Amazing Spaces' presenter George Clarke reveals some of his favourite conversions from the show and explains what makes a space truly amazing.
Which builds in the new series got you really excited?
Our main build has got to be the most exciting challenge of the series for me. Set in ancient woodland in Sussex, it was a real exercise in back-to-basics, using camping techniques in an almost mediaeval way.We wanted a woodland retreat that really made the most of material from the land. Materials were milled on site and weathered on site. It threw up so many challenges and I’m very excited about the reveal.
What’s the most eccentric conversion you've ever seen?
One of the most surprising builds I’ve seen was by a woman who lived in a straight-forward suburban terraced house out in Essex. She built a cob house at the end of her garden, with mini-turrets and painted pink, a kind of mini-castle in effect.
A cob building is made from straw, mud and hair mixed together and this woman made the cob bricks herself with her family. And that’s what made it so special and magical. Yes it was mad, absolutely mad. But I find it hard to criticise anyone when they do something like that. She could have bought a standard shed, but she chose to make an event of the build, dressing in Shrek-style clothing to present it. You can see the shock on my face in the episode.
What defines an ‘Amazing Space’ to you?
An Amazing Space is somewhere that you just think ‘wow’ when you walk in, when you instinctively have a positive reaction. After you think it’s a great design that uses interesting building materials, fantastic skylights or materials or natural light in an inventive way that might give a magical view of the landscape. But when you walk in and you’ve automatically got a smile on your face, and the space is just beautiful, that’s when it’s amazing.
The story behind the space is important too. And that’s what we look for in the series: the person brave or eccentric enough to do something different. It’s not about the master builder. It’s the cool little unusual self-build that’s different to the norm that makes an Amazing Space in our book.
What are your top tips for keeping a build on budget?
I know it sounds obvious, but you need to think first about the most affordable and the best way to build. Be cost-effective with your materials and choices. For example, a timber frame would be quicker and cheaper for a garden shed, but by building the cob bricks yourself you reduce labour costs.Regularly monitor what you’re spending as you go. It doesn't have to be a complex accountancy exercise, but it’s so easy to get caught out and end up not having enough money or needing to borrow at the end of a build. For a small build, you’re probably only looking at 3-4 weeks of work, so sit down in front of the computer every 2-3 days, get out your receipts and total up the costs. Then you know what to do at the next stage and you can make an informed decision about the materials and choices you can afford next.
What are the current trends in small builds?
It’s difficult to generalise, but I’m noticing spaces being used in more multi-functional ways. When you build small, you need to think big with every square inch of space. One space needs to do many things.My garden studio conversion in the last series was one single open plan room. It had a table-tennis table for the kids that doubled as a breakfast table, storage boxes at the side of the space, which doubled up as seats, desks that fold down from the walls for the kids to do homework. The idea is that you want the space to do as many things as possible for you.
Is there any legislation around planning permission that people should know about?
Permitted development rights are definitely worth investigating (Permitted Development Explained). This allows you to add to your existing home or garden, within a limited floor area and height. You can’t have running water or drainage, but you are allowed electrics and power. It’s worth contacting your local planning department to confirm the exact rules for your area.
How do you recommend you select an architect for your own build?Start with recommendations. Ask friends and family for architects they’ve used. See projects they’ve done. If you’re struggling and friends and family can’t help, try the RIBA’s (Royal Institute of British Architects) ‘find an architect’ widget on their website. You put in your postcode, scale, type of project and it gives you ideal architects to carry it out.
However, if it’s a simple build, you might just need someone to help with the design. A small, garden build could be a great little project for someone who has just finished qualifying. But don’t forget that if you need something significant you really do need a fully qualified architect.
What’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever seen a client do during a house build?
Completely change a design when you’re on site. I’ve had that a couple of times – someone goes on holiday, sees something inspiring and wants to go back to the drawing board. I understand the idea that you see something and decide that’s what I want, but major changes when you’re already on site cost a massive fortune and are a complete headache.
What’s the most exciting build or unusual conversion you’ve been involved in?
The caravan we converted for me and my kids in series one was extreme even for me. I bought a dilapidated 1974 knackered static caravan for £300. Everyone said I’d been ripped off.
We then spent the next few months pimping the space – we reconfigured the design, gave it new electrics, insulation. People still can’t believe what we achieved. The before/after transformation was incredible – the most extreme I've worked on.