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My hubby and I are slightly mad about home design and can't wait to build our own house. Unfortunately, we have the minor issue of paying off our debts first, so we spend a good deal of time living vicariously through others' experiences whether it's 'Location, Location, Location' or 'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition'. Bearing in mind we want to eventually build our own castle, it's probably unsurprising to find that one of our favourite programmes is 'Grand Designs', the TV show where self-builders dream big and build the house of their dreams - including a couple of castles! So it was with great delight that I received a year's subscription to Grand Designs magazine as one of my Christmas presents last year. The magazine is connected to the show in that one or more of the TV show's houses are featured in further detail, and the show's presenter, Kevin McCloud, usually has an article about his opinion on (for example) saving energy in your home, but the magazine also has stacks of other useful and interesting information about building houses and extensions, refurbishing houses or rooms, styles and fashions in the home, cool gadgets, garden design and much more. The magazine has a good blend of informative text and gorgeous photographs (that mostly make me drool). Personally, the interviews with particular interior designers sometimes go a bit over my head, but, being a nosy sort of person, I particularly love the insights into other people's houses and the ideas it gives me for my future build. The breakdowns of costs for each self-build that the magazine features is extremely useful for anyone thinking of taking this route - whether you've got a castle, tree-house, contemporary box, barn conversion or eco-home in mind. The magazine is jam-packed with ideas and also contains details of books and companies where you can find further info if you're interested in something particular. The Grand Designs magazine has been invaluable for me as I plan my dream, with detailed articles on foundations and drainage (who'd have thought there were so many varieties?!) all the way up to the pros and cons of different roof materials (clay tiles, concrete tiles, steel tiles, slate, wood shingles...), as well as important subjects such as budgeting throughout your build, and project managing. At £3.50 for 200 or so pages, it's good value for money in my opinion, and even better when you subscribe for a year (£24.50 currently, making it £2.04 each for the 12 editions). I'd definitely recommend this magazine to anyone interested in this subject area, and certainly to anyone contemplating building their own house.
Grand Designs Magazine accompanies the Channel 4 TV series anchored by Kevin McCloud. However, the relationship between the two is loose and fluid. Inside, you'll find features on the houses shown on TV, but there's plenty of other content in here also: spotlights on new products, editorial and opinion pages, features on interesting architectural projects, and free handbooks giving advice and information on how to do up a kitchen or a bathroom. Every quarter, they send out a 'Self-build update' which is crammed with products that might interest enterprizing architects and enthusiastic DIYers. Though the whole thing is glossily illustrated throughout, this is more than just a 'Homes and Gardens' style lifestyle magazine - it's a guide to architecture and design, with an emphasis on sustainability and green living. However, I do have reservations about this product. It's positioned awkwardly in the market, aiming to attract general readers, but having quite a specialist subject area. As a result, you tend to get articles that are a little wishy-washy. They provide some architectural detail, but not too much, some design principles, but nothing too challenging, a little bit of celebrity, but nothing too flashy. Personally, I wish they would drop the 'dumbed down' approach, and devote more serious time and space to heavyweight articles about design and architecture - a beefing up of the current features on architects to include more analysis of their aesthetic philosophy and position within wider design movements. As it stands, this mag is beaten hands down in the hipness stakes by Wallpaper, is thrashed by proper architectural journals when it comes to design features, and is trounced in the light and fluffy lifestyle stakes by a plethora of 'interiors' magazines (from Elle Interiors to Homes and Gardens). As far as the coverage fo the TV projects goes, it would be nice to see more technical information about them (how does that eco-friendly heating system work? How hard it is to install?), rather than gumph about the personalities involved. The reason I am still a subscriber is that with Grand Designs you get some spectacular discounts, most notably 20% off at Habitat. Using this card over the past year has saved me hundreds and hundreds of pounds - far more than the £40 price of subscription. So ultimately, I'm still a happy bunny!