Interviews, Kiss House, Kiss House Team | 22 November 2019
Weeding thistles and other things with co-founder Mike Jacob.
Introducing Mike Jacob — Kiss House co-founder and our director who leads on all things product and innovation.
Mike is a chartered construction manager and a certified Passivhaus tradesperson. He’s the person responsible for interrogating every aspect of the design, performance and quality of our houses (no pressure Mike!). Mike is best known for his unshakable belief that quality and comfort are everything when building homes.
“When collaboration occurs, so does brilliance because teams are at their best and projects fly. ”
We started by asking Mike about his role at Kiss House.
What do you think a potential customer might want to know about what you do at Kiss House?
My core focus is getting our products right. Whether it’s our houses, building systems or the materials we’re developing, we work to a set of guiding principles that inform all we do. It’s been exciting to develop these principles and to work in this way.
My official title is Director or Product and Innovation, this has been something of a departure for me because I don’t come from a product or R&D background, rather I’ve been involved in building Passivhaus homes and very low energy buildings since Passivhaus was first introduced in the UK. What’s great for me is that my role at Kiss House feels like the culmination of everything I’ve done before. It’s challenging and creative and requires all the specialist knowledge and skills I’ve developed throughout my working life, plus the network of brilliant experts I’ve met along the way.
Give us an overview of your career to date?
I graduated in philosophy in the mid 1990’s and resisted a formal career for several years. Without realising it I ended up on a path through the outer edges of the construction industry, becoming a person who others gave responsibility to. I looked after a variety of weird and wonderful building projects and my interests evolved leading me to do an MSc in Sustainable Architecture. I stepped out of that into a wonderfully creative role for a start-up that was set on becoming the UK’s first Passivhaus developer, until the financial crisis hit!
I then spent 12 years as founder director of Trunk Low Energy Building. Trunk had a reputation as being a “fixer” for private individuals who were looking for more transparent and flexible ways of realising their bespoke housing projects. During that time, I also started a specialist timber design and installation business called Trunk CLT. This business continues to grow in the hands of my ex-partner as I stepped down to focus on Kiss House.
Can you share any career highlights?
I pursued a pretty lonely path through the industry and became used to the sense that I was perceived as an outsider, because I was often outspoken due to my determination not to settle if things were not quite as they should be. I’m sure eyebrows have been raised along the way, but I have a portfolio of work to be proud of, much of it award winning (not entirely down to me of course) and, most importantly many happy clients.
An early project to renovate and extend a derelict, Grade II listed (inside and out), New Brutalist home, was a finalist against the Shard in the Constructing Excellence Awards. No mean feat for a 3 bedroom house that we didn’t actually build! It was a massively challenging project because Peter Aldington the original architect (who was by then well into retirement) was involved, as was English Heritage. The most impressive thing about it was that we not only saved the building, but we also reduced its energy consumption by more than 90%.
It may sound cheesy but every house I’ve delivered has been something of a career highlight because they’ve all been exemplary projects.
What are you passionate about?
Quality as an ideal to pursue in any context (I’m a philosophy graduate — what more can I say?).
What makes Kiss House a special project to work on?
It feels like the most important work I’ll ever do. The genuine sense of purpose gives my life purpose and I hope will have a lasting positive impact on others.
If you could go back in time when and where would you go?
To a number of occasions during my 20’s to have a stern word with myself.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
Weeding thistles from a Judge’s ‘meadow.’
What does comfort mean to you?
An absence of discomfort in mind and body.
What does quality mean to you?
It is the best version of anything. An ideal, maybe unattainable and something to aim for, with a commitment to create as much positive energy as possible.
What single thing would most improve your quality of life?
Being an expert doer of nothing.
Where are you happiest and why?
With my wife and children because, well you know why.