Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Minimalist, brutalist... Grand Designs goes chintz-less

Is this the building site or the finished house? Read on...
Grand Designs this evening focuses on another crazy couple with more money than taste, The Beard and Ringlet Sunglasses, who are aiming to build their minimalist vision in a Victorian street in south London.

They've knocked down a garage to build this uncluttered fantasy home in the garden of the Victorian house they own (along with a minimalist barn in Norfolk, more of that later).

Ringlet Sunglasses wants a beacon of light, which will appear like a light box.  Always popular with the neighbours, this.  And moths.

The Beard wants it to be a sustainable, shimmering glass, carbon-neutral house.  It'll fit right into the neighbourhood, then, because one thing the Victorians were good at was minimalism.

The plan of the house itself looks like a staircase, three levels of box.  Made of concrete with some glass on top.  Given that their current Norfolk barn is mostly made of concrete and furnished with immaculate chipboard, I think it likely that they will manage to make some more concrete into a box in which to live.

Brilliantly, and unusually for Grand Designs(!), the couple aren't sure that they have the budget to build this house.  Kevin rubs his hands with barely-disguised glee at the corner-cutting The Beard is employing - the groundworks are being done by general builders, not extra-special super-duper chaps.  Maybe the house will...fall over...or something.  As it is, they've possibly put the bolts for the meccano in the wrong place so maybe the house won't fit.  Still, they'll find out whether they've made a complete balls-up of it when the concrete sets, which is the wrong side of solid to do much about it.

Ringlet Sunglasses thinks their budget being "small" is fine, because they love baked beans and they hate holidays.  So that's OK then.

They go back to the bolts again - the ones the house is meant to fit onto.  And the bolts are all pointing in different directions.  I wonder if a Big Hammer will be used.  They spray them with WD40 a bit.  But they're 55mm out, which is a door frame (although, being minimalists, perhaps they won't have door frames, just holes).  Still, WD40 is bound to fix it.  Kevin uses such non-emotive language as "wobbly" and "botch job" and "screw up" and the builders who are putting the steel on the base plate come and make extra holes for it.

Kevin calls The Beard "heroic" for trying to build an uncompromising minimalist house on such a small budget (in Grand Designs world, where £320,000 is "small").  This is only slightly colossally patronising.

Ringlet Sunglasses takes her sunglasses off and talks about freeing her mind when not surrounded by clutter.  Kevin calls her a Japanese monk, which is kind.

The steelwork goes up a treat, with a crane that takes up the whole road for some hours, causing parking restrictions and traffic diversions and tree breakages and flood, famine and depravity (maybe), further endearing The Beard and Ringlet Sunglasses to the neighbours.

Ringlet Sunglasses says they are very realistic.  She knows projects take longer, are more expensive and more hassle than you'll ever imagine.  I think this may be the Grand Designs' strapline.

Anyway, it costs too much, so they sell their chipboard and concrete palace in Norfolk.  Fortunately, having chucked out all their chintz (IKEA would be proud), packing takes precisely three seconds and they get all their possessions in the back of an Austin Maestro.

Big fat industrial glass that lights up is going to wrap their new building up like a big flashing Christmas present, and, sensibly, The Beard has decided that he will employ Some Experts to install them, rather than shinning up a telegraph pole and using some Copydex to stick them on.

Kevin stands at the bottom of the building, watching them going up, and saying things like, "Artful! Woof!" which presumably means something in design terms.  Or he may just be losing his marbles.

The Beard's brother is a professional builder and site manager, which is very handy.  But unfortunately, some dreadful hooligan tossers have nicked £6,000 or more of tools from the site, so there is much upset and the build stops for a bit.  Well, for adverts.

And...we're back in the room.

Eight months into the build, and the afternoon after the tools went missing, there was a call from the police. They've got two-thirds of the tools back, hurrah!

In other excellent news, the solar panels will give them free electricity, an eco win!

But the triple-glazed windows are being made in Latvia and transported, an eco fail!

"If you go the exacting route of the bespoke, you need to go the extra 1,500 miles" says Kevin, catchily.  I think I may live my life by this rule.  As it is, it means that The Beard and Ringlet Sunglasses are in Latvia, talking about screw heads and exact specifications of windows.  He's going to paint them white, so that they look like, well, uPVC, so well worth the 1,500-mile journey.

Hand-winching the windows up takes half a day of "punishing" work and they manage to get one window in.  Hurrah again!

It's taken a year and it's up, and The Beard is talking about hiding junctions behind skirting boards in traditionally-built houses.  But they don't want to hide the junctions in this minimalist sugar cube, they want them to disappear.  Perhaps a magic wand may be a good plan?  Or if they get some Blu-Tack and roll it into a long, thin sausage and then squash it along the join between wall and floor?  I don't think they use Blu-Tack enough in Grand Designs, do you?

