'RECOVERING workaholic' Kevin McCloud, 59, is back on the road for another series of Grand Designs - with more ambitious builds, to boot. Gemma Dunn finds out more

The Northern Echo:

How have the houses we are building evolved since Grand Designs first aired?

We started making Grand Designs 21 years ago. We were still at the end of the 20th Century and we were still in a little bit of an insecure relationship with that century in many ways. It was the century of modernism, of international architecture, of functionalism, of brutalism, of trying to design for modern use. And actually, back then we were still building houses with dining rooms in them. It seemed at odds with the way that we had been living for 30 or 40 years, I think we've moved on.

In a world where we're hearing lots about properties getting smaller, are people still building grand, opulent homes?

We deliberately mix it up - we always think there's space at least for one silly big thing. And in a way it's easier for me to criticise the bigger projects because they tend to be a bit more overblown, a bit more wasteful. Sometimes people are guilty of chequebook architecture, where they just spend their way out of a problem. So for me, the smaller projects are always more exciting because they're the ones that really challenge and tend to be more accessible for viewers. I will also say that the word 'Grand' in Grand Designs - in my view at, least - has got nothing to do with money or size. It's got to do with vision.

This series contains some remarkable builds. One of them will resonate with people of a certain age because there's a Ferris Bueller link...

So many people know that movie. This project is in Padstow and draws its inspiration from the house featured in the film, a real house in Illinois. Our couple, originally from London, had never gone to Illinois to visit it. So this programme ends up as an interesting lesson on what happens when you pursue an idea on a whim.

Can you tell us more about Grand Designs' first ever 'healthy house', too?

It's a really interesting case where two of the children are very allergic and have to be regularly treated at hospital. I'm interested in this personally because I'm an asthmatic, so I'm very careful about the air quality where I live and anywhere I like to stay. But for these guys, it's a totally different ball game. For example, the majority of domestic carpets in the UK use glue that lets off gases. What these owners have built for their boys is a house using carpet with no solvent-based glue on the back. They've used solvent-free, low-VOC paint; they've used a minimum number of glues, and the MDF in the building only contains trace elements of formaldehyde and no varnishes.

How much of your year is taken up by Grand Designs?

Most of it. I work on my business [HAB Housing] about half the time, but that's not actually in the business, because when I'm filming I spend about six hours a day travelling. So I use that travel time to work and I'm very adept at sitting on trains with a laptop. But I'm a recovering workaholic. I have had to sit in meetings with my hands tucked under myself in order not to sound too enthusiastic or optimistic about things, and I've had to admit that I'm a workaholic and make very big commitments to not be.

What keeps you doing it?

Money's always a good motivator, isn't it? Paying the bills is good. It is quite addictive. There are lots of reasons, but fundamentally the process of sharing an experience with people who are creating something from scratch is really powerful. Building a house is the biggest single act of commissioning, and probably the biggest single act of creativity that most of us might ever go through. And we're all capable of it. So the reason why people watch is why I do it. We all get drawn in by the vicarious pleasure and the excitement.

Would you ever do a Grand Design?

I have done, but I don't talk about it. Firstly, because talking about your own build is a very different thing from guiding the viewer through someone else's project. Secondly, I value a degree of privacy. Filming can be stressful and personal, so hats off to all the people who let us into their homes and into their lives. I think they do it because they recognise the significance of the process and they want to have it recorded for them, for their family and for posterity.

Are people terrified of inviting you into their homes?

I'm such a pussycat. People are immensely self-conscious about their homes. A mate of mine isn't a dad, but he's got about 15 godchildren. I asked him what that was like, and he said it's great, because every time he sees them, they're on their best behaviour. That's kind of how I feel about houses, I really like it when I go round to someone's house and they have bothered to tidy up!

  • Grand Designs returns on Channel 4 on Wednesdays.