It’s safe to say that the homes we live in have changed a lot over the past few decades.
Modern challenges of smaller living spaces mean that we’re now having to find ways to come up with more storage solutions, all the while trying to perfect that cosy Danish ideal of ‘hygge’, and trying to be sustainable in the process.
All in all, good home design is a tough world to navigate. To help get it right, we caught up with Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud to find out how to tackle these key trends.
Asked if there was a way to design a home with wellness in mind, Kevin said “Yes, it’s called architecture.”
“The whole point about architecture and design is to make us feel better because otherwise we’d all be living in huts, crudely made out of what was available in the street or in the cave or in the field,” he explained.
“The wonderful thing that design and the whole design process can do is to make our lives more comfortable, more durable, more practical, more beautiful, more delightful and gives us the opportunity to flourish.
“It’s a very lovely fashionable word isn’t it, the Danish ‘hygge’ or cosy or whatever it is, but it’s another word that means good design which is all I’ve been banging on about for 35 years now. Good design is also about being comfortable, being in places which feel familiar, good for us, which nourish our souls as well as our bodies.
“This is the William Morris idea from the 1880s, having things in our lives which we know to be useful, or which we really truly believe to be beautiful. I’m more with Morris than I am with some Danish PR company on this.”
“We’re becoming more sustainable,” Kevin mused.
“We want our eggs to be free-range, we want our tomatoes to be fair trade, we want our clothes to be organic, we don’t want to be polluted, we don’t want to think that the sofa we sit on has been made by people who have been exploited in third world factories.
“We’re not there yet, when it comes to sofas and paint we’re getting there.”
His advice for homeowners wanting to be more sustainable is just to be more sensible and ask questions when buying furniture.
“The UK is still Europe’s largest importer of illegal timber so if you’re buying timber for building, or buying furniture, or buying a picture frame, you want to insist that there is a full chain of custody behind that object and ask the retailer if it’s fair trade or if it’s Forestry Stewardship Council timber, which means that it’s been ethically produced and isn’t illegal.
“As consumers we can stand up and demand what the sofa leather is dyed with, and in which factory it was made, in which country it was dyed using what chemicals, and whether or not the people who have made this have been fairly treated.
“Knowing that what we have bought or commissioned or built or made or had made for us is ethical and it’s brought joy to people in the process of making it, that can only enrich us,” he said.
One of the biggest challenges facing homeowners in the UK is a lack of space, meaning storage solutions and ways to make living spaces look more open are having to get more creative.
Kevin collected inspiration from his new series House Of The Year: “House Of The Year is the Royal Institute of British Architects' competition to find Britain’s best house. Interestingly, in among the longlist of 18 homes, there are a lot of really small houses – all new, all really exciting, all of which share the same things and that is that they bring loads of light into the building, often with skylights, to just really ramp up the level of light.
“They also in putting in skylights and little glimpse windows, give a view to infinity. To look at the stars at night, the clouds, the sun, the blue sky, gives you tremendous connection to the outdoors, the sense of space.
“The other thing with small buildings which is really really helpful I find, is built in storage. The reason it works is you can have a cupboard, 40cm deep, not very deep, but it can cover the entire wall. It can actually be the wall and it actually doesn’t make the room seem much smaller. What it does do is provide you with a massive amount of storage and the fact that it’s built in means that it occupies the entire wall, this huge volume.
“Wherever possible I would say do not buy storage, make it, commission it, have the fitted furniture built in.
“I’d also say any opportunities to dissolve the barriers, dissolve the walls are really good. I’ve seen, for example, people hang a sheer nylon curtain, a translucent one, against a well because it makes the room seem bigger because you haven’t got a finite wall, it’s a softer edge.
“The other thing is, any cupboard, stick a mirror on it. A wall, make the entire wall mirrored. It gives, again, a sense of space, a sense of expanse.
“They sound like really simple psychological tricks but they work every time,” he explained.
Grand Designs Live is at Birmingham's NEC from October 11-15 2017.