REAL HOMES: HOUSE DOCTOR

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Indy Lifestyle Online
SPRING IS here and the time is right for... visiting the Ideal Home Show. And I'll try not to make any jokes about funny ideals and couldn't wait to get home. Oh dear; that didn't last very long, did it?

The show has been going for almost 100 years - a century in which many major housing improvements have taken place. And, let's be fair, over the years the Ideal Home Show has introduced the British to central heating, twin-tub washing machines and car ports (remember those?). The central heating, at least, has made a lasting impact.

But now that most British housing has reached a certain standard, it's hard to see where we can go from here.

The main hall at Earl's Court has a few show homes dotted about, with queues waiting to look in them. But the designs are mostly tired suburban stereotypes, with boring stretcher-bond face brickwork, interlocking concrete roof tiles and uPVC windows.

Is this what the British public aspires to? I suppose it will be if that's all that's offered them. Some of the construction details on display are atrocious. One of the show homes has no hip tiles or flashings on the roof: good job it's under cover, or the fancy furnishings and interior decor would be ruined after the first shower. But the show's ethic is not about the quality of the buildings, it's about what to put in them: an unashamed orgy of consumption.

So, if you've got money to spare for an elaborate bubble bath, then the IHS is the place for you. There are three Jacuzzi companies vying for your custom within splashing distance of each other. Fancy a barbecue on wheels? One stand is offering a sawn-in-half oil drum for a cool twelve hundred quid.

The sad thing is that the thousands of people trekking through the show are testament to an enduring public interest in all things to do with building and buildings. If only they were offered some insights into how to spot quality building work, or how to maintain their homes properly.

But instead they get led straight into the clutches of the salesmen; the firms that spray polyurethane foam onto the undersides of old roofs are in a prime position, and seem to be taking plenty of orders, despite the fact that this process is guaranteed to make your old tiles un-reusable, and rot your battens into the bargain.

The winner of the architects' competition is called the Slim House, a reinvention of the terraced house - which many would argue didn't need reinventing. The house, if you can find it, seems to consist of boxing-in the back garden with sheets of plywood.

The concept allows for easy access from the street at the front and the "mews" at the back, which any city dweller knows is a sure-fire recipe for burglary. There is also a quaint idea about communal gardens, which means, apparently, that the neighbours' kids and their mates can come tromping over your bit of plywood box whenever they feel like it. Again, a security nightmare.

But at least it makes a thought-provoking change from all those Jacuzzi salesmen.

Ideal Home Show, Earls Court, London, until 11 April.

Jeff@doctoronthehouse.demon.co.uk

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