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Grand Designs Live opened its doors on the 8th October at the NEC Birmingham with hundreds of stands and a theatre with seminars on home improvement, some of them chaired by Kevin McCloud of the Grand Designs TV series. The show was buzzing with thousands of people and there was such a dizzying display of products on view that you needed all day to get round. Here are a few features from the show:

Swanky and glamorous decor
One of the stand-out stands was by Juliette's Interiors with Juliette herself on hand to show off her amazing furniture. Hers is a rags to riches story as only five years ago she was a single mother on benefits and now she has a thriving internet business, helped in some part by Deborah Meadon of Dragon's Den fame. And it's no wonder she's been successful as she has a superb eye for sourcing glamorous furniture, and buyers from all other the world flock to her online shop to snap up her distinctive pieces. Juliette's Interiors.

Juliette's Interiors

New business launched at the show, is it set to rival e-Bay?
Serial entrepreneur, Bal Mattu, has launched Comcero which will be a free online marketplace where consumers can find, compare and select the tradespeople they want to work with. For example if you want a specialist supplier to install a boiler or make a bespoke dining table, you put the job up on Comcero and receive competing bids for the work. The platform took three years to set up so it comes with many features including a project management facility which will prove particularly useful for those on a self-build project. As Bal Mattu says, Comcero could be the end of search for the consumer as he no longer has to trawl through websites and directories in order to find the supplier for the job. It's early days yet, but visit Comcero to see what it's all about.


Never boil a kettle again, hot water on tap
One of the recent technological advances in the kitchen is taps that provide constant boiling water. Their advantage is that you don't have to waste energy and time boiling a kettle of water as hot water is available instantly for that cup of tea or for cooking. Zip Heaters were demonstrating their HydroTap which not only provides boiling but also chilled filtered water. The tap can be set to provide either type with a safety lever that has to be depressed at the same time when boiling water is required. The tap and basin are on the worksurface top and there is a small unit housed in the cupboard below that provides the filtered water in hot or chilled varieties. Zip Heaters.

HydroTap Boiler

A glass act in the kitchen
Up until a few years ago installing a glass kitchen worktop was seen as a novel concept. Perhaps it still is, but there are now numerous companies looking to change our minds. In the same way as a granite worktop, glass worktops can be templated, supplied and custom fitted to your kitchen's dimensions. They are composed of toughened safety glass and provide a durable heat-resistant and hygienic work surface, hygienic because glass is non-porous so it doesn't harbour germs and bacteria. Contract Glass have the technology to design, drill, cut, shape and colour a kitchen worktop and, under the brand name Glass Act, are now bringing this revolutionary concept to the domestic market to create a cook's dream kitchen. And now comes the really sexy part, the worktops can be in literally any colour you like. Coloured Glass UK Ltd are another leaderin this field and they offer glass worktops and splashbacks in colours from the RAL and BS and Pantone colour charts, but they can also mix any bespoke colour you choose. And for something more exotic, one of the other exhibitors at the show, Orloff, also offers photographic art fused inside the glass. Contract Glass. Coloured Glass UK. Orloff.

Coloured Glass worktops Glass worktop

Eco worrier or eco warrior?
Eco was big at Grand Designs and there was a whole area of the show for companies offering sustainable energy services. The most popular technologies are solar hot water systems and solar PV systems for electricity generation. There are financial incentives from the government for both of these. For example, a 3 bedroom household that installs 30 square metres of solar PV panels on their south facing roof could receive £1,700 per year in income and savings from the system. The snag is that the system's upfront cost is around £15,000. However this cost could be seen as an investment that yields a much higher dividend than, say, putting the money in the bank. There are some companies that provide solar for free, where they cover the installation costs and provide your solar electricity for free in return for receiving the financial incentives themselves.

If you are looking for an alternative hot water supply to one generated by solar systems, and are worried about the lack of sun in the UK, then you can go down the heat pump route. This involves collecting the latent heat in either the ground or the air, compressing it so it heats up to the required temperature and then putting it through a condensor to provide warm water for your heating system. The air source pump is a simple piece of kit that can be sited in an unused corner outside your house and is not much larger than an exterior airconditioning unit. The ground source pump is a little more complicated as it involves digging up your garden - you either dig a deep shaft or you run a very long tube underground in an up and down pattern. We know several people who have installed these systems and are delighted by the results. To find out more visit the websites of these specialists: SolarTech, Earth Test Energy, Eco Energi, Eco Living, EverGen, Renewable Solutions, Solar King. You may also want to look at a brand new free-to-use website from Save & Generate that aims to help consumers source the best energy solutions and technologies for their homes.

Staircases to heaven
If you want to get away from the standard staircase design there are now many companies providing a more contemporary look with clean-lined stainless steel, open risers and glass panel balustrades. But the stand that caught our eye was from a supplier called Overwrought. As their name suggests their stairs are almost, but not quite, over the top in their ironwork. A staircase from them could well become a feature of your house - and why not? After all you will be able to enjoy passing up and down it quite a few times every day. Overwrought.

Overwrought staircase

Build your own dream
Sensing the demand in the UK for self-build houses, more and more German companies are establishing a UK presence. Their houses are renowned for their technology; you know they will have the latest energy efficient credentials and that they will, like German cars, work robustly. But they also exhibit a flair for exciting contemporary design. In short, they have a wow factor. Look at this house below from Davinci Haus.

Roca w and w

If you hanker after a more traditional English style home, then why not consider building rather than buying? That way you will be able to design the interior layout to your requirements, rather than adapting to an existing design, and you can at least make sure that all the electrics and plumbing work. The house might not have any history, but at least it doesn't have any ghosts - and you can make your own history. Jeremy Rawlings at Period Homes designs and builds such houses, they can be anything from a modest stone cottage to an Elizabethan style mansion like the one below. Period Homes.

Period house

To finish with the cheese
There was so many exciting stands to view at the show, we can only give a flavour of them. And, talking of flavour, we haven't yet covered the food section which had lots of small artisan providers with tasty offerings. One of my favourites was the Snowdonia Cheese Company who have a range of interesting cheeses, if you like a deliciously strong cheddar, then the Little Black Bomber is exceptional. Snowdonia Cheese Company.

Snowdonia Cheese

For more information about the show, or to register to visit the next show in 2011, go to Grand Designs Live.

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