Celebrating 30 Years of Build It Magazine

We're 30! Britain's original self build and renovation magazine has been helping you create your dream home, your way for over three decades
by Chris Bates
9th January 2020

Just over 30 years ago, a small but dedicated team launched the UK’s first self build and renovation magazine – Build It!

(Yes, it genuinely had an exclamation mark in the title back then…)

The goal was simple: to give people like you and me access to the inspiration and practical advice we need to successfully create an individual home.

Over the course of planning our 30th birthday issue, we revisited those roots – and had great fun doing so. I doubt we’ll ever reinstate the exclamation mark in our masthead, but it’s been an excellent opportunity to take stock of how things have changed in the world of self build.

It’s also underlined the fact that our mission, to be the most focussed title out there for people who want to build a bespoke value-for-money home, is just as relevant today as it was when the magazine launched back at the end of 1989.

The first edition of Build It magazine

The UK’s original self build magazine: the cover of Build It’s first edition

These days, we have so many more touchpoints with our readers, as we aim to help you successfully create your dream homes on time and on budget.

As well as the magazine, you can delve into our interactive and information-packed website, get one-to-one advice at three Build It Live shows, and shortlist products and services for your project thanks to our annual Build It Awards.

And – in a magazine first – on 4th January this year we opened our very own self build, Build It’s Self Build Education House, to visitors.

Visit the Build It Education House

To kick off our 30th anniversary content, this series takes a (slightly tongue-in-cheek) look back at how we became the UK’s first dedicated magazine for self builders and renovators – and how things have changed since that first issue landed on newsstand shelves across the country. First under the magnifying glass is Build It’s launch issue.

We hope you enjoy exploring some of the features and foibles we’ve spotted in our first edition and that, as you follow our journey, you’ll feel as positive as we do about the future of self build!

Build It magazine’s First Edition

Even from a quick look at our launch issue, it’s clear a lot has changed in 30 years: kitchens have gone in and out of fashion as fast as hairstyles, for one thing. But the foundations upon which the Build It brand is constructed were recognisably in place.

Once you get past the classy late-80s design, there’s a lot to like about the very first issue of Build It. The mag carries a strapline that’s not dissimilar from the one we have today: the original (tweaked many times since) was ‘your dream home built by you.’

Fast forward 30 years, and that’s evolved into ‘plan, design & build your dream home.’ In many ways this underscores the fact that we still have the same goals: to put the advice and inspiration you need at your fingertips.

But what did Build It and self building look like back in 1989? Here’s a quick look at five things that stood out for us:

1. We were finding our voice

One thing that’s changed a fair bit since the early days is the editor’s welcome. That first issue starts by capturing some of the spirit of self build: the blood, sweat, tears, fun and excitement we all feel over the course of our project journeys.

Having just recently received the completion certificate for Build It’s Self Build Education House, I can vouch for all of those – and above all the amazing sense of achievement you get when you successfully finish the job!

Build It first ever editor's welcome

The first editor’s welcome: maybe avoid naming your house ‘Duncopping’ (police), ‘Dunphyllin’ (dentist) or ‘Dunfloggin’ (salesperson).

What you don’t get quite so much of on the editor’s letter pages these days (I hope) is the cheesy jokes.

That first issue cautions against making rash decisions on your project – but not in the way you might expect. The warning? “Think carefully before naming your house… haven’t you heard the one about the retired salesman who called his home Dunfloggin?”

I promise that little gem won’t appear again in the next 30 years!

2. The big challenges were the same

Our first edition carried a snippety article looking at what it means to ‘Build It Yourself’. It defined self building in fairly loose terms as when someone ‘provides at least the management involved in building a new house.’

I’d go a step further and say that self build can cover everything from doing some of the work yourself right through to a more executive approach, where you simply choose want you want to go into your home and get the professionals to take care of building it.

Many of the early issues of Build It hit upon some very familiar themes – what you might call the traditional barriers to self build. Two in particular came up time and again: access to finance and mortgages and finding decent land to build on.

Specialist self build mortgages were few and far between in the 80s and early 90s, so every edition included an update on the latest routes to funding and which lenders were doing more to support the sector.

Did you know?

Over the years, Build It has been at the forefront of national campaigns to make self build more accessible and affordable, and to make more viable land available. Not to mention we’ve counted some of the great and good of self build among our contributors and staff – including the ‘father of self build’, Murray Armor, and the founder of the National Custom & Self Build Association, Ted Stevens.

These days, driven by innovation from BuildStore, there’s a much better spread of building societies to choose from – although we’re still waiting for the day when the high street banks see self build as the reliable investment it really is.

