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interview

Founders of the Red or Dead fashion label, Gerardine and Wayne Hemingway, have a challenge for Wimpey, Barratt et al.They believe that the mass housing market builders insult the general public by offering a backward-looking product at a price which could

So tell us what's wrong with Legoland houses.

WH: What's right with them apart from they stand up and keep you dry? But so does a bus shelter.When it comes to mass market housing, Britain is becoming the laughing stock of Europe. We're a nation that prides itself on creativity, yet we offer the same boring, homogeneous, sanitised housing that we have been offering for most of the last century. Not many of us go out and buy a black-and-white TV or a word processor or a penny farthing bike. Our lives change. Could someone tell Britain's major housebuilders?

What would be the main selling points of Hemingway Homes?

GH: I would offer choice and let the buyer feel involved in the product that is the biggest outlay they will ever make. To some the idea of living upstairs and using the full area and eaves space to create loft style living in a semi would be an attractive option. Just simple things like offering different roof pitches and exterior finishes can make the process inclusive and improve the visuals no end.

Do you think the British public is ready for it?

WH: Of course.We have been bombarded by design and the concept of individuality for the past couple of decades. Who doesn't read a style mag? (Maybe the board of developers, come to think of it. ) The argument from the builders is that their houses sell and everyone buys them. Everyone would buy Sunny Delight if there was a shortage of the real stuff.

Red or Dead became well known for its street style, quirky, almost throw-away fashion. Now that your new product and interior design business, Hemingway Design, is up and running, is that philosophy something you find naturally occurring in new projects?

GH: That was then, this is now. We started Red or Dead when we were 20. We're now in our late 30s, we've got four kids, we've built a couple of critically-acclaimed houses and our tastes have changed.The only comparison is that we understood the market with Red or Dead and built a successful brand that the public could relate to. We believe we can, working with a major player, do the same for housing. Neither of us are architects, but we have lived in houses, built houses and pass them every day. Neither of us had formal fashion training, but we weren't brought up as naturists.

Fashion and architecture - are there any similarities between the industries?

WH: Yes. You look at the market, determine what the public wants, design it, manufacture it, market it and sell it and take the money while making the purchaser happy. Easy, isn't it?

The home that you designed on the south coast has been well publicised. You have lived in it now for about a year. Is there anything that you would change?

GH: Amazingly, very little. The prison issue metal loo smells when the boys use it and I should have possibly put even greater expanses of glass in and hoped for the best with the planners. But it is a wonderful, cost effective, modern family home that is always a pleasure to be in.

Commuting from there every day must be tough sometimes.How important is it for you to separate work and home?

WH: With modern technology and a driver, you can use the car journey for doing interviews for things like this . . . and the benefits of seaside living and city working make for a stimulating life.You never put in a full day with the kids around - it's too tempting to go and pick up a bat and ball. . .

Would anything persuade you to up and move back into the city again?

WH: No. We love having the best of both worlds. Having a house in London and living only one-and-a-half hours away means we never really feel like yokels.

So what's next in the pipeline for Hemingway Design?

GH: The success of Red or Dead means we don't have to prostitute ourselves. We will look at anything that provides a challenge. We've enjoyed reinventing the way people look at carpet tiles through our work with Milliken.

We're working with Miele on a revolutionary kitchen concept and have some exciting interior projects coming up.

WH: I've written a book on mass market art from Vladimir Tretchikoff to Athena. It's called Just Above the Mantelpiece and is out in October. I've been doing TVwriting and presenting, but it is the desire to make an impact in different design fields that drives me at present. Any product behemoths out there (including Wimpey and Barratts), if you're feeling brave then give us a call.

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