Me And My Home: A space fit for a king

Caroline Wingfield talks to Kevin McCloud about his house near Glastonbury
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The Independent Online

Kevin McCloud is a designer of many things, including furniture, glassware and lighting, but not interiors - although that's what everyone thinks he does. He's also a TV presenter. He lives near Glastonbury with his wife Zani and large family

We live about 15 miles from Glastonbury in the Mendips. We're not on the festival route everyone takes coming down from London, but we are very near to Babington House so instead of cars we've got helicopter traffic. It's really funny, you just see these shuttles of helicopters going backwards and forwards.

"Our house is built out of the remains of a previous house that stood next to it, called The Great House, and we still have a medieval arch and some wonderful medieval stamped tiles in our downstairs loo, of all places, and some interesting archways and niches. There are bits of ancient building stuck around the place and it's a hoot, because you can be digging in the garden and suddenly you'll unearth a flooring slab. The thing about old buildings is you have this balance to strike between living there and using it, and on the other hand conserving what is there and making sure what you do doesn't remove history. I'm a keen conservationist and within me there is that battle all the time as to how much I intervene in the building.

"A surveyor who looked at this house when we bought it said, 'You've got a good shell, just rip everything out, start again.' I said, 'What, you mean the beams, the oak beams that have been there for 500 years?' He said, 'Yeah, yeah, they're all rubbish, get rid of the lot." I said, 'The floorboards, the old floorboards upstairs?' He said, 'They're full of holes.' I said, 'Yeah, but they're beautiful.'

"It's so easy to take these people's advice and to kowtow to the mortgage companies. But the trick is to leave it alone. It's terrible how money is the great enemy of conservation. Every generation has done something to this house, but I feel we've got it right, we've added something which I like to think is reversible.

"The house itself is 500 years old. It started life as a through-passage farmhouse - you see a lot of them in Yorkshire, the Midlands and the west of England, where you have a front door that goes through a corridor to the back door. Up a step on the left-hand side is the main living area with a big inglenook and a staircase leading to the upper storey. To the right is another room, which could have been used as a pantry but was also used to keep animals in winter.

"We've recently added a 21st-century bit which is an oak gallery corridor. It's modern but the oak and the flagstone floor give it a timeless quality. It's a neutral space and there's lots of light and we're very happy with it.

"My wife Zani is an interior designer and we have very different tastes. Her business, Baer & Ingram, specialises in toile fabrics and wallpapers, whereas my taste is probably simpler, more masculine, certainly more modern. I'm not an interior designer. In the Eighties I designed furniture and did a lot of mad installations in people's houses, but I'm a designer of product, principally of lighting.

"Anyway, we argued for six years about how to decorate the house. In the end we got one room each and came to an amicable agreement on the corridor. The sitting room, which is the big family room, and the one I got to decorate, has big oak beams and a huge oak inglenook with a big black ancient woodburner that you can open out so it's like an open fire. It's a mixture of modern comfort and old stuff and fur and jewellery; stylistically you could say it's contemporary Saxon. It's all those materials you'd find in a Saxon hall - sheepskin throws, leather, stone, unpolished wood, very basic natural materials.

"We've got a big L-shaped sofa from Ligne Roset which I bought half- price in Heal's. We can get the whole family on it. Which is good since I've got five children - Laura, my niece, who lives with us, Hugo, Grace, Milo and Elsie, ranging in age from 17 to two. The sofa is grey and covered in sheepskins and fake fur.

"The lighting is all stuff I've designed, including a Sixties retro stainless-steel prototype lamp that's very tall and thin, with a big glass sphere on top of it. It's like a piece of jewellery, really beautiful, and I've got it sitting on an old cable drum. I've always had this slightly subversive nature. I've always wanted to put in things which are nothing to do with houses or interiors, which is why I had to put a cable ring into the room. It's the kind of thing you see parked in a railway siding.

"I'm very, very happy with the results and that's got to be what it's about. Good interior design isn't about showing off, it's about walking into a space and feeling like a better human being. It's about the kids getting up in the morning and knowing where everything is and having space to move around in and play. It's me walking into the sitting room in the evening and thinking, 'Yeah, I'm really looking forward to reading or watching telly or looking at the fire,' because the space is comfortable, welcoming, it excites or it relaxes, it does what it does. But it does it to you because you are the owner, you are the person that lives there.

"It's a very flexible house, in that it's got enough rooms to allow us to change what we do. The way you use a house changes enormously quickly. Rooms suddenly stop being used and others start being used, whether it's for doing homework or playing the piano or whatever. The house becomes a sort of member of the family; it kind of grows with you, which is rather wonderful."

Kevin McCloud's new book 'Choosing Colours' is published by Quadrille, £20

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