Builders' Merchants News
BMF Conference: Place design at the centre of housebuilding
Published:  22 June, 2015

Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen talked design, housebuilding and why the industry needs to create a legacy of inspirational homes for the future.

Having risen to fame on BBC home improvement programme Changing Rooms, which was a television staple from 1996 until 2004, designer Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen’s individual and flamboyant style has made him a household name across the UK.

Since the series ended, Mr Llewelyn-Bowen’s work has taken him to Asia, America and Australia, both as a television presenter and with his company LLB Design.

Now, he is in the middle of the mammoth refurbishment of a 10,000 sq ft derelict barn in the Cotswolds, designing a new ‘forever’ home for himself and his family. This project, which the Builders’ Merchants Federation and its members are involved with, will be followed by TV cameras in order to film a new series for our screens.

Mr Llewelyn-Bowen revealed more about the build to assembled delegates at the Conference, as well as explaining how he believes the final look of a building, and its emotional impact, should have more of a central focus when homes are being designed in the first place.

"All the products made and sold by the people in this room come together to form a home, and for the British, that concept of home is unbelievably emotive,” he said. “On an emotional level, your home is a safe harbour that reflects your personality – it’s the only place where you have total control. We have unbelievably busy working lives, but at home we have the ability to truly be us."

This concept of your home as a true expression of yourself is one that Mr Llewelyn-Bowen has found to be a very powerful export during his work Asia, a culture where he said that concept of your home being your castle has never existed before.

"We often get complacent and take things for granted – that’s the British disease. But if you look at Britain from the outside, we are seen as a very exciting place - in China, for example - because of our design, architecture and engineering, and everyone in this room is a part of that."

With the need for large-scale new housebuilding constantly in the headlines, and now being discussed by all the major political parties, Mr Llewelyn-Bowen believes the construction industry now has an extraordinary opportunity to innovate.

“We all know we need to build more than ever, but we should be using design and technology to create something totally different,” he said.

Mr Llewelyn-Bowen pointed out that for the Victorian and Elizabethan eras, it’s their architecture that has stood the test of time, and is what people remember when they think of those periods in history.

“We were the best in the world at building for a very long time,” he said. “The 1880s to the 1930s were a heyday of buildings that worked incredibly well considering the technological limitations of their time. We need to start building things again that we can leave behind to be judged on,” he said. “Now that things are improving, the industry has an energy about it that we should use to do something special. To build responsibly and design something that looks great and that we want to be remembered for.”

He also urged delegates to consider the power of the way things look, rather than just the engineering and technology they contain. “We’re great at building and engineering, but when it comes to design that is the romance and the heart of the home. Yes, things have to work, but they also have to be expressive at the same time,” he said.

His current project to build his new family home is part of an attempt to push the envelope, something he urged the industry to also do. “There is now so much innovation in our grasp, and not using it to its full potential would be such a missed opportunity. We need to focus it in a new way to build British homes, but without everyone’s commitment, there is no way that kind of project could reach its potential.”

Mr Llewelyn-Bowen hopes that, when finished, his new home will stand as a showcase of what can be done with British buildings, making a design statement while also being ecologically responsible, airtight and inspirational.

“There are so many derelict buildings and stables across the country, for example, which could make very exciting housing, but people have to be able to see what could be achieved.”

In conclusion, Mr Llewelyn-Bowen urged the industry as a whole to get together and find ways of co-ordinating products, services, supply and logistics to put energy back into the industry, something he hopes would then boost developers, architects and designers to take on the responsibility of creating world-changing houses.