Reviewed by Emma Salmon
We travelled by train to ExCeL by train – it is easily accessible by the Docklands Light Railway, with two dedicated stations servicing the eastern and western gates, with a bridge leading straight into the exhibition centre.
ExCeL is London’s newest and biggest conference centre – it has two huge exhibition spaces with a massive food hall in between, offering a wide variety of dishes to suit everyone’s taste. Accessing the show was simple – there were plenty of staff checking and issuing tickets and the queues were moving quickly. The exhibition hall holding the Grand Designs show had several entrances, so it was not a crush to come in and out, and re-entry was controlled simply with a hand stamp.
The show was divided into different zones with areas dedicated to Building, Kitchens and Bathrooms, Technology, Interiors, Gardens, and Food and Housewares. At the far end of the hall was the Grand Village and Grand Theatre.
The first thing we stopped and took a look at was at the opposite end to the theatre – there was a section in the Build area called Remade in Britain where there were practical demonstrations of upcycling. There were some really innovative designs being made by reusing old furniture, although my son was most impressed by a robot that was made from a variety of household objects. The owner of the company, Harry Dwyer, was very approachable and keen to give advice and listen to other’s ideas. He even listened to my son talking about robots for a good 15 minutes!
On a similar theme we made it up to the far end of the hall to listen to George Clarke interviewing Max McMurdo who had featured on his Amazing Spaces programme, and had also been supported by Dragon’s Den with his own upcycling design business – winning over the Dragons with a chair made out of a shopping trolley and a cast iron bath sofa. This very informative and entertaining talk was one of many lectures featured on the Grand Theatre – during the day there were talks about funding a self-build and George was back later with a troubleshooting workshop. After the talk both he and Max were happy to do a meet and greet, and we picked up copies of his books.
We spent a fair amount of time in the Grand Village as we are particularly interested in Eco building and green materials – there were demonstrations of straw bale building, and displays of several straw bale houses and other alternative environmentally friendly building materials, such as hempcrete, wooden shingles and bricks made from clay and chopped straw. We were able to have a go at trying our hand at plastering with lime based products – essential to allow natural buildings to be able to move and breathe without cracking. Sheep wool featured in several areas of the show – wonderful as insulation, great, we discovered, as a filling for bedding, and of course traditional for high end upholstery and soft furnishings!
Also in the Village were Kevin McCloud’s Green Heroes – companies who had been hand-picked and featured companies who were leading the way in sustainable and environmentally aware design and products – ranging from beautiful steam bent lighting and furniture by Tom Raffield, to beautiful tiles made from recycled glass from the Natural Tile Company. Carrying on the environmental theme you could pick up a guide and follow the Eco Trail, highlighting the most sustainable stands throughout the Show.
We took a quick look inside a couple of Eco pods, a geodesic dome and a modular concept small scale living from Echo. Right next door was George Clark’s own stand ‘Amazing Sheds’ a collaboration with the ingenious designer William Hardie, who often features on his show.
We took advantage of the offer to eat in the showcase restaurant, and had a truly delicious meal in the River Cottage Canteen Live (although I was sad that Hugh wasn’t there). There were chefs cooking live on the kitchen theatre, and a wide variety of trade stands selling just about everything you could ever possibly want in a very, very stylish kitchen.
After lunch we took a leisurely stroll around the garden section – there was a lot of choice of garden rooms and garden offices, and garden furniture – we really liked the huge wicker apple that could fit the whole family inside, and a Nordic pod that looked like something out of the Hobbit, complete with shingled roof and big stove inside. There were also a great many hot tubs and saunas, and a cleverly designed swimming pool which allowed an adjustable current to flow, allowing you to swim whilst staying in the same place, cutting down on the amount of room needed to install it. The displays were placed around the show gardens, which were created by the finalists of the Grand Designs Garden Designer of the Year – demonstrating stylish functionality in a compact space. Our favourite was Colin Smith, which used a lot of natural materials within his garden.
Moving into the Build area, we were particularly interested in finding out about Passiv Haus technology and the Scandinavian prefab timber framed homes which can be erected in surprisingly short time periods. In the Technology area we had fun looking inside the Green House, which showcased some amazing Eco-friendly products, such as algae biofuel and 3D printing, and some truly mind boggling concepts such as floating air purification drones and plates which affected your brain so that any food could be programmed to taste like your favourite meal.
We had a quick look in the Interior design section, taking in the six show rooms, designed by young and upcoming designers, and highlighting many objects that are not available on the high street. The theatre was holding seminars on interior design consultations and seminars, and there were workshops available to help you brush up your DIY skills.
As we were leaving we went through the ‘ask the expert’ area, where it was possible to pre-book a free 30 minute consultation with one of the experts in finance, building or architecture.
We really enjoyed the show – it was packed full of useful information and showcased a whole range of products that you might not have heard of, that can help you if you are planning a whole build, or just wanting some ideas for a bit of DIY.
Ggrand Design Live is at the ExCeL Centre in London until 10 May 2015. For more information or to book tickets visit www.granddesignslive.com.
ExCeL London, Royal Victoria Dock, 1 Western Gateway, London E16 1XL