Effortless simplicity isn't effortless, nor cheap.  The minimalist finishing detail for the kitchen, the roof garden and the rest is costing The Beard £35,000 (think how much Blu-Tack you could buy for that!).

Kevin does an earnest bit to camera, whispering, "It's all smoke and mirrors!" which I think is code for, "This is bullshit" but I could be wrong.

He gets all superlative-spewing again as he says the finished building looks like it's been hewn out of a glacier.  Well, it's glass.  Which glaciers aren't made from.  But OK.

Ringlet Sunglasses says over-materialising freaks her out, quite overlooking the fact that her earnest minimalist striving probably freaks people out too.

Inside, there is revolving (not revolting, though it ain't pretty) furniture.  Kevin calls them "beautiful plywood pods" as one spins to reveal a bedroom you wouldn't sleep in if you were paid to.

The Beard wants a bath store, you know, the kind of thing that sits across the bath, thus:

But Ringlet Sunglasses is horrified at the idea.

And now there are books out on shelves, The Beard has actual books with spines on show. Eek!  I begin to wonder just who is the driving force behind the endless quest for minimalism - perhaps The Beard dreams of wearing a slouchy cardigan with leather patches on the elbows, marmalade and toast crumbs on the lapels and sitting in a cosy armchair, idly leafing through a copy of Cluttered Home Weekly.

"In my house, it would look like a piece of crud," says Kevin.  He's talking about the finish on the plywood.  I think "crud" is a design term.

The eco news is in - it's one from the top of the super special sustainable house ranking lists, so not quite carbon neutral, but not bad.

And what of their budget?  £320,000, if you remember.  Well, they spent £550,000.  Ringlet Sunglasses seems to have hocked her sunglasses to cover the deficit, which is nice.

And we're left with another statement by which to live our lives, "You don't win gold medals for strolling along the road."

No.  No.  You don't.  Well spotted, that Ringlet.

The finished building looks like three portacabins, stacked haphazardly on top of one another.  With some mesh across the windows, like it's in a war zone.  Which, if the neighbours are still pissed off about the tree snappage, it may very well be.  Give me chintz over minimalism any day.  At least you get cushions then.  #reclines

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The Most Fun You Can Have Watching Television (or Why I Like Baking And Houses)

Kevin McCloud would be proud
I watch television, as I'm sure many of you do too.  If you don't, you should.  Just a bit.  Go on.  Try it, you might like it.


One of my very favourite programmes at the moment is The Great British Bake Off.

If you haven't seen it, a bunch of amateur bakers bake a variety of different, er, baked goods every week.  They have a Signature Challenge, a Showstopper Challenge and a Technical Challenge. Presented by Mel & Sue (famous for being amusing in the 1990s and called Mel & Sue all the time), there are also famous judges (Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry) from the world of baking who judge the baking (I honestly don't know how they dream these things up! Baker judges judging bakers - it's CRAZINESS in a tin).

Anyway again.

And I must apologise, for I fear I have led you up the garden path somewhat, by making it sound like I'm going to be All Serious about baking.  I'm not.  C'mon, chaps, do you know me At All?!

Whilst the programme is, of course, fabulous, with its quintessentially English settings (complete with bunting), earnest and inventive ingredient combinations and will-it-won't-it rise/set/cut properly cliffhangers, there is a game you can play alongside watching the programme, which can turn it from dainty lady-type watching to belly laugh hur-hur-ing in an instant.

Interested?  Read on.

It's very simple.  All you do is replace the word "bake" (in all its forms, bake, baker, baking, baked, etc) with the word "fuck".

Come with me a moment.  You'll have the Great British Fuck Off.  And Paul Hollywood saying, "Good fuck on this." And Mel & Sue questioning people as to how long they have been fucking.  And where did they learn to fuck?  Do they like watching other people fucking?  What's the most challenging thing about fucking?

And my very favourite, "When I'd go to my grandmother's house, you could smell the fucking as soon as she opened the front door."

I know, I know.  Yes, it's puerile.  But I defy you not to do it and laugh.

I'm not done though.

Grand Designs returns this month for a new season.  Hurrah!  Kevin McCloud playing schadenfreude with plebs with more money than taste!  Watch as he rubs his hands gleefully as Norris and Antoine don't get the roof on their house before the rains come down in November.  Delight in his gentle scoffing at sky-high sums of cash being spent on mixer taps on springs, enormous windows and painstaking mosaics crafted by blind nuns out of flattened hedgehog spines.

But, most of all, listen out for the tone of voice he uses when he faux-gingerly asks at the end how much the whole build has cost.  " much...did it the end?"

And then, when you watch the reveal of each lavish room, with Kevin being shown around by the owner-builders, imagine that he's using the same tone of voice to ask, " you...fucked in here?"

Because they will have done.  Hur-hur.