Home truths: Liz Nicholls asks architect, dad and TV star George Clarke, 47 about life & loves ahead of hosting Blenheim Flower Show this month
Q. What one piece of advice would you give to anyone looking to improve their home?
“Make it very personal and beautiful. I see so many homes that just look like any other and most are simply attempts to copy an interior design magazine. There is such a large number of bland global styles out there that sometimes I can hardly tell which country the house is actually situated. Of course, they are beautifully designed, but that’s it: they are a designed objects often devoid of personal charm or character. I get bored of that. Your home is like an extended member of your family, unique and personal and its design should reflect that. Make it about you and the people around you… not about what’s popular.”
Q. I know you love shopping – what’s your weakness?
“I love cameras. I’ve taken photographs since I bought my first camera at 14 years old (a second-hand SLR Chinon from a shop in Sunderland which is still there). I now have a bit of a camera collection. My favourite camera is my Leica CL. It’s a compact camera and it goes everywhere with me. I know there are great camera phones out there these days but taking a photograph with a beautiful camera that has an amazing lens on it feels completely different. I don’t keep a written diary, but I take photographs as a visual diary and they say a picture says a thousand words.”
Q. Do you know Oxfordshire?
“I love Oxfordshire. It’s a fantastic escape from London. And Oxford itself is the most wonderful city. My favourite place to visit is the Augustus Pitt Rivers museum. What an incredible collector he was. Oh… and a small part of me wishes I’d gone to Oxford University. I didn’t apply because I didn’t think I’d get in.”
Q. Please tell us your favourite aspects of your home in Notting Hill – it sounds amazing! And what are your fave hang-outs/ pubs/ walks in SW London?
“I love my home. It actually a 1960s modernist house that I’ve fully refurbished. It’s not a big house, but it has everything I need. My garden studio has to be my favourite part of it. It’s my escape. I’m never happier than when I’m in that space… whether working, reading, sketching or watching the tv. It contains most of my books on architecture and design as well as many architectural models of beautiful buildings from around the world. My studio goes some way to proving that even the simplest and smallest of structures can be truly life changing. I love living in west London because it has such a creative buzz. There are some truly amazing people living there. I’m within a short walk of Portobello Road market and Golbourne Road. Porto, the infamous Portuguese cafe, is my favourite place for a coffee and breakfast. My favourite pub is The Cow. Ive being going there since I moved to London in 1996. It always reminds me of the pub in Cheers because everyone knows everyone and no matter who you are, or what you do, everyone treats everyone exactly the same. “You want to go where everybody knows your name”. The Cow is an institution.
Q. Do you consider yourself healthy? Is there anything you eat / don’t eat?
“I’m pretty healthy, but I don’t exercise anywhere near the amount I’d like to. There is always an excuse for not keeping fit, but my schedule doesn’t lend itself to a regular routine. Very early starts and late finishes when filming and travelling so much isn’t great. Everyday I’m on a plane or a long train journey. I think I’m the only person I know who gets fitter, healthier and slimmer when on holiday. I exercise every day and eat a lot of salad and fish when on holiday. I never eat sweets, cake or milk chocolate because I basically don’t like them, which people find very weird. I’m lucky as I don’t have a sweet tooth at all.”
Q. What advice would you give to any budding musicians?
“I’m always jealous of anyone who has put in the hard work and education to learn how to play an instrument beautifully. I gave too much time to architecture, design and sport to learn an instrument properly. But beautiful music has the power to move you more than architecture does. Architecture has brought me to tears a number of times, but not as much as music has. I’m not qualified to give any musician any advice other than carry on what you’re doing and enjoy every moment making beautiful sounds. Everyone should listen to Delilah Montagu. She’s a 20-year-old singer songwriter from London. She’s at the very beginning of an exciting adventure in music. A super talent.”
Q. What’s on your horizon?
“I want to go to Alaska. It’s at the very top of my bucket list.”
Q. What’s your favourite book, artist and film and piece of music?
“Master & Margarita by Mikhaial Bulgakov. Turner’s my favourite artist. I’m a sucker for any James Bond film; Spectre is up there. I never thought Daniel Craig would ever be my favourite Bond but he’s there now. He’s brilliant.”
Q …And piece of music?
“Here Comes the Sun by George Harrison. Simplicity and beauty personified.”
Q. Who would be your dream party guests, living or dead, real or fictional?
“George Best, Will Alsop (architect), David Attenborough, Elvis, Pink, Charlize Theron, James Bond (Daniel Craig) and my wife Katie. It would be a great night!”
Q. What’s the best lesson parenthood has taught you?
“Firstly, that parenthood is the greatest thing on earth… nothing else matters once you have kids… secondly that love is completely unconditional.”
Q. What are your three favourite buildings in Britain, do you think, and why?
“That’s a tough first question! I have too many favourites. I think my first would be Durham cathedral. I went there for the first rime when I was 8 years old and I couldn’t believe that something so beautiful and so big could be built over 1000 years ago. I’m not a religious person (my only religion is that everyone on the planet should be kind to each other) but I love beautiful, peaceful spaces and Durham was building I would spend hours in, enjoying the peace and tranquillity and doing a few sketches along the way. Durham was the building that made me fall in love with architecture.
Second would be Sir John Shane’s house in Lincoln’s-in-Fields…one of the most incredible homes in the world. When Soane joined the 3 existing houses together and refurbished them in the 19th century they must have been a magical wonder like no other. My third should be my own home…as your own home is the most important piece of architecture in your life. But I can’t have a top three and not choose an Edwin Lutyens house. I’d go for Goddards in Surrey. It is owned by the Landmark Trust and I’m a very proud patron. I was lucky enough to stay at Goddards in 2002 and it blew me away. The beauty and craftsmanship of the arts and crafts movement, leading into the Edwardian age, is one of my favourite periods of architecture. Lutyens is my favourite British architect and Gertrude Jekyll my favourite garden designer. Their collaboration at Lindisfarne in Northumberland would be my next favourite……see that’s five favourites…not three! I told you it’s too tough a first question”
Q. What would you wish for if you had a magic wand to change the world?
I’d reverse climate change so that everything we did made a positive contribution to the environment rather than a detrimental one. I genuinely worry everyday about the impact we are having on Mother Nature. If we don’t get our act together soon we are really going to screw things up…if we haven’t already. Everyone knows what is going on, but it’s going to require a massive change in the way the way we live on this planet for us to sort it out. That’s a depressing end to a nice interview. Sorry!”