Presenter of Channel 4’s The Home Show and The Restoration Man, architect George Clarke reveals his latest design challenges and solves your project queries
Restoring an old building
‘It’s one of the most exciting architectural challenges. Every step of the way there are hundreds, if not thousands, of important decisions to make that will, in the end, affect the overall style and feel of the fi nished building. One of the biggest questions you need to ask yourself is what style the old building should be restored to. If there are any extensions or additions to the old structure, then you’ll need to consider their style too. On the one hand it’s a matter of your own personal taste, but the planners and conservation offi cers will also have a view. There are certain principles that conservation offi cers may ask you to abide by to produce a restoration project that is appropriate to the original building. It is a tricky balance that requires architectural skill to get right. On The Restoration Man I have seen many successes, but also the odd failure. One of my favourite projects was the Ice House in Scotland where a very modern, heated glass extension was added to an old subterranean stone structure with a grass roof (right). The modern glass extension is so minimal and beautiful that it just seems to work. The old and new elements complement each other in an elegant and appropriate way rather than clashing. Unfortunately, one of my least-favourite projects was also in Scotland, where a timber-clad extension was added to an old tower (below left). The bright-blue timber cladding looked as though it would be more at home next to a beach than a robust stone castle. This extension was in completely the wrong style and sat very uncomfortably against the traditional tower. The golden rule on any restoration project is to employ the services of a talented architect who can create something new and exciting while at the same time bringing the old building to life.’
My small space revolution
‘Over the past eight months I’ve been making a new series that airs on Channel 5 this autumn and is currently called George’s Small Space Revolution. It follows families who have taken on unusual small-scale projects. It’s going to feature everything from old barges, shipping containers and beach huts, to railway carriages, showman’s wagons and even an old Bedford bus, being converted into fabulous places to live. I’ve become so obsessed with the challenge of making small spaces work that I’m even taking on my very own micro design by transforming an abandoned Seventies caravan into a garden retreat. I spent most of my childhood holidays in a similar vehicle and I always thought that this small space had the potential to push the concept of multifunctional design to the limit'.
‘Creating your own retreat is not only fun; it can also be life-changing stuff. The biggest challenge is to decide where you are going to put your fi nished project and what services you need to make it feel comfortable. Your conversion might be cheap as chips, but the costs can soon escalate if you need to pay for land to put it on and you need to run mains services to it. The best option is to try to be as self suffi cient as possible. I really hope you enjoy the new series. If some of the weird and wonderful projects we have followed don’t inspire you to take on your own small-space retreat, then nothing will.’
Q. I am looking for the most eco-friendly way of putting up an extension to the Grade-II-listed 1830s former school that I am renovating in East Yorkshire. What solutions would you recommend? Should I opt for a living roof or solar panels?
A.’With a listed building you need to be very sensitive to the style, scale and proportion of the original, while at the same time creating something new, innovative and exciting. I’d imagine the existing building is made of brick and, since it has Grade-II-listed status, the conservation offi cers will be looking for anything new to be in a similar material. If I were you, I’d look at building the main structure of your extension out of an eco-friendly timber frame that is quick and easy to construct. The frame will give you endless possibilities to create wonderful spaces inside, especially if you are able to expose the frame of the roof. The external walls around the frame can be made of a similar brick to the original building, but try to incorporate some glazing to give a contemporary edge. If you wanted to use another eco-friendly material, you could add straw bales between the timbers to provide high levels of insulation. A living roof can work really well if you are going for a fl at, vaulted or single shallow mono-pitched roof, but often not so well on a steep double-pitched roof. I’d decide on the right roof shape to suit the required style of the building and then work out the appropriate fi nish afterwards. The decision will then be easy as to whether to tile the roof and install solar panels or whether you choose turf. Good luck!’