TV director grows his own eco-friendly house from hemp seeds


Steve Barron is known for his film and TV work… and for growing a house (Picture: Metro.co.uk/ Emma Cattell)

Award-winning director Steve Barron has just returned from the red carpet in Cannes after the premiere of his latest work: Around The World in 80 Days.

The new series, starring David Tennant, is hotly tipped to be a BBC blockbuster and is already receiving rave reviews. After almost five decades in the music, film and television industry, Steve is no stranger to artistic accolades.

He was the creative visionary behind A-ha’s seminal pop video for Take On Me in 1985. He directed Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean and has also worked with Madonna, Paul McCartney and David Bowie. His proudest achievement, however, couldn’t be more removed from the glitzy world of show business.

In a groundbreaking programme of his own to help the planet, he has actually grown his own house.

It’s a carbon-negative building constructed from hemp which runs completely off-grid.

And don’t be fooled by the hippy connotations of the material or the fact it’s built on the site of an old cow shed on a 50-acre farm in the middle of the Cambridgeshire countryside.


TV DIRECTOR STEVE BARRON'S HOUSE

It takes 100 days for the hemp to grow from seed to harvest (Picture: Emma Cattell)

For this carbon-munching crib is as state of the art as it is super stylish.

And there’s no panic here about hiking energy bills — the whole place, called Margent Farm, is powered by a combination of wind, solar panels and a bio-mass boiler.


TV DIRECTOR STEVE BARRON'S HOUSE

The off-grid building is actually carbon-negative (Picture: Emma Cattell)


TV DIRECTOR STEVE BARRON'S HOUSE

The interior is super minimalist (Picture: Emma Cattell)

‘It took just 100 days to grow from seed to harvest,’ says Steve, who started the project six years ago when his daughter Gemma gave birth to her first child, Aya.

‘I’d just turned 60 and when my daughter had a daughter, it made me think about the future — her future.

‘I wanted to do something to contribute to the world. My generation has really messed things up — it’s not fair what we have left behind. I was in a position to create something that would inspire change, to help to try to fix the planet.


TV DIRECTOR STEVE BARRON'S HOUSE

The bedroom has it’s own private balcony (Picture: Emma Cattell)


TV DIRECTOR STEVE BARRON'S HOUSE

Open-plan eco living (Picture: Emma Cattell) (Picture: Emma Cattell)

‘Hemp fought the climate crisis on lots of fronts — carbon, plastic, poor soil health. So I decided to buy some land and grow a house from hemp. It was a mad idea as I had never even done any gardening before!’

Steve employed local growers to help, and his first harvest produced enough raw materials to construct the house, which was designed by architect Paloma Gormley. The internal fibres of the hemp were mixed with lime and water to create ‘hempcrete’ and then poured into wooden cassettes to create the frame of the building.

‘The hempcrete insulates the house and removes toxins from the air, letting it breathe,’ says Steve. ‘It also stores energy so drastically reduces the need for heating in winter. In summer it regulates temperatures and keeps the place cool. The acoustics are also incredible which, in my profession, is an added bonus!’



Going natural will lead to a more sustainable future

According to Darshil Shah, a material scientist at Cambridge University, the construction and building sector is responsible for 30-40 per cent of global carbon emissions as well as energy use, on top of the solid waste it generates.

‘Therefore natural building materials have a big role to play in cleaning up the building and construction sector for a sustainable future,’ he says. ‘A hectare of hemp can sequester between two or three times more carbon dioxide than a typical forest. The carbon is stored in the stem of the plant and the oxygen is being released from our benefit.

‘We can then use the fibrous material for building materials, meaning our buildings are going to be carbon sinks.’

The corrugated cladding is groundbreakingly constructed from the stalk and impregnated with bio-resins to create a weatherproof bio-plastic. The whole project from sowing the seeds to moving in took just 18 months. ‘It really is a wonderful material,’ says Steve.

So wonderful that academics from Cambridge University are now studying the material and working alongside Steve and his team to develop compostable wind turbines.

‘We have had 2,000 architects from around the world wanting to know what we are doing, wanting to be a part of something that is very exciting,’ Steve explains.


TV DIRECTOR STEVE BARRON'S HOUSE

It’s like being in a greenhouse (Picture: Emma Cattell)


TV DIRECTOR STEVE BARRON'S HOUSE

The terrace is filled with plants (Picture: Emma Cattell)

The house itself is stunning, and a real family home.

Steve’s daughter Gemma, husband Henry and their two daughters returned to the UK from Nairobi just as the pandemic started and moved in. Every bit of the house is utilised. There’s a double-height living area with floor-to-ceiling windows with an open-plan cook’s kitchen.

The centrepiece is a glorious dining table constructed from off-cuts of marble that were heading for landfill (marble.partners).

A modern feature staircase made from sustainable wood leads up to the bedrooms. The master has a terrace with breathtaking views across the countryside.

The frame of the steel cowshed remains to honour the building’s heritage. As does the original brick-built barn, which is used as a studio to make the cladding and hemp trays and coasters, coloured by turmeric.

There’s also a glass-bottled salve called ‘Hemp will save the f***ing World’ made in collaboration with artist Harland Miller (it’s a line from one of his novels), which has just been stocked by the Conran Shop. And a delicious hemp seed oil for salads.

‘No one thing can fix the climate crisis,’ adds Steve. ‘But as long as people are transitioning towards change, we can all make a difference.

‘And a transition to bio-based construction would have a huge and positive regenerative impact in responding to the challenges we are all now facing.’

Instagram @margent_farm; margentfarm.com

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