Things at home worth spending a bit more on and things to save your pennies on, by Kevin McCloud (with notes from yours truly)

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I re-discovered a newspaper cutting the other day that I’d ripped out from The Times last October. It contains extracts from Kevin McCloud’s new book ‘43 Principles of Home’ and contains some gems of information and insights into how we view our homes.

I’ve picked out the best bits to share with you.

'We use twice as much electricity at home now as we did in the 1970s and the amount is still rising, not least because the average household has 12 gadgets on standby at any point, consuming about two power stations’ worth of fuel.’ How awful!

Kevin says that there has been ‘...a change in the way we view our homes – not as personal statements, where thrift, character and autobiography matter, but as statements of luxury.’

I totally agree with him; technology is in danger of taking over our homes, with TVs often in nearly every room, along with a collection of other devices. Huge flat screen TVs are not pretty, or necessary, and they can't be good for your eyes?!

The homes that I love most are characterised by the things that the occupants have collected over time; books, pictures, photos, fabrics, furniture (old and new), plants and other individual touches. Large flat screen TVs, fuel-hungry range cookers and American-style fridges do not give a home its soul.

Things at home NOT worth investing in

Kitchen Cupboard & Doors

According to Kevin, ‘the best made kitchens in the world are still “carcassed out” using strand board, chipboard or plywood. Structurally, there’s a negligible difference in quality between the £5,000 kitchen and its £50,000 equivalent.’

I’ve also been told before that the fitting of the kitchen is the crucial part. A well-fitted kitchen will last much longer than one that was poorly fitted in the first place (which may explain why our doors are hanging off the hinges).

I do disagree in part with his statement as I think a handmade kitchen does look beautiful and should last a lifetime. My auntie and uncle had their beautiful bespoke oak kitchen made and fitted by a local carpenter and it does look a cut above our Howden’s kitchen! I think that if you are in your ‘forever’ home, then it may be worth spending more.

The Fancy Cooker

I KNOW that this might be a point of contention, but Kevin argues that ‘the Fancy Cooker will make hot food no better and no more quickly than an old enamel Belling out of a skip.’ (He owns a Belling cooker from a skip). ‘A cooker doesn’t do anything other than cook food. In fact, it’s so stupid that it doesn’t even do that, because people cook food.’

I do agree with the basic point that we don’t all need energy hungry range cookers to cook the nightly family meal. However, my mum has always said that a decent oven is worth its weight in gold and so I would be suspicious of buying a cheap oven (maybe it’s better to get one off of a skip?!). I own a very normal sized Neff oven and it’s always been perfect for us. And I’ve never needed to use more than 4 hobs at one time…

The American-style giant fridge

The kind that makes ice, chills your wine to optimum temperature and provides enough space for you to hide inside.

‘Despite many of them achieving an “A” rating for power efficiency, most of then consume more than 500 kilowatt hours per year of electricity (which is a huge amount). In How To Live A Low-Carbon Life, Chris Goodall gives a rule of thumb. Look for a fridge of around 300 litres in size that uses 300kWh of electricity a year and that costs under £300.’

I feel a bit guilty about owning a Smeg fridge after reading this. Did I buy it based on looks alone? Yes, but at least it has a teeny freezer compartment. I can only imagine what our Kev would say about wine fridges, very un eco-friendly and unnecessary (I don’t own one of those by the way).

Things at home worth investing in


Kevin simply says that it is worth spending more on things that you use repeatedly every day and on which you rely on to work properly.

It’s amazing what a difference a nice tap can make to a standard white enamel sink, toilet or bath. When we moved into our house we couldn’t afford a major overhaul of the bathroom so we invested in a new toilet but kept with the existing sink and bath and just added new taps and metal fittings around the plug. It all looked as good as new afterwards.

We’re about to re-do our downstairs bathroom and whilst planning to buy a fairly standard, reasonably priced sink and toilet we have picked a posh tap to give the whole thing a more upmarket look.

Door Handles

Same reasons as above plus, as Kevin says, if you buy cheap, it WILL wobble, fall apart or creak/ squeak when used. We have an inherited cheap handle on the loft bathroom door – night time visitors to the toilet wake the whole house up just by pushing the handle down!

Kitchen worktops

‘On this surface you’re likely to prepare your food for the next ten years, make tea and repeatedly wipe down. It’s got to be sanitary, durable and tactile. ‘

I do think that a nice worktop does make a big difference in the kitchen. Kevin recommends stone, granite, stainless steel (has he tried cleaning it?) and resin (made from recycled materials). I still like a wooden worktop – it might be hard to prevent it from staining, but it is the stains and marks that give it character in much the same way as with a dining table.

Stair handrails

‘A sensuously flowing, flawless and tactile handrail can make up for any amount of clumsiness in the design of the staircase itself.’

Ours is stripped wood and we haven’t touched it since we moved in. It is smooth but maybe not sensuous and certainly not flawless! It has its own character.

Admittedly though, a smart handrail can change the look of a hallway. One of my friends single-handedly took on the job of stripping and re-painting her stair rail, a hideous task which took much patience (and admiration from her friends!). The end result is fantastic.

So that’s just to give you a few of the points made in Kevin McCloud’s book, ’43 Principles of Home’. What do you think? I like the idea that we need to get back to basics with our homes. A home should reflect our personalities, passions and the way we live. I’ll finish with a quote from William Morris, who reminded us all of the simple pleasures in life:

‘Simplicity of life, even the barest, is not a misery, but the very foundation of refinement: a sanded floor and whitewashed walls and the green trees, and flowery means, and living waters outside.’

I’m off to hug a tree…



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