The Legacy of Grand Designs
The enduring popularity of Channel 4’s love letter to architecture, Grand Designs, demonstrates the UK's passion for beautiful buildings. The show has seen designer Kevin McCloud track the progress of hundreds of imaginative projects. Over 18 series and almost 200 episodes, the show has acted as escapism for those who dream of constructing their own perfect home.
GRAND DESIGNS FACT FILE
Become an expert on the history of Grand Designs with our list of trivia:
• The first episode of Grand Designs was broadcast in April 1999 but filming started in 1997.
• More than 200 hours of on-location filming make up every episode.
• Each episode can take from one to five years depending on the timeline of the build.
• The crew documents more than 20 developments at the same time.
• The largest ever ‘Grand Design’ was a bungalow that used over 1,300sqm of tiles and materials. The kitchen alone cost approximately £120k.
• One condition of appearing on the show is that you must plan on living in the property yourself.
• People in over 130 countries watch the show.
KEVIN MCCLOUD: THE FACE OF GRAND DESIGNS
This parade of dream properties wouldn’t be the same without its outspoken host Kevin McCloud. Prior to working in television, McCloud trained as an opera singer in Florence before going on to design theatre sets. He then settled on a career in lighting and furniture design which led to his involvement in property shows.
Although the role he best-known for seems like a sweet gig, there’s a huge time investment involved in making Grand Designs. The filming means that McCloud works 52 weeks a year, leaving him little to no free time during series production.
• Brought up in a house built by his parents (that fell apart after 10 years).
• Both of his brothers are in the property trade - one is a builder and the other is a developer.
• One of McCloud’s first TV presenting jobs was on the BBC property programme Home Front.
• His company designed and installed the ceiling in the Harrods food hall.
A UK MAP OF GRAND DESIGNS: SEASONS 1-18
This map shows the location of every Grand Designs property in the UK as of early 2018. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Southern England has the most Grand Designs. London features the highest density with 20+ builds but, as you can see, there are examples spread right across Britain. This demonstrates a nation with a passion for creating their dream homes.
The Location of Every UK Grand Design (1999 - 2018)
|1||East Sussex, Oxfordshire, Brighton, Amersham, Suffolk, Cornwall, London & Doncaster|
|2||Surrey, Sussex, Netherton, Brecon Beacons, Lambourn Valley, Birmingham, London & Devon|
|3||Peterborough, Whaley, Sussex, Surrey, Buckinghamshire, London, Cumbria & Herefordshire|
|4||Walton on Thames, Buckinghamshire, Leith, London, Pett Level, Kilcreggan & Dorset|
|5||London, Gloucester, Kent, Shaldon, Belfast, Devon & Carmarthen|
|6||Killearn, Ross-on-Wye, Stirling, Kent & Exeter|
|7||Skipton, Hampshire, Medway, Bournemouth, Birmingham, Guildford, Cambridgeshire Fens & London|
|8||Cheltenham, Oxford, Bristol, Herefordshire, Midlothian, Bath & Maidstone|
|9||Somerset, Oxfordshire, Newport, Kent, Wiltshire & Brighton|
|10||Isle of Wight, The Cotswolds, Woodbridge, Stowmarket, Ipswich, Lizard Peninsula, Cumbria & Lake District National Park|
|11||Morpeth, London, Tenby, Essex, Herefordshire & Cornwall|
|12||Roscommon, Hertfordshire, London, Oxfordshire & Isle of Skye|
|13||Thorne, London, York, Devon, Strathaven, South Lanarkshire, Monmouthshire & Newbury|
|14||Gwynedd, Cornwall, Milton Keynes, County Londonderry, London, Norfolk & Marlow|
|15||N/A – Re-visiting Properties from previous seasons.|
|16||West Sussex, East Sussex, Isle of Wight, Worcestershire, County Antrim & Somerset|
|17||Dursley, Horsham, South Cornwall, Essex, Bolton, Pembrokeshire, Devon & The Wirral|
|18||Worcestershire, London, County Down, Hertfordshire, Devon, Derbyshire & Herefordshire|
*Where multiple builds in one location occurred in a single season, the location has been noted once for brevity.
