Today I headed to London’s Excel Centre for THE exhibition that tackles home building, extending, improving and developing.
I was meeting architect and self-build enthusiast George Clarke, who even in his 40s, has an energy and enthusiasm for architecture and design that is infectious and inspiring.
His TV series, Amazing Spaces, charts crazy, brave souls creating crazy, brave living spaces out of everything from shipping containers, to aeroplane nose cones and from tree houses to caravans…
Having designed his own bespoke shed in his garden and a holiday retreat from a retro caravan, George has plenty of experience and approaches these projects with as much diligence as he would any home-build. Because of this, the result is always a highly crafted, cleverly planned and designed space that looks beautiful – even if it is in a pared-back, industrial way.
Which brings me to his latest venture, with his design partner William Hardie, George Clarke’s Amazing Sheds – pre-built, insulated, wood and then steel-clad sheds, with bifold and French doors, and modular, plywood interior panelling. Each one comes with, electricity, lighting, a pull-down table and fold out sofa – how you customise it from there on is up to you. Options include a wood-burner, sink, stools, shelving, and even a mini bar – and they’re working on more variations as I type. To look at they are awesome, functional, practical, minimal, and cool. The shape is of a traditional shed, but the style looks more like a shipping container.
“I just felt like none of the garden studios on the market were enough fun,” George tells me, as we are sitting inside one of his hip homes. “You can either spend 80 grand on something with LED lighting and a hot tub, or five grand on what’s really a glorified shed that will be freezing in winter.”
Having watched a mini revolution over the past decade, as more and more of us have turned to flexible working and felt the squeeze of the housing crisis and recession, George spotted the growing market for affordable, and crucially, stylish and functional, garden living space that could be used in a flexible way. “It might be somewhere for Granny to hang out in the day enjoying the garden and then become more of a teenage punk band studio in the evening,” one of his sales team tells me.
And it’s this playfulness that George is keen to grasp. “Something I’ve noticed over the years is that lots of people have quite boring houses, pained magnolia and not very interesting, but in their gardens, they are willing to be much more eccentric and brave. Perhaps because they don;t have to do any actual building work to the house or because they don’t have to worry about affecting its value if they decorate it in a crazy way, they feel unburdened when it comes to these small outdoor spaces. They are free of all those worries and want to have some fun.”
But I can’t help feeling one of his sales team has hit the nail on the head when I ask him what response he’s been getting from the crowd at GDL. “When people hear that they don’t need planning permission for this, and that there are no building works or costs – they are really excited. And they love the flexibility of the customisation – they can make it personal but they don’t have to do anything themselves, all the hard decisions have already been made.”