TV architect George Clarke reveals his passion for protecting historic buildings

PUBLISHED: 13:18 16 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:20 20 February 2013

TV architect George Clarke reveals his passion for protecting historic buildings

TV architect George Clarke reveals his passion for protecting historic buildings

Also why polo will be bringing him to Epping this summer, writes Pat Parker

Saving our heritage

GEORGE CLARKE is passionate about our architectural heritage and innovative design. Famous as the presenter of Channel 4s The Restoration Man and The Home Show, George will be among a number of celebrities attending the prestigious Duke of Essex Polo Trophy in Epping on July 17.

Ive never actually been to a polo match before, says the Geordie architect. I dont even know much about polo, to be honest. Im guessing its a bit like football, only with horses, a smaller ball and a few big sticks. But I am genuinely looking forward to it.

As The Restoration Man, George helps brave-hearted individuals transform delapidated but beautiful redundant buildings be it a church, a lighthouse or a Martello tower into unique and imaginative new homes. Giving a new lease of life to relics of our industrial and agricultural heritage is one of Georges greatest thrills.

Its a travesty, explains George. There are about 5,000 buildings on the English Heritage Buildings at Risk Register alone which are in danger of collapse, and could be lost for ever. And on top of that youve tens of thousands of lovely old buildings just sitting there abandoned and neglected. We live in an age where we recycle so many things, but why arent we recycling our old buildings?

As the series makes clear, however, restoring some of these forgotten jewels can be something of a nightmare. Costs can soar, the building can be in far worse condition than first thought and failure to obtain planning or listed building consent can send the entire project literally back to the drawing board.

We show the process, warts and all, says George. Some people will decide its all too worrying and stressful, but others may be completely inspired.

George feels strongly that the planning system in this country is too arbitrary and restrictive. A design for an extension to an old building can win approval from council planners, only to be turned down by the non-professional planning committee on grounds of personal taste. Its farcical. Its a complete joke and its a bureaucratic mess, says George.

It should be about policy, not about taste. Planners should be given a strict code of conduct and the power to make decisions themselves. These guys are highly trained to have a view about aesthetics and policy. Why not let them have some authority?

George grew up in Washington, Sunderland, and wanted to be an architect from the age of 12. My granddads were builders and when I was a kid I used to spend a lot of time on buildings sites, he says. I also loved drawing, so it seemed natural to become an architect. He set up his own practice, Clarke:Desai, renowned for its cutting-edge, conceptual design, and George also has his own building firm, to ensure his designs are executed to the highest quality.

George stumbled into television by lucky accident. I was asked a few years back to write a book on architecture, so I got a literary agent. I didnt realise she was also a broadcast agent. I signed with her on a Thursday afternoon and by 5pm the next Tuesday, I had the job!

The job was presenting Build A New Life in the Country for Channel 5, and he went on to present two more property shows for the station before being commissioned to make The Restoration Man for Channel 4. But because the projects featured have taken so long to realise, the series has taken two-and-a-half years to complete. In the meantime, George has already presented two series of The Home Show, in which he redesigns homes for owners who have entrusted him with their hard-earned cash.

Starting point
His starting point is always to talk to his clients to find out exactly what their tastes and needs are. Design doesnt mean anything if it doesnt work for people. I could take exactly the same three-bedroom semi and design it completely differently for two different families. My guiding principles are to make sure the space works for them and to get as much natural light in there as possible.

He hopes to demonstrate that it is possible to transform the most ordinary house into a beautiful and original home. You can give it your personal stamp you dont have to have something thats average, bland and boring. Even if you have a budget of 25,000, there are still changes you can make that will make an enormous difference to your home, and add real value.

He says the recession has put an end to people seeing their homes as a means of getting rich quick. Rather than doing up a house, selling at a profit and racing on to the next property, he urges people in todays financial climate to stay put and invest in their existing home. George has done just that with his own house in Notting Hill, where he lives with his wife, Catriona, and their three young children.

I live in the most boring three-bedroom Edwardian semi. Its in a Conservation Area, so from the outside it looks ordinary, but you walk inside and its a modern, architectural wonder, with glass panels in the walls to let the light in, and a six-metre long glass walkway to the loft conversion. As we speak, hes having the house underpinned so that a basement can be installed, adding 1,100 sq ft of living space. It will cost 280,000, but will add 700,000 to the value of the house.

We live in an age where we recycle
so many things, but why arent we recycling our old buildings?

One of the most important, affordable and ecological improvements, says George, is to provide decent insulation. Go out and spend 300 on great insulation, a couple of grand on double glazing, and get a new boiler, because if its more than ten years old, it wont be energy efficient, he says. Youll save pounds on your fuel bills.
Adding an extension will add value, because estate agents calculate the value of your home on its floor area. So will upgrading kitchens and bathrooms, as well as providing the wow factor.

George has a long list of likes and dislikes when it comes to home redesign. I think its good to have a utility room, so you can get the noisy stuff like washing machines out of the kitchen, he says. I prefer an open-plan kitchen-diner area, rather than a formal dining room, which I think is a complete waste of space, unless you have a massive house. And Im a big fan of underfloor heating you can run it at a lower temperature and it gives you far more space than radiators. Im not a fan of plastic PVC windows. Oh, and I hate shower curtains. I just cant see why youd want to wrestle with them!

Design doesnt mean anything if it doesnt work for people. I could take exactly the same three-bedroom semi and design it completely differently for two different families

His philosophy, in a nutshell, is: Keep things simple, affordable, but in character with your building. I love the Barcelona Pavilion by Mies van der Rohe, he says. If I ever build my own house, Ill make it just like that, in a field in the middle of nowhere.

Essex Polo and personalities

The Duke of Essex Polo Trophy, held at Gaynes Park Estate in Epping on July 17, is a unique fusion of entertainment and field sports.
It is the most exclusive event of the Essex calendar and, as Rod Stewart comments: We are lucky to have such a dynamic, glamorous and exciting event in Essex.

The grounds are split into two areas the VIP Players Marquee and the Family Picnic Area. The family area offers a wonderful day out for all ages. There will be a vast array of activities, including a huge fun fair, quad bikes, jousting, clay-pigeon shooting, skydivers, helicopter trips, aircraft dogfights, marching bands, show jumping, motorbike displays and much more.

Guests in the VIP Players Marquee will start their day with a Champagne and canapes reception. There will then be a gourmet four-course luncheon, prepared by Aldo Zilli, followed by coffee and petits fours to accompany the celebrity charity auction. Guests will then view the polo match ball being delivered by skydivers disembarking from a military aircraft. This spectacular manoeuvre precedes the polo players parading onto the field, led by a 40-piece marching band, before the match between Great Britain and Argentina begins.

In the evening, there will be two VIP parties hosted in separate marquees. The Dukes Marquee for the over-30s features live acts such Kid Creole and the Coconuts and Rose Royce, while the Players Marquee provides a top celebrity DJ line-up.

Tickets cost 10 for admission to the Family Picnic Area (5 for children). Full-day VIP packages start from 175. Evening tickets
to the Dukes Marque or the Players Marquee cost 30.
For more information, visit

Latest from the Essex Life