Many of the builds in Grand Designs leave you wishing you had the disposable income and free time to invest in your dream home. Here are some of the best examples featured on the show as chosen by Kevin McCloud himself.
Designers: Lucy Fairweather & Nat McBride
The owners bought their plot in Woodbridge, Suffolk in 2006 with planning permission granted in 2007. Due to restrictions, the house size scaled down from 220sqm to 190sqm. Build costs were also slashed from £579,000 to £220,000.
It's impressive to see the final result achieved by Fairweather and McBride despite the challenges. What emerged was a house that was beautiful, sustainable, dramatic and truly inspiring.
SHIPPING CONTAINER HOUSE
Designer: Patrick Bradley
Four shipping containers make up the structure of this very sleek, modern-looking structure. The natural-coloured cladding shows, at a glance, the divide between the communal and private spaces - creating a beautiful two-tone aesthetic.
It only took Bradley, a farmer and architect, seven months to build his impressive home. While it looks quite imposing, the structure only measures 115sqm.
Designers: Richard and Sophie Hawkes
The aim of the Hawke’s arched home was to use local skills and materials and reduce pollution. The eponymous arched frame of this Kent property takes inspiration from a fourteenth-century technique.
The structure is one of the best-performing Passivhaus (or Passive House) dwellings in the UK meaning that is exceptionally energy efficient. This level of eco-friendly development requires a large investment of time and money. They used 26k handmade tiles, 10 tonnes of newspaper insulation and triple-glazed argon-filled windows which made up £43,000 of the total cost.
WEST SUSSEX WOODEN HOUSE
Designer: Ben Law
Kevin McCloud has named the Ben Law’s Wooden House as one of his all-time favourite projects. It took more than eight months to build and cost under £30k.
At the time of construction (2003), this was the first property built in the West Sussex forest for 50 years. Law used traditional building techniques such as constructing the walls from 300 barley bales. He also added modern eco-features such as solar panels and wind turbines.
Not all the projects featured on the show have a happy ending. Even after all the hard work and investment on the part of the designers and builders, it's never a sure thing. Here are some of the biggest disasters in Grand Designs history.
Designer: Barry Surtees
After five heart bypasses and nearly £2m sunk into his dream modernist home, Barry Surtees put it on the market after only three years of ownership in 2010.
Although pop star Peter Andre initially expressed interest, it was eventually sold to developers in 2012. After a complete renovation, it went back on the market in 2015 for £4.5m. According to letting agents Knight Frank, as of Jan 2018 – there still hasn’t been a sale.
THE MEDWAY BARGE
Designers: Chris Miller & Sze Liu Lai
This ambitious houseboat project taken on by a husband and wife team had all the hallmarks of a classic Grand Designs success story. Unfortunately, things didn’t end up that way.
The project suffered financial problems and ended up abandoned by its designers. They left the barge moored in the Thames estuary but over time it suffered from vandalism and was eventually cut adrift. It was later found washed up on a beach in Essex, far too damaged to consider refurbishment.
KENNINGTON WATER TOWER
Designer: Leigh Osbourne & Graham Voce
Image Courtesy of 1st Option
This build proves that beautifully designed properties don’t always equal success. Osbourne and Voce converted this nine-storey water tower in south London into an impressive family home which featured in the 100th episode.
When the building went on the market in 2013, the designers soon had to knock almost £2m from the original asking price of £4.75m. Moreover, the property has still not sold to someone intending to use it as a home. Rooms in the tower are currently available on Airbnb for £150 a night.
THE DOME HOUSE
Designer: Robert Gaukroger
Designed as an eco-friendly retreat set in the Lake District in 2007, over time The Dome House fell into disrepair due to an eight-year land dispute. A neighbour claimed architect Robert Gaukroger owed her £55,000.
Flash forward to 2016 and the wooden exterior had faded, leaving the structure looking rather run down. Since then, new owners have refurbished the property and turned it into a collection of suites and apartments.
Information on Grand Designs, the properties themselves and building locations sourced from:
- Grand Designs Magazine