful design is key. The best tips for hidden storage, maximisation of light, and edible gardens will all feature.
Sydney and, to a lesser extent, Melbourne have become vast, sprawling cities as population expansion spreads suburbia ever outwards.
But the expansion of Australia’s two major cities has reached its limit, and a modern young family is likely now to be just as happy to live in a large apartment close by parks, gardens and public pools, and closer to the inner city, than on a traditional block with a large fenced garden and backyard pool.
The proportion of single dwellers — who are likelier to live in small apartments — also has increased exponentially. In Australia, the idea of the central business that is deserted after 6pm is dissolving rapidly, with urban renewal projects and licensing changes ushering in an area of laneway bars, late-opening shops and inner-city apartment living.
“If you look around the globe, what’s happened is that there has been a big, big shift in the way that we organise our lives and our working practices,” McCloud says. “And so the typical Australian idea of the central business district and the suburbs, where people get on trains and they drive in their cars into the city centre to work and then they drive home again, it grew and grew and grew to the point where the CBDs became enormous and so did the suburbs. And so you get cities which are 40 miles wide. And the infrastructure simply cannot support that huge geographical area.
“But some great things are happening now in Sydney because people are beginning to repopulate the city centre in a very enthusiastic way.”
McCloud says the shift towards smaller spaces does not need to mean poky, cramped living.
“Space is something that we have pursued, space and light, to the point where we might as well be living outside,” he says. “We talk about space as this sacred mantra, and yet it can be unusable. It can be clunky, it can be overwielding and difficult to manipulate because it’s just one big volume.
“There’s absolutely no doubt that large living spaces can bring a certain glamour and a certain wonderful generosity … but all of that can be achieved on a much smaller scale. So what you look at out of the window, the connection with the outdoors, and the way that you make that connection with the outdoors, is in the end more important than the sheer volume of the building inside.”
‘If you are living in a smaller space it forces you to think much more carefully about everything’
above Kevin McCloud will travel to Sydney and Melbourne for the Grand Designs Live Home Show