I'm assuming he does ... and I've always thought him a lovely guy ... but he's certainly upset a few upmarket kitchen suppliers; the sort of supplier that tends to exhibit at the Grand Designs Live shows and advertise in the Grand Designs magazine (both spin-offs from Kevin's Grand Designs tv show). Media 10, who produce both, must be tearing their hair out!
So what's Kevin done? Well, he's written a book, a big fat book, called "43 Principles of Home" ... all about how to design, decorate and generally kit out your home. There's a big dose of eco-friendly principles and a bit of Kevin's philosophy of life included too ... and a chapter called "Things at Home Not Worth Investing In" ... and guess what's included in that chapter? Yep - you've guessed it - kitchen units!
Kevin, apparently reckons that door handles, taps, worktops, pans and knives are all important investments for the kitchen, but that the units themselves are not. He says that it's not worth spending money on a kitchen that "the next owners will invariably rip out and replace" and also that "... the best made kitchens in the world are still 'carcassed out' using orientated strand board, chipboard or plywood. Structurally, there's a negligible difference in quality between the £5,000 kitchen and it's £50,000 equivalent".
He's not keen on fancy appliances either: "The fancy cooker will make hot food no better and no more quickly than an old ... Belling out of a skip." (Thanks to trade paper KBB Review for the quotes - I haven't bought the book myself!).
Well, in my opinion - that's codswallop! Have a look at the two Belling cookers below ... and tell me which one you'd prefer:
The one on the left (I stole the picture from a classified ad - so it hasn't quite got to the skip yet!) has a hob with old fashioned coiled rings. In case you haven't come across them before ... they took forever to heat up and a lifetime to cool down again ... and, if a pan boiled over (which they often did because you couldn't turn down the heat quickly enough) then you got a sticky mess dripping through the coil.
The cooker on the right has a super efficient and easy to clean induction hob (in one test: time taken to boil 2qts water on an electric coil - 9mins 50 secs; time taken on an induction ring - 4 mins 46 secs). It also has two ovens (rather than an oven and a grill), one of which is a fan oven (which cooks many foods more efficiently and faster than a conventional oven). I know which one I'd prefer ... and I know which one is more energy efficient and eco-friendly too!
Kevin doesn't like big, side-by-side fridge-freezers either: "These are behemoths of fuel consumption and, unless you're a gamekeeper who needs to chill a quartered stag every other week, I can't understand why any family needs one."
Well I can! Upright freezers may be much less energy efficient than chest freezers but they're very much more convenient to use ... and a big freezer means, surely, that you can grow or buy local food when it's in season and freeze it for when it's not (very environmentally friendly). It's also great to have chilled, filtered water on tap (which can save on the use of bottled water) and most families keep a lot more types of food in the fridge these days; vegetables, fruit, jams (that now often contain a lot less sugar), ready prepared meals, wine and beer. Kevin lives in a large, 500 year old, farmhouse. He, perhaps, has a cellar and a traditional pantry - but most modern houses don't. Anyway, let's do another comparison:
On the left is a bog standard fridge-freezer from Hotpoint (with apologies - it's a perfectly decent fridge-freezer) ... whilst on the right is a very large, side-by-side fridge-freezer from Liebherr. The Hotpoint has net capacities of 184 litres in the fridge, and 92 litres in the freezer, and it uses 263Kwh of electricity a year (it's A+ rated). The Liebherr model has capacities of 355 litres in the fridge (which includes a 111 litre Biofresh compartment) and 237 litres in the freezer. That's 1.9 x the fridge capacity and 2.5 x the freezer capacity of the Hotpoint. So you'd expect the electricity consumption to be about twice that of the Hotpoint, right? After all it's storing more than twice as much food. Well the fuel consumption of the Liebherr is 461 Kwh per year, that's considerably less than twice as much.
Not only is the side-by-side more efficient, in energy use per litre of food stored, but it includes the filtered water dispenser, it's completely frost free (whilst the freezer of the Hotpoint needs manual defrosting) and it has the Biofresh compartment with controlled humidity - which allows you to keep fresh food like meat, fish, fruit and veg for much longer periods. If you had the money to spend (the Liebherr will cost you around £3,500 compared to about £315 for the Hotpoint) ... and you had a big family, wanting that amount of cold storage ... which would you invest in?
The opinion that more expensive kitchens aren't worth the money is a very widely held one, especially amongst men with an engineering or building background. Kevin McCloud's father was, apparently, an engineer but I'm still very surprised at his attitude. His own background is in design, and his Grand Designs programme is very much about design.
There is a grain of truth in what he says about kitchen units, of course; the differences in structural quality between different sorts of kitchen carcasses have reduced a lot in recent years ... but the carcasse structure isn't all there is to a kitchen.
What about the range of unit sizes produced? Doesn't he realise, as a designer, that having a bigger range of size options available makes a huge difference to designing a small, or medium sized kitchen? I think he's spent too much time in those big open plan kitchens, that tend to feature in his Grand Designs show.
What about the doors? There's a world of difference between a high gloss, vinyl wrapped door and one that has numerous coats of high gloss, acrylic paint ... or between a vinyl wrapped door with a groove around the edge, and a hand made, inset framed, painted tulipwood door, with butt hinges.
What about the other services provided by high end kitchen companies, like good quality design, project management and good fitters. I've known builders go into the kitchen business - because they think it's money for old rope - and fall down on those first two services so badly, that they've gone out of business. Kevin is very keen on proper project management for his Grand Designs, new build houses. Why wouldn't he want that for a smaller but still important project, like replacing your kitchen (assuming you didn't want to do it yourself)? There are a lot of components and products and skilled labour, that all need to come together at the same time, for a successful kitchen installation. (Just ask B&Q customers how easy that is to get right - every time - for a £5,000 kitchen!)
I'd agree that it's difficult to tell the difference between a £30,000 kitchen and a £50,000 one (the differences there are much more to do with big advertising budgets, highly paid celebrity designers and flagship London showrooms) ... but between a £5,000 kitchen and a £50,000 one? Come off it Kevin!
I'd have expected Kevin McCloud to be encouraging people to invest in a good quality, hand made, bespoke kitchen. One designed by an independent kitchen designer, for instance (shameless plug!) and built by a skilled joiner or cabinetmaker. There have been a few like that on Grand Designs. He recently called for a re-discovery of craftsmanship and a "connection through objects to the process and resources that go into making them". So why doesn't that apply to kitchens? Wouldn't it be better for people to invest in the sort of kitchen that future owners of their house would be delighted to inherit ... and would want to keep and cherish? One like the kitchen pictured below, perhaps. It's got chipboard carcasses (I know, I designed it) but it's resemblance to a £5,000 kitchen ends there!
Oh - and if any of you would like to buy Kevin's book, here's a link to Amazon. They currently have it discounted from £30 to £12.90 ... but then I expect a £5 book is much the same as a £50 one ... isn't it? Any small commission we make on sales will be used to maintain this website - and to tell you the truth about kitchens!