George Clarke may be a recognisable face on TV but he has no interest in fame. He’s happiest just being a designer, as finds out ‘This idea of being a celebrity makes me feel a bit ill’
George Clarke is in his element. The architect-turned-TV-presenter is standing atop a snowcapped mountain in the Alpine village of Verbier — and by his own account, he’s feeling “Christmassy”. But the Restoration Man star isn’t simply getting his festive fix: he’s in the Swiss resort to film a very special edition of his hit Channel 4 show, Amazing Spaces.
Aptly titled Winter Wonderland, the standalone episode will see Clarke and master-craftsman Will Hardie explore the ingenious, small-space wonders hidden away among the snowy peaks of the Swiss and Italian Alps.
Starting their epic road trip from an observation point 4,000 metres above sea level, the duo will set out on an adventure which takes in a secret ski lodge disguised as a boulder, a treehouse resembling a giant acorn, a traditional cabin made almost entirely from concrete, a breath-taking mountaintop hotel which glows in the dark and a star-gazing hideaway which rotates with the night sky.
“Even just being here, filming, really does get you in that festive mood,” says Clarke (44). “We’ve done Norway, we’ve done Canada, we’ve done some far-flung places, and you forget what’s right on our doorstep.”
How has he enjoyed switching up the climate?
“I love it,” responds the Sunderland native. “I’m from the north-east, anyway, so it’s always freezing up there. And genuinely I am a mountain person. I go up to the Lake District all the time, the Western Isles of Scotland, the Highlands. It makes you feel fresh. The air’s cleaner and I love walking and I love climbing.
“So, to be able to see Amazing Spaces’ projects when there’s a lovely dialogue between great design and beautiful landscapes, it’s a fantastic combination.”
From the UK to Europe, there’s certainly been no shortage of inspiring builds to span seven seasons of the show — plus seasonal specials.
“Every year that I think we’ve virtually done everything, a whole other batch of projects come up again,” adds Clarke. “People are building all the time anyway, so every year there are new projects being created and I’m genuinely blown away by people’s inventiveness and creativity.
“I think that’s what’s unique about small spaces. If it’s small and it’s something that’s just fun, it’s easier to do. And it doesn’t necessarily cost the earth, either.”
It’s about “making architecture and design, particularly home design, as accessible to as many people as possible”, he maintains.
“Architecture and design can be quite a serious subject and I even think that the architectural profession takes itself a bit too seriously sometimes,” confesses Clarke, who is the creative director of London-based design and build company George Clarke + Partners.
“Don’t get me wrong, I still teach architecture, and when you’re teaching things like the history and theory of architecture, they can be quite deep subjects.”
“But one of the proudest things about Amazing Spaces is I get a huge amount of school teachers, saying, ‘Do you mind if we run an Amazing Spaces school project?’ And I’m like, ‘Go for it’. If I can inspire young kids to design a little house at the bottom of their garden, or redesign their bedroom, or design their dream home, that’s all fantastic stuff,” concludes Clarke, who also hosts the brilliant Old House, New Home.
“To me, the two most important things in my industry — I’m not just talking about television, I’m talking about being an architect and a designer — are innovation and education.
“They allow young people to be educated in some really exciting things. I fell in love with (design) when I was a kid.”
As for the fame that comes with being on screen, Clarke has mixed feelings.
“I’m in a very privileged position and I feel thankful every day with the career that I’ve got. Yes, it’s television, but all I wanted to be was an architect. And when I became an architect, that was a dream come true. When I started my own architectural practice, my own company and my own design agency, that was another dream come true.”
And the “celebrity” tag? “I never use the ‘C’ word,” he retorts, with a laugh. “I don’t want to be a celebrity. I want to be a good architect. I want to make and craft really beautiful programmes that people love watching.
“For me, it’s work. It’s my job; I get up every morning, I go to work, I do pieces to camera, meet people, sketch and design.
“So, the thought of being a celebrity just makes me feel a bit ill.” Amazing Spaces Winter Wonderland, Channel 4, Thursday, 8pm
WINTER WONDERS: George Clarke explores small-space ideas in the Alps for his new show