Finding the right plot for your project can still be a challenge. Many budding self builders will spend longer looking for a site than actually designing and building the house.

But things are changing: we’re seeing more pre-permissioned, serviced plots entering the market, for instance.

Build It magazine first edition - self build challenges

The first edition carried an article about what it means to self build. The definition has evolved over the past 30 years, and in 2020 there are many new routes to creating your dream home

The first issue of Build It included 15 pages of land listings, which were invaluable for readers back then. For some reason I’ll never be able to fathom, we were still running these pages as recently as 2011.

It was one of the first jobs I took on at the mag, and it was a bit of a stinker to put together – not helped by the fact that much easier to use online resources already existed! Rightmove was founded in 2000, and specialist services such as PlotSearch weren’t too far behind.

Other popular topics in these early days included:

  • Design & build package homes
  • Choosing heating systems
  • Ventilation options
  • Glazing

All just as relevant to the modern self builder!

Eco building wasn’t the buzz word it is today, but a number of products (such as solar thermal panels and heat recovery ventilation) were entering the market and changing the way people thought about creating a comfortable living environment.

3. We loved a celeb

It’s only fair to caveat this one by saying that the earliest editions of Build It(!) only had space for two house exposés – so at least 50% of them had a real-world vibe about them.

But boy did we rely on the pull of a celeb in the early days…

The first issue saw Fergie (Sarah, Duchess of York – not the hip hop singer) plastered on the mag cover under the somewhat leading tagline ‘Fergie’s Folly?’.

Little wonder, perhaps, given her home’s security features alone cost almost as much as the entirety of the recently-completed Build It Education House project.

Build It's first edition: Fergie's Folly

Fergie’s Folly: one of the main cover stories in the first edition of Build It

The ‘folly’ moniker proved prescient: the mansion was recently demolished.

A real shame, as with 10 tennis courts and a covered outdoor pool it could have been the perfect pad for a 30th birthday bash! But I guess it’s the billionaire’s version of what many of self builders do: knock down an old, dilapidated house and replace it with a new one.

We outdid ourselves in issue two with news of Dynasty creator Aaron Spelling’s 123-room Beverley Hills mansion.

That’s twice the number of rooms contained in all the reader homes from our 30th birthday edition combined!

Regular readers will know that, these days, we put a much heavier focus on featuring achievable real-life projects within the reach of most self builders and renovators’ budgets.

The Latest Reader Homes

4. There was no internet… and no smartphones!

This is a funny one to write about while I’m sitting in a cafe on my MacBook, with my browser window open in the background to quickly and easily find contacts, cross-check facts and keep tabs on my ever-spiralling email inbox.

The internet revolutionised our approach to so much in life – and that includes sourcing ideas and products for our home building projects.

Build It’s website is a treasure trove of content, for instance, while many firms are challenging the traditional builders’ merchants by giving you transparent pricing and immediate access to quotes online.

And it hasn’t stopped there: some of us now even run our homes through our smart phones! Back in 1989 this kind of connected living was still in the realms of sci-fi.

All this tech has changed the publishing world a lot, too.

I still remember the days of mag design teams scanning in hundreds of transparencies every month (all of which had to be carefully repackaged and couriered back to the photographer).

So, a bit like with smart homes, there’s been plenty of innovation to help make our lives easier.

5. Kitchens were huge

I don’t mean literally… although maybe Aaron Spelling would beg to differ. Our first-ever issue carried seven pages of dedicated editorial (and even more adverts) about planning and fitting out kitchens – without an open-plan kitchen-diner in sight!

Back then, integrated fridges and dishwashers were only just starting to be fitted with doors to match the base units.

Traditional-inspired pine and oak were the height of luxury; but there was a trend towards simpler styles combining plain cabinets with unfussy handless – and we featured plenty of them.

Build It magazine first edition - kitchens feature

Every new home needs a kitchen… the one on the left looks like a supersized version of my mum’s (coincidentally fitted in the late 1980s)

Perhaps the beginnings of the modern handleless kitchen were beginning to take hold – although I doubt many of us would choose the designs we featured in that first edition now.

A lot of the advice, though, was right on the money: think about your family’s needs; consider what kind of configuration will best fit the space (galley; L-shaped; island unit); and concentrate on getting the infrastructure right… though we perhaps don’t think of laminate as the king of worktops any more.

I wonder if we’ll be reminiscing over today’s editions of Build It magazine in 30 years’ time and commenting about how the kitchens all look the same!

Build It Education House Kitchen

How will the Build It Education House’s handleless modern kitchen be viewed in 30 years’ time?

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