Oliver Heath's House – Real Homes

This home is proof that using sustainable and recycled products can create a cool, contemporary interior


You don’t expect Changing Rooms’ dashing Oliver Heath to actually live in a Deco-meets-Gothic-with-a-nod-to-early-Eighties-Shabby-Chic home do you? Thought not. The young pretender to Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen’s papier-mâché throne and new kid on the telly design block, is a prize-winning Young Designer and trained architect. When he was introduced on the now defunct interiors show you could tell he intended to make a difference. Not even the salty derision of Handy Andy could stop him and his fancy-pants architect ways. Heath had strayed knowingly into the pantomime world of makeover television to show the audience that there might be an alternative to ‘all those themes and historical pastiche rooms’. He doesn’t say ‘sham’ and ‘superficial’ and ‘not worth the mdf they are made of’ but I suspect that’s really what he thinks.

It’s not surprising that the small screen loves him, tanned and clad in brown cashmere with a head of lustrous chestnut curls, he has the looks and boundless enthusiasm of a chocolate Labrador. (Imagine the glee of the producer who ‘discovered’ him.) As he leads me on an informative tour of his home, reeling off a well-researched address book of eco-friendly fittings and finishes, he explains exactly why he came to make every minute decision, from the materials he used to who supplies his electricity.

Away from the budgetary constraints of the telly, Oliver, as I like to think of him now, is positively evangelical about sustainable living. Pressed about the price of environmentally friendly design he admits that his choices have definitely cost him more in the short term but it’s not the short term we’re dealing with here. If the only kind of recycling you do is buying vintage clothes (Oliver does this too, modeling a customised suit jacket by Traid for me), then you too should spend an afternoon listening to him deconstruct his most personal project. After just two hours I want to rush home and rip apart my potentially toxic, unfriendly home. Raising the consciousness of those who have not yet properly embraced the idea of saving the planet is part of his mission and this house will serve as a showcase for his ideas.

Oliver may have made his name executing lightning transformations in suburbia but he has devoted an extended period, two years and eight months to be exact, to remodeling his three-storey Victorian terraced house in Brighton. The two years were spent dreaming up meticulous schemes which would capitalise on ‘every centimetre of space’, while the building phase stretched to eight months. Oliver didn’t want ‘to complain too much or put undue pressure on the contractor’ as he feared he might not get the perfect finish he required. And he clearly intends to stay in this accommodation for some time. No ruthless property developing for him. No, this sustainable business is a long game where the responsible house-owner reaps the rewards of their low-energy, low-impact investment over time.

Originally the tall and skinny house had a bizarre, unworkable layout which might be explained by its former life as student accommodation. Oliver was making a move from an open-plan warehouse flat to this mess of small rooms so he needed to adapt the space to suit his sociable lifestyle. The ground floor had been taken up by a bedroom and bathroom. Today it’s a combined living-room-cum-kitchen-diner which leads out to a small roof terrace used as an al fresco dining space in good weather. He claims that one of the challenges of Changing Rooms involved finding a way to fit the TV and hi-fi into a modest-sized sitting room. Here he got over this by installing a projector on a high shelf just a few feet from the front door. The super-sized image projected on to the chimney breast requires the viewer to draw the curtains but it’s a sophisticated way to watch the box.

Dip down into the basement, where the kitchen used to be and, with the flick of two levers, Oliver demonstrates how he has created another multi-functional room. Demolishing a wall between two existing rooms, he opted to replace it with a floating wall on industrial wheels with bullet hinges. If closed, this divides Oliver’s office/workshop from a guest bedroom. The bed is a flip-down model which he designed himself complete with integral bedside tables. When it isn’t being slept in, Oliver can expand into the whole space. Moving outside, tucked below the upstairs deck, there is a walled courtyard which he has plans to use as a modish outdoor lounge with rugs, upholstered furniture and old mirrors. The concrete will be covered in Ecodeck, made from 100 per cent recycled plastic in a finish which doesn’t need any maintenance. As he used laminated glass supported by steel for the upper deck’s floor, light streams into this space.

On the top floor, Oliver sacrificed a bedroom to gain a large, indulgent bathroom. It’s the sort of temple to relaxation that interiors magazines insist we all need in order to de-stress from our busy, modern lives. It was  clearly a high priority for the sleekly groomed Oliver who has fitted the room with a sensual pebble-effect floor, a night sky of twinkling fibre optic lights in the ceiling above the bath (operated by a movement sensor) and a double-ended bath which fills from a tap mounted in the ceiling. This eccentricity ensures very bubbly bubble baths, he explains. Sweet. Next door the ‘boxy and boring’ bedroom has had its original ceiling and rafters removed in order to make it ‘more architecturally exciting’. This was not simple, requiring additional structure and insulation in the roof but it does the trick.

By this point in the tour, I’m beginning to get the hang of this eco business and can actually identify reasons for Oliver’s choices. LED spotlights are low-energy, using 3 watts of electricity for every 50,000 hours; unglazed tiles are preferable as they are free from the toxins and poisons present in glazes; the basin is small and thus uses less water; the loo has a a dual flush; the shower is not a power shower (too wasteful); and the whole house is fitted with stainless-steel light switches (stainless steel is endlessly recyclable).

Anything removed from the house ended up in a reclamation yard where Oliver also sourced building materials for the house. Lest I forget, he supplies me with a dinky credit card-sized guide to recycled living featuring lots of photos of the designer staring dreamily off into the middle distance and useful tips about how to live a sustainable life. Armed with this and chanting Oliver’s mantra, ‘Reduce, reuse, recycle’ I am ready to join the revolution.

Useful Contacts

Blustin Heath Design: www.blustinheathdesign.com
AA rated washing machine: www.miele.co.uk
Condensing boiler: www.vaillant.co.uk
een electricity: www.ecotricity.co.uk
Recycled plastic dining-table top: www.smile-plastics.co.uk
Recycled rubber flooring: www.floorsourceuk.com
Natural solvent-free paints: www.ecospaints.com
Outdoor decking: www.lankhorst.co.uk
Pebble tiles: www.stone.co.uk
Eight Inch: www.eightinch.co.uk
Kohler: www.kohler.com

Words: Hilary Robertson Images:Mel Yates

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