Ideal Inspiration

18th March 2011

The Ideal Home Show is back for its 103rd year at London’s Earls Court.

Jill Glenn went to the opening day…

Last year’s Ideal Home Show was the first since the event was acquired by Media 10 with a promise of revitalising what they described as ‘a rudderless ship, drifting in the wrong direction’ and restoring the show to its former position at the heart of a very British obsession with homes and gardens. It seemed to me, though, that it wasn’t even drifting any more, but had already foundered on a mix of celebritisation and irrelevant exhibitors. Not everyone shared my opinion, and the Ideal Home was awarded the title of Best Consumer Show of the Year 2010. That worried me as I set off to this year’s opening day; would it just be more of the same?

To my surprise, despite the fact that it’s recognisably cast in the mould of last year’s offering, something about the Ideal Home Show is working really well now. There’s a greater degree of compartmentalisation, so it’s easier to find the stalls and sections that grab you, or avoid the bits you’re not really keen on. It’s still personality-led, with celebrity ‘ambassadors’ hosting their own dedicated areas offering a variety of ideas, inspiration, and style (just like this supplement…) plus demonstrations and expert advice across eight different themes. This year, though, their input seemed more logical, more targeted – and just as popular. The promoters are billing the Ideal Home Show as ‘the UK’s ultimate home event’. I might even believe them.

1. Ideal Home Improvements

Hosted by George Clarke (who clearly has a very devoted fan base; I was nearly mown down by the hordes of women wanting their photo taken with him), this is the area for those wanting to make the most of existing space, or looking for ways to adapt a home to be more green-friendly and money-saving.

George Clarke will be attending every day this year, and offering a series of practical demonstrations and seminars on many home improvement projects.

2. Ideal Show Homes

As always it’s the Show Homes that take centre stage. Top Tip: leave them until later in the day, when the show is quietening down: the queues will be shorter, and you’ll be able to spend longer oohing and aahing.

In line with the focus on using your existing space more efficiently, the first home is a rather spectacular refit of an iconic address: No 1 Coronation Street. After a quick trip to the Rovers Return, there’s a look at the Barlows’ existing decor, followed by the opportunity to marvel at its makeover ‘next door’: lighter, brighter, cleaner, greener. This is a great illustration of what we could do to update a large quantity of current housing stock that is substantially built but rather out-of-date (and often lying empty).

The second property is HRH The Prince of Wales's answer to eco-living: a traditionally-built low-carbon home made from natural materials which his Foundation for the Built Environment claims is just as low carbon as its high tech alternatives. The interior focuses on recycled and reused materials; it’s a little shabby, but you can see that it’s fizzing with ideas.

The third property is a wooden built eco-home, easily summed-up in three words: sleek, streamlined, Swedish. It’s an open-plan, very contemporary ‘kit’ home: a house for the future – today. Want, want, want.

3. Ideal Interiors

Close by the Show Homes – indeed, in a commanding position along the length of the exhibition hall – is the Interiors section, ‘curated’ by Linda Barker. Here you’ll find everything from furniture to interior design advice, plus five room sets, designed and put together by a team of professionals, ‘to demonstrate the perfect layouts, colour, style and even clever storage solutions’… and to give visitors more opportunities to tut at innovative colour combinations. ‘Would you put purple there?’ ‘Not with those curtains...’.

4. Ideal Home of the Future

Under the watchful eye of the Gadget Show’s Suzi Perry, this is where clever domestic gizmos jostle for position with the latest in home entertainment trickery. Interactive demos rule the day here… and sometimes fall foul of the technology they’re trying to promote. Hmmm.

5. Ideal Gardens

Diarmuid Gavin’s your man for the ‘first garden event of the season’, with a plethora of ideas for your garden.

With summer just around the corner, spring is ‘the perfect time to get ahead in the garden’ according to the blurb: ie relax in your outdoor room, under your awning or on your garden furniture. Ideal Gardens is not talking tulips and roses; instead there’s a massive emphasis on built structures and large accessories. There are hot tubs here that are bigger than many an urban garden, certainly bigger than many a domestic bathroom.

6. Ideal Food

Restaurateur and TV Presenter Gregg Wallace is a larger-than-life presence in the Ideal Food area – and even has a trendy pop-up restaurant. The menu was on the heavy side for lunch – Toad in the Hole, Shepherd’s Pie, Bread and Butter Pudding etc – so I eschewed the opportunity to see if Mr Wallace’s own offerings could match his Masterchef demands, and settled for an array of samples from the many food stalls. A lot of cheese. A lot of good cheese.

While this area might be only loosely related to the overall Ideal Home theme (you cook food in a kitchen, a kitchen is in a home…) there’s a relaxed good-humoured ambience – and the adjacent Celebrity Chef Theatre has an extensive programme of live cooking demos from acclaimed UK chefs. It was one of the buzziest and busiest areas of the show, and great fun.

7. Ideal Woman

Another oddity in the overall scheme, Fiona Phillips’ Ideal Woman section is all about beauty and fashion, pampering and a bit of time out.

8. Ideal Shopping

Of course, you can shop anywhere in the show, but this is the bit that’s truly dedicated to the spendaholic with an eye for a bargain and the will to get something unique. Plenty of choice, from affordable to bespoke – and if there really isn’t anything to suit, then double back to the housewares section at the other end of the mezzanine. If you don’t come away with a motorised knife-sharpening, shoe-cleaning toasted sandwich maker then you haven’t really been to the Ideal Home Show…

There’s an essential contradiction at the heart of this exhibition, that’s likely to become only more evident as the years go by: glitz, glamour and gadgetry on the one hand; sustainable practice and ecocentric values on the other. It made for a day that was both challenging and surprisingly exciting.

The Ideal Home Show continues to 27 March. Book online (www.idealhomeshow.co.uk) or by calling the Ticket Hotline on 0844 415 4144.

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