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The Grand Designs host teaches us to dream big, forget about home ownership and make do and recycle from aeroplanes

We can’t think of a better place to launch into an ambitious, over-budget and impractical architectural project than, vicariously speaking, from our own couch. The long-running TV series Grand Designs has racked up a whopping 15 years in the UK, and part of the enduring romance with the show is 55-year-old Kevin McCloud.

“I hear the weirdest stories,” says the host and owner of HAB Housing. We’re talking about fan mail. Time Out shares a memory of Australian actor Toby Schmitz, who performed an Erotic Fan Fiction story about McCloud at Surry Hills Library. “I’d like to read that story,” he says. “Someone once sent me a picture of a tattoo they’d had done of me on their calf.”

This year McCloud was awarded an MBE – not for his dreamy voice but for his services to sustainability. As he reflects on how baffled and honoured he was by the privilege, he tells us one of his bugbears is that some people view sustainability as a grim, compromised life. “I was introduced to one couple that actually met while recycling. They threw out the trash and fell in love. That’s what it can be about.”

McCloud is making it his mission to figure out ways that people can share more resources. “We’re naturally sharing creatures,” he argues. “We share company, meals, jokes, a library book or movie. We get into trouble for sharing things that we shouldn’t. And we should be sharing the more basic commodities.”

“I did a series about an Airbus 320 aeroplane. We demonstrated that it’s possible to use everything; we made dog beds, toy boxes, furniture... What was important is that our viewing audience was particularly strong with the under 30s. That’s a generation in the UK who’s had to learn to live in a recession.”

McCloud is coming to Sydney to appear at the annual Grand Designs Live exhibition, which will include a Design Arcade showcasing the works of artisanal makers and creators and the Tech Box, a display of technological innovations. This year’s expo has a special focus on small spaces. “The word ‘grand’ is about the scale of vision, not the physical size of the building or even how much you spend on it,” says McCloud. “It’s about the ambition and adventure in which you approach the project.”

However, some of us – especially those feeling squeezed out of the property market – may need to scale back our expectations, says McCloud. “It’s a fallacy to think that we own our homes. Mortgage companies own our homes... What’s important is that we have affordable rental and access to a decent quality of life – there are lots of things that go into the mix.”

Sadly, if you’ve ever wanted to take a peep inside Kev’s abode, you’ll have to think again. The British designer’s 500-year-old farmhouse is strictly off limits to camera crews. He laughs, “Is it the kind of thing you’d see on Grand Designs? No. No, because it's mine. I wouldn’t put it out there in the press – it would smash my reputation!”

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By Emma Joyce   |  

Grand Designs Live 2014 details

1 Convention Centre Pl, South Wharf 3006

Telephone 03 9235 8000

Nearby Stations: Flinders Street; Southern Cross

Price $19.00 to $25.00

Date 17 Oct 2014-19 Oct 2014

Open Fri-Sat 10am-6pm; Sun 10am-5pm

Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre map

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